Straw Dogs

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"All right. You've had your fun. And if you don't clear out now... there'll be real trouble. I mean it."
David Sumner

Straw Dogs is a controversial 1971 film directed by Sam Peckinpah, perhaps best known for his anti-Western The Wild Bunch. The film stars Dustin Hoffman as American professor David Sumner, who moves to the small English village where his wife, Amy, grew up. Working on a book, David withdraws into his study for hours at a time while his bored and idle wife begs for his attention. Meanwhile, a group of blue-collar locals, one of them his wife's old flame, provide a constant threat to his manliness as they leer at his wife and mock him behind his back. As the workers become more invasive and threatening, Amy criticizes David for not confronting them. When finally pushed too far, David stands up for himself in a shocking and violent finale.

A 2011 remake starring James Marsden and Kate Bosworth has been released.


Tropes used in Straw Dogs include:
  • Anti-Hero: David displays few heroic qualities throughout the film.
  • Berserk Button: David finally snaps when the local toughs try to invade his home and drag out a man for some vigilante justice.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: David is acquiescent and does not protest his poor treatment at the hands of the locals, but then flips to gruesome killer when they try to invade his home.
  • Black and Gray Morality: None of the main characters are without serious flaws, and no one seems to be totally in the right.
    • The vigilantes are composed of violent drunks, murderers, and rapists, though the man they're after really is a murderer and a continuing danger to the public.
    • Amy's old flame Charlie forces himself on her, but she eventually welcomes his embrace. Minutes later, he helps another man rape her, though he does so somewhat unwillingly. Later, he rescues Amy from the same man.
    • David himself seems to be a distant husband, but his wife also seems to be overly needy. He takes a passive-aggressive approach to confrontations with his wife and the local toughs. When he does take a stand, it's to defend a murderer. In the end, he roughs up his wife in a manner reminiscent of her rape, but he does so to correctly assert that their lives are at risk. He attacks Charlie even though the man had just defended his wife from a rapist, and kills him against her pleas.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cornish game hen trap.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: David, who manages to outfight a group of burly locals who had spent the entire movie browbeating and emasculating him.
  • Daylight Horror: The cat scene uses its light source very effectively.
  • Death by Adaptation: No one actually dies in the book.
  • Deconstruction: Of the typical revenge fantasy.
  • Homage:
  • If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: More or less David's stance on the vigilantes' rough treatment of Henry Niles, who is suspected of foul play.
  • Jerkass: One way of interpreting the film is that masculinity is essentially a form of being a Jerk Ass: asserting your dominance over your territory and woman through violence.
  • Protect This House: The finale.
  • Rape Is Love:
    • The original film was highly controversial for the scene in which Amy is raped by her former boyfriend, only to start enjoying it halfway through.
    • The remake features a second case involving Janice (a teenager with a psychotic father) trying to rape the much-older Niles as he is unable to defend himself. Niles ends up killing Janice in self-defense, which sets up the climax.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: A common interpretation of the film is that David is engaging in an alpha male struggle over his territory with the locals. He spends most of the film allowing them to invade his home and rape his wife until the end, when he finally asserts his right to his territory and woman by killing off all the rivals. In the process, he finally gets his wife to obey him. However, many critics also see it as a deconstruction of this trope, as the men's behavior ultimately leaves a house full of corpses and continued estrangement between husband and wife.
  • Sacred Hospitality: David fights to protect a man staying in his home, even though he knows the man is probably a murderer. The locals abuse their privileges as guests, stealing his possessions and forcing themselves on his wife.
  • Serial Killer: Niles in the novel.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Deconstructed. David and Amy's relationship is complex, with scenes of playful flirtation intermingled with scenes of obvious dysfunction.
  • The Siege: The book upon which the film was based is called The Siege of Trencher's Farm. David is ultimately moved to action when he decides to protect his home from invasion.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Trailer: David Warner?!
  • The So-Called Coward: David spends most of the film allowing the local workers to walk all over him, and quarrels constantly with his wife. When the locals try to rough up a guest in his house however, he finally stands up to them and to his wife, who had openly called him a coward for not standing up to them earlier.
  • Took a Level in Badass: During the finale, David takes levels in Badass and Jerkass, essentially asserting his alpha male status of the household.
  • Tranquil Fury: Throughout the climax, David stays level-headed and icy cold.
  • Word Salad Title: The film was originally to be called The Siege of Trencher's Farm, a bland and overly descriptive title, so director Peckinpah created an informal contest for a new name. A friend suggested Straw Dogs, referring to the Chinese tradition of creating animal figures out of straw as religious offerings. Straw dogs were given special treatment during religious ceremonies, then discarded with the rest of the trash, mirroring the impartiality of the universe. However, even the producer of the film admitted that the term means nothing in the context of the plot. The remake actually explains the reference.
  • Video Nasty: The original wasn't officially deemed a video nasty, but was often treated like one regardless.
  • Villain Protagonist: Critics argue about how sympathetic David's character is in the original film, or is supposed to be. Years after making the film, Peckinpah himself claimed that David is the villain of the film and is subconsciously drawn into picking a fight with the locals. Whether you agree with that interpretation is up to you.