Figure 1: Duel Movie Poster
Steven Spielberg is seen by some as a master craftsman of film making. With films like Jaws, Jurassic park and ET under his belt, it would be hard to argue against that statement, even when looking at some of his more recent films (Crystal skull having never happened and all that). However in order to truly see a director with immense talent we cannot forget one of his earlier films. Duel. Released in 1971 as a television movie, shows the immense levels of genius that brought Spielberg into the hall of greats among Hollywood. "Spielberg was once a member of that Rat Pack of audacious, experimental directors who defined the American New Wave"(Justice,2005) The way this movie is shot leaves much to the imagination and creates an incredible level of suspense that is unseen in many modern movies.
Duel is centered around a middle aged man driving across the country on a business trip in which he comes under attack from a mysterious Truck driver, bent on killing him for no explained reason. The very simple plot does not detract from the immense amount of atmosphere that has been created. The looming truck in the background is always a constant threat throughout the entire film, leaving the audience always on the edge of their seats, waiting to see if he ever escapes the threat of death or if he is going to be chased the entire way. Probably the best example of this type of feeling is the scene about half way through the film in the cafe. By showing us that the culprit is somewhere in the Cafe and having us go through the characters head as he tries to figure out who is trying to kill him. We are drawn into his mind, seeing it as he is seeing it. Figuring the story out along with him.
On the surface the movie is about a man trying to kill another man for what seems like fun, however underneath the movie is secretly about masculinity in the average man. "The subtext of this highway duel is masculinity, as suggested by Mann's phone conversation with his wife when he calls her from the gas station, before the action begins in earnest." (Howard, 2011) Howard is referring to the conversation at the beginning of the movie in which David ( the main character) apologies for an argument the night before where he had "failed" to defend his wife from someone being too touchy. This is focusing on his inability to defend his wife and fail to assert his own strength.
This is idea is continued when comparing the truck that is trying to kill Mann and the smaller car that he is driving, The Truck in this case referring to a huge imposing force that is overshadowing the masculinity of Mann s much smaller, less threatening car. Its showing the huge amounts of pressure that is placed on men in society and the pressure they face in being strong willed and protective. This is further shown in the scene with the stranded bus. With Mann being reluctant to help out but when he attempts, he only manages to get himself lodged in the bumper, facing the humiliating faces of the children, mocking him. However the stronger truck then comes along and moves the bus with ease, showing the more powerful side that needs to be displayed.
"Spielberg's first film finds the director ruthlessly exploiting a devastatingly simple premise to extraordinary effect."(Fortgang,2003) Duel was indeed Spielberg's first movie and it still shows the immense amount of creativity and passion that he moved into the rest of his work, cementing him as one of Hollywood's greatest directors.
Chris Justice (2005), Duel 1971, http://classic-horror.com/reviews/duel_1971, Classic horror.com
Ed Howard (2011) Duel, http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/duel.html, Only the Cinema
Fortgang (2003) Duel movie review, Channel 4
Figure 1: Movie Poster http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duel_%281971_film%29