From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- 'Dueling banjos' scene
Deliverance is a 1972 American psychological thriller film directed by John Boorman. Principal cast members include Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, Jon Voight, and, in his film debut, Ned Beatty. The film is based on a 1970 novel of the same name by American author James Dickey, who has a small role in the film as a Sheriff.
Four Atlanta businessmen, named Lewis (Reynolds), Ed (Voight), Bobby (Beatty) and Drew (Cox), decide to canoe down the Cahulawassee River in the remote Georgia wilderness, expecting to have fun and see the glory of nature before the river valley is flooded by the construction of a dam. Lewis, an experienced outdoorsman, is the leader. Ed is also a veteran of several trips but lacks Lewis' machismo. Bobby and Drew are novices.
The four are clearly the outsiders in this rural location. The crude locals are unimpressed by the "city boys;" it is also implied that some of the locals are inbred. While attempting to secure drivers for their vehicles (to be delivered to the takeout point), Drew briefly connects with a local banjo-playing boy by joining him in an impromptu bluegrass jam. When they finish, however, the boy turns away without saying anything, refusing the effusive Drew's handshake. The four men exhibit a slightly condescending attitude toward the locals; Bobby, in particular, is very patronizing and even derides the locals to his companions for seeming to display genetic defects.
The men spend the day canoeing down the river in pairs before camping by the riverside at night. Shortly before they retire for bed, Lewis tells the others to be quiet and disappears into the dark woods to investigate a sound he heard. He returns shortly and says that he did not find anything. When asked whether he heard something or someone, he tells them he does not know. While traveling the next day, the group's two canoes are separated. Pulling ashore to get their bearings, Bobby and Ed encounter a pair of unkempt hillbillies emerging from the woods, one toothless and carrying a shotgun. After some tense conversation in which the hillbillies appear to be goading the others, Ed speculates that the two locals have a moonshine still hidden in the woods and Bobby amicably offers to buy some. The hillbillies are not moved and Bobby is forced at gunpoint to strip naked. Bobby is next chased, humiliated, ordered to "squeal like a pig" and is then violently sodomized. Ed is unable to help because he has been tied to a tree and is held by the toothless hillbilly.
Meanwhile, Lewis and Drew dock their canoe. Hearing the commotion, Lewis secretly sneaks up and kills the rapist with an arrow from his hunting bow; Ed grabs the shotgun as the other captor quickly vanishes into the woods. Lewis and Drew argue about whether to inform the authorities. Lewis insists that they would not receive a fair trial and that the jury would be composed of the dead man's friends and relatives. Bobby agrees and does not want the incident of his rape to become public. Lewis tells them that since the entire area would be flooded by a lake soon, the body will never be found and the escaped hillbilly could not inform the authorities since he had participated in the incident. The men vote 3-to-1 to side with Lewis' recommendation to bury the dead hillbilly's body and continue as though nothing had happened. During the digging, Drew, the lone dissenting voter, is clearly upset and having trouble coming to terms with the decision.
The four make a run for it downriver, cutting their trip short, but soon disaster strikes as the canoes reach a dangerous stretch of rapids. In the lead canoe, Ed repeatedly implores Drew to don his life jacket, but Drew ignores him without a word of explanation. As Drew and Ed reach the rapids, Drew's head appears to shake and he falls forward into the river.
After Drew disappears into the river, Ed loses control of his canoe and both canoes collide with the rocks, spilling Lewis, Bobby and Ed into the river. Lewis breaks his leg and the others are washed ashore alongside him. The badly-injured Lewis believes the toothless hillbilly shot Drew and is now stalking them. Later that night, under cover of darkness, Ed climbs a nearby rock face in order to dispatch the suspected shooter using his bow, while Bobby stays behind to look after Lewis. Ed reaches the top and hides out until the next morning, when he sees the man for whom he was looking standing on the cliff holding a rifle, looking down into the gorge where Lewis and Bobby are hiding. The man appears to be the hillbilly that escaped through the woods.
Ed, a champion archer who earlier lost his nerve while aiming at a deer, again freezes in spite of his clear shot. The man notices him and fires as the former champion clumsily releases his arrow. Ed falls to the ground in a panic and accidentally stabs himself with another of his arrows. The man reaches the wounded Ed and is about to kill him when he collapses, revealing Ed's arrow sticking through him. Ed remembers that the hillbilly who tried to assault him had no front teeth, and upon initial examination, the dead man seems to have all his teeth. Ed examines his victim's dentition more closely and discovers he has a partial, movable plate for his front two missing teeth. Ed lowers the body down the cliff with a rope and climbs down after it. His rope breaks and he falls in the river, but swims to shore and meets with Bobby and Lewis. Bobby asks more than once if Ed is certain the dead man is the same as the one they confronted earlier. Ed, clearly irritated and not completely sure himself, snaps at Bobby and asks him to confirm the man's identity.
Ed and Bobby weigh the dead hillbilly down with stones and drop him into the river. Later, they come upon Drew's grotesquely-contorted corpse and after being unable to find any definite gunshot wound, they also weigh it down into the river. Ed points out that they don't want the authorities examining Drew's body and possibly discovering a gunshot wound. Ed gives a short eulogy and sinks it in the river to ensure that it will never be found. With Lewis injured and Drew dead, Ed now becomes the leader, trying to ensure their story is consistent, knowing the local authorities will investigate.
When they finally reach their destination, the town of Aintry, which will soon be submerged by the river and is being evacuated, they take the injured Lewis to the local hospital while the sheriff comes to investigate the incident. One of the Deputies, named Arthur Queen, has a missing brother-in-law (ostensibly one of the hillbillies Lewis and Ed killed) and is highly suspicious. Ed and Bobby visit Lewis' hospital room to make sure Lewis' version of events is consistent with theirs. They are unsure if the apparently unconscious Lewis understands them, however as the doctors enter, Lewis appears to awaken, gives Ed and Bobby a knowing wink and says he remembers nothing.
Later, as the men prepare to drive home, the sheriff suddenly asks Ed why there were four life jackets when only Lewis, Ed and Bobby came out of the river. Stammering, Bobby suggests there may have been an extra one, then realizes his mistake. But Ed says no, that Drew was not wearing his life jacket and he does not know why. The sheriff remains suspicious, but having no evidence simply tells Ed, "Don't ever do nothin' like this again. Don't come back up here. I'd kinda like to see this town die peaceful," to which Ed readily agrees. The men vow to keep their story a secret for the rest of their lives, which proves to be psychologically burdensome for Ed; in the final scene, he awakes screaming from a nightmare in which a dead man's hand rises from the lake.