Prayer Focus
Movie Review

A History of Violence

MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Drama, Thriller
96 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 23, 2005 (limited to top 10 markets)
Featuring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Kent Alterman, David Cronenberg, Cale Boyter
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Copyright, New Line Cinema
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Copyright, New Line Cinema
Copyright, New Line Cinema
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, New Line Cinema

How does viewing violence in movies affect the family? Answer

Every time you buy a movie ticket or rent a video you are casting a vote telling Hollywood “That’s what I want.” Why does Hollywood continue to promote immoral programming? Are YOU part of the problem?


Is Jesus Christ the answer?

Survival of the fittest—Critic Roger Ebert has quoted Director David Cronenberg as saying “I am a complete Darwinian.” According to Ebert this film “is in many ways about the survival of the fittest — at all costs.”

Visit our enlightening Creation/Evolution issues site…

Some Biblical heroes:

Shadrach / Meshach / Abednego

Abram / Abraham












“Tom Stall had the perfect life… until he became a hero.”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “‘A History of Violence’ stars Viggo Mortensen as a pillar of a small town community who runs a diner and lives a happy and quiet life with his wife (Maria Bello) and two children. But their lives are forever changed when Mortensen thwarts an attempted robbery and is lauded as a hero by the media, attracting the attention of some mobsters (William Hurt and Ed Harris) who believe he is someone else.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells a man that he must be born again. In A History of Violence there is a kind of analogy to this idea of being born again, and shows that this process is not always the easiest path. Still, one theme that comes across very clear is that people are in fact able to change.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) lives peacefully with his family in the small, quiet town of Millbrook, Indiana. After fighting off two murderers at the diner he owns and operates, Tom suddenly becomes a hero and attracts national attention. Now Tom is not only famous, but also a target for some mysterious mobsters who encroach on him, his family and his way of life. The only way out for Tom is to confront these men head on.

The title alone to this movie is a clear indicator concerning its content. There are many graphically violent incidents throughout and some grotesque images of people fatally wounded. Furthermore, there is also some foul language, including God’s name being taken in vain and the f-word. Beyond that, there are a few intense sex scenes involving nudity and explicit situations. This film is a very strong rated R movie.

Tom Stall’s wife, Edie Stall (Maria Bello) tells him that he is the best man she has ever known. At another point, Tom tells her, “I wasn’t born again until I met you.” At his diner, one of the patrons makes an off-handed comment to Tom saying, “I’ll see you in church.” Tom is obviously a decent, honest man with a good reputation with his town. He is a man passionately in love with his wife and has two outstanding children. In many ways, Tom’s life is a very ideal one—but it has not always been this way.

Tom’s change of life in this story gives us a good analogy of what it is like for someone when they turn their life over to Christ. The old life passes away and the new life comes. The old man (sinful nature) has to completely die, while the new life of Christ Jesus takes its place, allowing God to live through us. The conflict in this story is centered around one man who must fully commit to the good choices he has made and completely cut himself off from the old way of life he used to know. One scene even involves a kind of baptism, if you will, showing Tom washing himself in a lake with water. It happens immediately after he completely cuts himself off from his old way of life.

There are many discussions that could ensue from a film like this one. While it is very violent, there is still an anti-violence message in it, specifically in Tom relating with his teenage son. It’s clear his son begins to follow his path, but there is a significant moment when Tom takes a gun away from his son. It seemed to indicate how Tom is keeping this way of life from being part of his son’s future.

The acting and directing for this film are very rich. It seems it was directed very deliberately, with a clear plot and clear intentions. The filmmaking is very honest and the drama effective. It is a mature film in many respects, and if you can handle some of its content, it could be worth seeing.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

Viewer Comments
Negative—Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a happily married father of two who runs a diner in small-town Indiana. Quiet and unassuming, Tom is seemingly a pillar of American society until two thugs try to rob his till at gunpoint. The speed and aplomb with which Tom dispatches them to eternity not only makes him a local hero—his photo is splashed around by the media—but also draws the unwelcome attention of some unsavory characters from his past.

So when a limo full of goons—led by a tremendously sinister Ed Harris—arrive from Philadelphia, they claim that Tom is, in fact, “Joey,” a character who, by implication, is quite unlike the law-abiding, respectable family man, Tom Spall.

With his family and his own life under threat, Tom is forced to confront his demons from a previous life. In doing so he becomes gradually estranged from his loyal and loving wife, Edie (Maria Bello) and his two children. Violence erupts as Tom becomes more and more “Joey” as he desperately battles to save the new world he has built from the attentions of the mob.

