The Criterion Component: Straw Dogs
Second-wave of feminism was halfway through its cycle when Straw Dogs was released in late 1971. Women no longer had to fight for suffrage, but they currently had the lowest form of equality and were on an upward battle to be on the same playing field as their male counterparts. Popular network shows, such as Leave It To Beaver, portrayed a woman’s position to be a housewife above everything else. But that narrative never accurately displayed the depression women faced by being put in a box. The regulation of the contraceptive pill, combined with widespread gender aguish, lead to a new era of autonomous women.
The resentment of the repression of early 1970s marriages is shown through the married couple in Straw Dogs. Played by the fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman, an American man named David Sumner arrives in Wakely, England to start work on a new book. He and his English wife, Amy (Susan George) are hoping to get some peace and quiet in their new cottage located outside of town. The locals immediately dislike David and refer to him as simply “the American.”
Amy attracts much of the town's unwanted attention, including that of her aggressive ex-boyfriend, Charlie Venner (Del Heney). David tries to blame Amy for indiscretion, instead of condemning everyone that mentally undresses her when they see her around town or around her home. Above all, David is spineless. Amy represents portent post-sexual liberation frustration, while David is stuck in the old model of thinking that the act of marriage alone keeps a woman by your side. The concept of being in love with your partner wasn’t as important as the sense of security prior to the 1970s, in America. David doesn’t even provide emotional security for Amy, and only satisfies her with a monetary net.
David hires Charlie Venner and two of his friends, Norman and Phil, to rebuild their garage at their cottage. These men and everyone in town increase David’s discontent as the film goes on, by making him feel disconnected from everything. They make him feel inadequate from the rest of the town. Ego tripping is a game of cat-and-mouse that David and the locals play at different levels with the same results.
As this is all going on, David’s book is hardly being worked on, Amy is consistently interrupting him, and the men working on the house irk him over their ogling of Amy. David’s behavior while developing his book borders on obsessive and his treatment of Amy turns neglectful. Their “peace and quiet” is just a thin guise for their marital problems. “I know why you’re here,” Amy says to David, “is it because there’s no place else to hide?” Their marriage is tearing apart and the men outside want to make sure of it.
David is fighting society’s idea of “being a man” or what a woman like Amy wants from a man. He claims to “not be good enough” and that he relocated to England for a chance for their marriage to work. In a conversation with a local reverend, David reveals he also left America to escape the everyday violence, which has become a brutal normality. His emotions and thoughts of himself are buried in fear of judgment, even from his wife. Repression is on both sides as Amy leaves David in the dark when she was gang raped; as he has a history of not standing up for her or himself. Even if David fancies himself a sweet and lovable guy, he feels he will always be in constant competition with men more masculine than him. Personifications of insecurities brought on by the social differences of men that fight with words instead of fists. Battle of minds vs brawn and even American vs English.
David finally gets a breaking point where violence is the easiest answer. He accidentally hits a man with his car that (unbeknownst to him) just killed a young girl. He cares for him in his house when drunken townspeople surround them, wanting the murderer’s blood. His fickleness and inability to assert himself gets thrown out and replaced with advanced survival tactics as he’s screaming orders at Amy while shooting anyone that tries to enter his house.
“This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house,” David says. This act of violence unearths his assertiveness as he fights off all the men that attempt to bring down his stature as a man. In his journey to try to show to Amy that he’s a different type of man, he’s become the same bloodthirsty and maniacal type of American he left the country to get away from. Throughout the entirety of the shootout, he does finally assert the male dominance that Amy was missing, but at the cost of blood and death.