Deliverance wouldn’t seem like a film that begs for a re-watch. That’s probably because its two most iconic moments, a banjo session at a truck stop and a man’s rape in the woods, have been co-opted for numerous hillbilly exploitation moments ever since; many of us probably associated the roots of mainstream hillbilly parody coming from this film.
The banjo chords alone can be used as a you’re not welcome here sound from afar whenever a stranger enters the woods or played for laughs whenever a city slicker enters the rural south. And a redneck man’s desire to rape another man has been used in films as varied as Pulp Fiction and Dumb & Dumber; after 1972, confederate flags and bad teeth all became easy story codes to imply danger to another man that a rape could be coming.
Deliverance has now been in the world for 45 years. And it demands a re-watch but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, in America, many who are grappling with the current state of the White House have turned the The Hillbilly Elegy into a bestseller through a desire to “get to know” the people in the states that bleed Republican red. And there’s been a backlash against J.D. Vance’s bootstrap success book because his descriptions of impoverished learned helplessness sure seems to echo a governmental down-speak to the rural poor. Yes, there’s definitely strife between city folks and rural folks in Deliverance, but just like a purchase and then dismissal of Vance’s book because it doesn’t share a similar worldview is a kneejerk oversimplification, the view of Deliverance being modern city men vs. un-evolved rural men is also a gross oversimplification.
Deliverance is about men who feel weak around other men, regardless of social or regional status, but it’s also about the freedom that men take for granted. And the two scenes that Deliverance is most well known for play out entirely differently than you probably remember.