What is disturbing about the film is the way it appears to feed the audiences lust for violence yet questions the desire for it. Violence (as in many old Western films) is seen as the solution to the human situation, yet it is done here in such a way that we are both fascinated and repelled by it. It appeals to our baser instincts yet appalls us with its cold-blooded ruthlessness.

In the demented world conjured up by Cronenberg, not only does violence become a solution to the way out of Tom’s problem, but it’s also used as a sexual fetish. So when Edie becomes repelled by Tom’s other self and lashes out at him, he uses his superior physical strength to force her to have sex with him. Shades of the Marquis de Sade. No wonder he spends the night on the sofa!

This is a top draw suspense thriller, excitingly directed and very well acted. But be warned, the violence is graphic, the (two) sex scenes are explicit and the script is splattered with obscenities and profanities, as the movie generates a sickening feeling of moral unease typical of Cronenberg’s anarchic nihilism.

The final disturbing feature of the film is that Tom’s past simply won’t go away in spite of his obvious efforts to have done with it. “I was born again when I met you,” he tells Edie. “I spent three years in the desert getting rid of Joey.” But when Tom’s world is threatened, Joey is only too willing to surface to violently defend it.

Cronenberg here appears to have (unwittingly?) stumbled on to a truth taught in the Bible—that is, however much we might try to reform, the person we once were is only too willing to come out when he gets the chance. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he tells us: No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. …It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. (Romans 7:18-21 NLT)

What we need, according to Paul, is not just moral reformation but spiritual transformation. We all have a “Joey” inside us somewhere, waiting to come out. Hopefully, he’s not as violent as Tom’s alter ego, but he still leads us to do things that make us ashamed. What we need to do is to bury him once and for all at the cross of Jesus. You see, Jesus died so that the “Joeys” in our past could be dealt with once and for all, for the Bible teaches us that if any man is in Christ, he becomes a brand new person: old things have passed away and all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) And that’s the point that Cronenberg’s film misses.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 4
—D A Littlewood, age 58
Negative—This film was a well put together story; however, the sex scenes were extremely pornographic. As a Christian movie goer, it is my responsibility to check up on R rated movies before I see them. Up to this day I have never experienced this level of sexuality portrayed in an R rated movie. After viewing the film I was extremely convicted that I did not walk out of the theater. I urge you, please reconsider your choice in viewing this film.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 4
—Nicole, age 23
Positive—This has got to be the most powerful and moving film I have ever seen. The story grabs you from the first frame and never lets you go. My wife and I went to see this with our Bible study, and we were speechless afterwards. Later, we discussed it, and they seemed to have the same feelings as I did—that is a powerful movie that everyone should see and experience. The film does contain three violent scenes, and two sex scenes, but they are all done in a respectful matter. The sex scenes were between a married couple, and the violence is quick, but realistic. This movie is about how violence affects us all, and what consequences there are to these acts. This is a truly amazing movie; it is a must see for adults.
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—Kalan, age 35
Negative—My husband and I can usually handle a lot, but this movie pushed even the boundaries that we’re comfortable with. “A History of Violence” was so offensive, we got up and left, probably not as early as we should have. Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, a “bad guy” shoots a hotel clerk, a maid and after which he shoots an innocent little girl. (I’ve never seen a movie where violence was pointed toward children. That especially hurt my spirit.) Next, there’s a scene where the couple (they are married, but the marriage bed should be kept guarded and pure) reverts back to their “teenage ways” and performs oral sex to each other—about a 3 minute scene, I’d guess.

After the main character, Tom Stalls, kills his assailants, it always shows entirely too much gore and blood. It’s very offensive, very graphic. There are at least 5 instances of that. Later in the movie (when we finally decided we’d had way too much and left the theatre), there is a scene where the couple gets physically abusive to each other—pushing, slapping, and cussing at each other. Then, they begin to make out—then it goes into a very very, very graphic sex scene. Although the only nudity we saw (at that point before we left) was his behind and her legs and hips when he’s removing her panties, the sex scene was 3-5 minutes long and very explicit.

