Saturday, 4 March 2017

"Duel" review


     Film "Duel" released in 1971 is something like the beginning of the career of the famous film director Steven Spielberg. The plot of this picture is relatively simple - endless road, wilderness, where a deadly duel-race starts to take place. Diffident man, David Mann, wearing glasses and tie is riding through the deserted roads of California, rushing to a meeting, but suddenly a monstrous bloated fuel truck begins to follow him. The bumper of the truck is covered in a bunch of number plates, which are some sort of trophies for the driver. However as Janet Maslin(1983) said "Mr. Spielberg's 1971 television film ''Duel'' took advantage of the very narrowness of its premise, building excitement from the most minimal ingredients and the simplest of situations. "
     The story of the faceless monster haunting a little man on a deserted road is allegorical/figurative in many ways. The viewer is watching just an "average American", which is pursued by some mad trucker for no reason at all. But as the viewers go forward into the story, the deeper we are immersed in the symbolism of this picture, finally understanding that the protagonist's most important fight was - not with the evil fuel truck, but with himself, with his own fears, feelings and uncertainties.
     Many viewers were disappointed with the ending of "Duel" where the driver of the deadly truck was not shown to them. The driver is there, he can be seen in many camera shots, including ones which were filmed inside the cabin of a mysterious truck. In one scene, he sticks his arm out the window, making a gesture to Mann so he can start overtaking, while a car was rushing on the oncoming lane. Although driver's face viewers won't see indeed, but it strikes/inspires a peculiar mystery and fear into the audience. But the major thing in "Duel"  is not to see our main culprit first-hand/with our own eyes, but to understand the main point of the film - the central character David Mann won a fight with himself and that is all there is to know. 
Figure 1. Truck driver is seriously there(2015)

     But there is another assumption about the main struggle in the film, for example Alexander Rudenko thinks that in "Duel" fight is happening between man and machine, because despite the fact that we know that a man is sitting behind the wheel of the fuel truck, the audience still think that a crazy living and reanimated truck is chasing our main protagonist. "Throughout the film, it doesn't feel like the truck is controlled by a madman, but vice versa, - alive and mad truck is an incarnation of the inexorable doom and the driver is just its bio- spare part."(Rudenko, A. 2007)
     Steven Spielberg masterfully used the camera to show the power and anger coming from the furious fuel truck. "Spielberg's low angles and uncomfortable closeups of the truck's rusty grille and thick, rotted fenders already suggest something sinister." (Ed Howard, 2011) Some frames where we can see Mann sitting in his little red car and a giant rusty truck show us how tiny and pitiful our main hero looks in front of his big enemy. 
Figure 2. Little Mann is chased by his biggest fear(2017)

Also to remind the viewer that the most important in the movie is a struggle of David Mann with himself director Spielberg decided to make a very masterful shot in the gas station, where the main hero decided to call his wife. At that moment a woman in the foreground opens the washing machine to put her clothes into it. The camera shows us Mann talking to his wife through the washing machine glassed door. This frame/shot points the audience at the fact that this man is trapped, he fights with himself, with his feelings and fears, but  cannot win he cannot succeed, because he is trapped inside the invisible barrier, which prevents Mann from getting out, however, the audience can see it with the help of this masterful shot.(see fig.3)
Figure 3. David Mann's trap(2016)

     With such a simple plot, but with good camera work, masterful shots and interesting subtext film is pretty impressive, especially for a novice film director.

1. Maslin, J. (1983) "908. Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg)" At: (Accessed on 4 March 2017) 
2. Rudenko, A. (2007) "Рецензия на фильм "Дуэль""[In Russian]""Duel" review" Translated by Anastasija Strelcova At: (Accessed on 4 March 2017) 
3. Howard, E. (2011) "Duel" At: (Accessed on 4 March 2017) 

1. Figure 1.(2015)[Film Still], accessed on 4 March 2017.
2. Figure 2.(2017)[Film Still], accessed on 4 March 2017.
3. Figure 3.(2016)[Film Still], accessed on 4 March 2017.

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