“A History of Violence” is a 2005 American thriller movie that is based on a novel bearing the same name and it tells the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a restaurant owner in the small town of Millbrook, Indiana, who lives with his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello), son Jack (Ashton Holmes), and daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). Through the lives of these characters, the movie depicts that violence is in the blood of the family members.
Stall is a mild-mannered man, popular resident of the town and he seems to know everyone by name. However, this facade of normality is interrupted when he foils a vicious attempted theft at his restaurant by killing two-sought-after criminals in self-defense so as to protect his clients and friends.
Heralded as a hero for his action, the life of Stall never becomes the same again as he attracts countywide attention. The story then becomes a classic tale of an ordinary citizen trying to do his best to prevent the escalating incidences of crime in the country. However, a man in a sharp black suit, named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), soon pays him a visit and accuses him of crimes he did some years ago in Philadelphia.
Carl Fogarty: his isn’t a completely dead eye, it still works a bit. The problem is,
the only thing I can see with it is Joey Cusack, and it can see right through him… right through your husband, Edie. I see what’s inside him, what makes him tick.
He’s still the same guy. He’s still crazy fucking Joey! And you know it, don’t you? How much do you really know about your husband, Edie? Where he’s from, where he’s been, his life before he met you some 20 years ago? (The Internet Movie Database, 2010, introduction section).
The allegations that Fogarty makes in the motel scene depicts that Stall has a long history of violence that he was trying to hide from. Violence was in his blood and he could not hide from it. More so, he was avoiding the media after his heroic act because he did not want his dark past to be exposed to the public.
According to Fogarty, Stall was in fact a criminal called Joey Cusack who had efficient skills in killing. Fogarty reminds him that they still have some unfinished businesses in Philadelphia. In spite of Stall’s persistent denial, these accusations strain his relationship with his family members.
Stall’s dark background is exposed more when Fogarty and his men go to his home so as to insist on his going back to Philadelphia with them. However, Stall succeeds in murdering them in his yard using the same accuracy he used before to slay the other two criminals.
Another evidence that violence seems to start in the family is seen when Jack shoots at Fogarty and kills him instantly in defense of his father. After this second incident, Stall is admitted to the hospital and he confesses to his wife about his dark criminal past. He tells her that he is in fact Joey Cusack and that he had moved out from Philadelphia with the intention of starting a new life, free of criminal pursuits.
The scene in which Stall’s brother, Richie Cusack (William Hurt), is killed also illustrates that violence is in the blood of the family members.
Stall gets a call from his brother who also insists that he has to get back to Philadelphia since the other criminals he had mistreated there were prohibiting him from getting higher positions in the powerful criminal organization in the town. Stall offers to reconcile; however, Richie issues a command to his guards to murder him. Skilled in self-defense, Stall manages to overpower the men and to kill his brother together with his men.
This shows that indeed violence starts in the family. Richie, Stall’s brother, was a member of a powerful criminal organization in Philadelphia and since he wanted to gain more power in the group, he tried to compel his brother to return. It seems the family of the Cusack’s had a “history of violence” that is why they participated in so many criminal acts. Carl Fogarty seems to be aware of this:
Carl Fogarty: Yeah? Well, why don’t you ask “Tom” about his older brother
Ritchie in Philadelphia? Ask “Tom” how he once tried to rip my eye out with barbed wire. And ask him, Edie… ask him how come he’s so good at killing people (The Internet Movie Database, 2010, introduction section).
The revelation of the dark past of Stall also seems to affect the other members of his family, especially his teenage son, Jack Stall. Soon, Stall discovers that his son has opened a can of whoop-as on the people who are mistreating him. Jack’s unjust actions in school also reinforce the idea that the history of violence starts within the family.
Jack may have started to do this because of his dad’s “violent genes” (nurture principle) that propelled his action. On the other hand, his dad’s bad example (nature principle) may also have set the precedence for his uncalled for behavior. The excerpt below of the dialogue between Jack and his father illustrates this:
Tom Stall: In this family, we do not solve problems by hitting people!
Jack Stall: No, in this family, we shoot them! [Tom slaps Jack] (The Internet Movie Database Inc., 2010, middle section).
When Jack breaks the law in a later scene, the film’s director theme in portraying the history of violence within the family becomes even more evident. It is interesting to note that Stall’s family did not attempt to dig deeper to find out more about his sordid past. This seems to imply that Tom had accustomed them to that way of life and they took it as a normal occurrence within the family.
Only Tom’s wife was uncomfortable about the behavior of her husband. Jack and Sarah accepted the life that their father lived. This is seen in the diner scene when Tom arrives at his tension-filled house from the hospital and his children are the ones who took notice of him.
In conclusion, “A History of Violence,” takes the stand that violence originates from the family. This is evident from the life of Tom, his brother Richie, as well as his son Jack. It seems that violence was in their blood.
The Internet Movie Database Inc. (2010). Memorable quotes for A History of violence.
Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399146/quotes