We were so offended by everything we saw and wish anything that we did not go. I cannot, with good conscience, remain complacent and not say a word. I had to let at least one person know how that movie made me feel dirty, violated and condemned. If you’re planning on going to this movie, I’d highly recommend you reconsider. THe plot only gets as good as the previews let on. Definitely not worth your time or your spirit.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 2
—Brandi T., age 25
Positive—…I thought it was admirable how the father tries to keep his son on the right path. I know Christian parents these days are all anti-violence, and I understand where there coming from. …I believe as along as your kids aren’t too young this a great movie to watch with your kids and discuss after with.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—David Thompson, age 20
Negative—I have never walked out of a movie before tonight. This is the most offensive movie that I have seen. We left at the same time as a previous poster on this site (after the 2nd graphic sex scene). We should have left earlier.

I am having an incredibly hard time understanding how critics or anyone could think this movie was well made. This movie was loaded with over-dramatic moments, cheesy lines, and TERRIBLE ACTING AND WRITING. No offense to high school theatre departments, but this would not be considered a well written movie if it was written by students. People in the theatre were laughing out loud at what were supposed to be the dramatic scenes.

The critics who write that this movie is “captivating” or “genius” must have ulterior motives (kissing up to the production company or director).

I am terrified at the thought of how many men and teenagers will see the images in this movie. Please spread the word about how graphic this movie is and the blatant nudity that is shown. Even without these images this movie is CHEESY; spend the money elsewhere.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 1
—LJ, age 30
Negative—…without a doubt, one of the most disappointing films I have seen in my life (and only the second I’ve actually walked out of).

The acting is horrible from everyone except for the 3 main characters (Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris are always wonderful). The dialogue was incredibly unrealistic, and many of the scenes made me groan and ask “Are you kidding me??”

The plot itself made absolutely no sense (unless, by some miracle, the ending filled in all the holes). And the graphic sexual content was so incredibly unnecessary!

The scene that finally caused my girlfriend and I to leave the theater was easily the most disturbing and unbelievable. Tom and his wife get into a fight in which she is slapping and kicking him, and he attempts to choke her several times. Apparently that is what turns a woman on, and they end up having VERY graphic, VERY violent sex right on the stairs. Are you kidding me??
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 2½
—Nathan Rossin, age 24
Positive Um, I’m not entirely sure you got what the movie was going after. This was certainly not a morality tale about redemption. It’s about the taint violence has on a family. I think the final shot in the film underlies the whole point. Who is this man that she is looking at? Joey or Tom? The baptism at the end also implies that he can wash it off his hands but not his soul (or what’s left of it anyway). There also seems to be something rather Darwinian about the manner in which the story progresses. Are we attracted to the more dominant persona? Would the wife ever have let Tom have sex with her on the stairs after he choked her against the wall? Would Tom ever have survived his meeting in Philly? Joey sure did. Is his propensity for violence hereditary? Was the reason his son didn’t want to fight not because he was afraid of what the bullies might do to him, but what he might do to them?…
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 5
—Demian, age 31

Editor’s note: Critic Roger Ebert has quoted the director of this film (David Cronenberg) as saying “I am a complete Darwinian.” According to Ebert this film “is in many ways about the survival of the fittest — at all costs.”

Negative—As a mother of four and no prude, I was extremely uneasy about the first sex scene. The second was simply gratuitous and hard to watch. I was sitting next to an older couple (mid-60s) who audibly groaned and squirmed in their seats. The special effects were also gratuitous. OK, somebody gets shot in the head, do we really need to see his face blown apart? It was more appropriate for a horror movie, which I’m aware Cronenberg specializes in.

I felt dirty after watching this film and forced myself to sit until the end. I have a 17 year old that I would never recommend see this film. As an adult, I came away confused as to the reason for it, but alas I read the “Darwinian” quote and understand it.

You find yourself cheering for the teenage son as he “defends” himself against the school bully, but midway through I thought, “This is nuts.” Is this what we want to show our children? Beat someone senseless if they bully you? Don’t we have enough of that already? It almost made a farce of the “Turn the other cheek” idea of Christian love. As the boy “turned the other cheek” the bullying got worse. When he beat the other boy senseless, he gained respect from others. NO redeeming qualities at all.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 3
—Beatrice, age 41
PositiveDavid Cronenberg is departing from the horror genre of which he is today’s master, but he isn’t straying too far off the ranch. The lovers in this film are a married couple, but their graphic and perverse sex acts are still preludes to danger. As we’ve seen over and over, from “Psycho” to “Friday the 13th” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, death lurks in the invisible zone beyond the glare of sexual licence. When a crack appears in the moral code, anarchy and chaos follow. Cronenberg’s film, “Crash” made several years ago portrayed a society that was free of all sexual boundaries. Death was no longer just around the corner. Death and sex became one as the characters derived sexual gratification from creating and becoming carnage from pre-arranged auto accidents.

In that movie about people lusting over gaping leg wounds and howling ambulance sirens, Holly Hunter gives a remarkable performance as a woman addicted to the seduction of violence and pain. The movie is a shattering experience, much more so than the wan, television-like movie of the same name released this summer.

“A History of Violence” is about truth, and the consequences of denying the truth. Even if the main character comes out of the desert after three years, and begins a new and better life, it’s still only part of the whole life. He will always be what he was before (the good thief is a good man, a redeemed man, but he’s still a thief) even if he does a good job of dissembling his past, and his present. Even his family—his wife and his son (the golden haired daughter doesn’t fit in here)—are uncomfortable with both the old and the new husband/father. Both are uncomfortable in their own skins, and both seem to be grasping for something that isn’t there.

Viggo Mortensen gives a vapid performance of a vapid man. He is completely outshined by Ed Harris, the menacing, but all too truthful, thug who, like the gods from Greek mythology or like Samson, sees things as they are only after he is blinded. The film’s other great performance is by William Hurt who plays a mobster, a dark prince who can crack jokes and crack skulls, and wouldn’t be found dead on a psychiatrist’s couch. Hurt’s gangster is the real enchilada. And it’s great to see him back on the screen again. Even in this cameo.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3½
—Jim O’Neill, age 52
Negative—I was so disturbed by this movie, I sought some way to express myself. I go to the movies once or twice a week. I try to choose the ones that are entertaining, and not offensive. Usually, that is a children’s movie. I learned along time ago that R-rated was sex and violence, but having no children, I didn’t pay much attention to ratings. Recently, I noticed little children in movies with their parents, and it sickened me to think their parents had become so numb to what is shown and didn’t realize how it deadens a child’s senses.

After seeing this movie, I was sure it was X-rated. Little did I know, there is no X anymore, but still shocked that this movie was not NC-17. I became aware that even R-rated movies can have children in there watching this debauchery. I felt sick to my stomach and wished I’d left. I’m 57 years old and lived thru the 60s and 70s. I’ve always considered myself a liberal. I will be careful to read this site, before I go to another movie.

The sex scenes were not necessary. Today’s society needs to see that and the raunchier the better. I think those commenting before me described the scenes and most people don’t want to see porn or violence against women. The blood and guts made me realize whoever made this movie obviously couldn’t express himself without making it so graphic. Well, now I know, Cronenburg was a horror movie junky.

It’s interesting to me that our society will jump up and scream when someone says something that may be considered politically incorrect. Even costing someone there job. Why are we allowing this trash to be put out there.

I’m sure each of these talented actors will someday wish they had never been apart of this pathetic waste of energy. I pray that they will know the truth. As a christian, I was appalled at the comments by one group that said their Bible study went to this movie and stated they were “speechless,” it was so good. If we, as Christians, have become so numb to the temperature of the water, we deserve to boil. The best thing I can say about this movie is, it opened my eyes to take responsibility for what I feed into my spirit. I would hate to think that I had to explain to God why I would be apart of something so evil. Yes, I’m sure there was some deep, artistic, moral there. Evil begats Evil. If you like to feel like you were involved go see it.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 1
—Jimmie Autry, age 57
Neutral—I like to view this Web site before going to the theaters. I have three young children. I do not recommend this movie for young ones, at least under 17 years old. The story line was good—about a man trying to change his ways and raising his kids different than the way he lived. It does show violence, so if you are sensitive to this, I recommend you not see this movie—strong violence.

I feel the sex scenes really ruined the movie for me. It made me feel very uncomfortable. I thought the first sex scene would be the last, but close to the end there came another one. Why did they even put it in there? It didn’t even flow with the movie. This is what is wrong with our society that, yes this couple was married, but they make the sex seem perverted. I want to teach my children that sex is not some cheap thrill for married people but a loving expression.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3½
—Roxanne, age 31
Movie Critics
…seems deceptively straightforward, coming from a director with Cronenberg’s quirky complexity. But think again.
—Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert
…A masterpiece of indirection and pure visceral thrills…
—New York Times, Manohla Dargis
…the performances of Mortensen, Bello, and Holmes are excellent…
—Boston Globe, Wesley Morris
…absorbing and often excruciatingly suspenseful…
—Seattle Post-Intelligencer, William Arnold
…Cronenberg …rearranges the furniture in your head so craftily that you’ll still wonder, hours after the movie’s over, why it still resonates.
—Newsday, Gene Seymour