Duel: Steven Spielberg Does Road Rage

This next film is called Duel, and it has the illustrious honor of being Steven Spielberg's debut film.

A commuter is driving along some desert road in California when he gets stuck behind a truck.  He proceeds to pass the truck, which sends the truck driver into a murderous rage.  Trucker then spends the next hour and a half trying to drive our commuter off the road.  Game on.

I love the palpable tension mounting, and we the audience feel irritated on this guy's behalf.  We've all been there, where we feel someone is willfully baiting us, trying to ruin our day, trying to goad us into make reckless decisions.  That's how this starts.  But as the truck driver goes from annoying to a little scary to downright menacing, the stakes keep rising.

Well, this movie is one hell of a calling card.  I honestly think this is a perfect debut film.  It's got a simple, high-concept storyline, few characters, even less character development -- so there's really room to showcase what the man can do with a camera.

It's not an easy task, to make a visually engaging film out of essentially a man driving for an hour and a half, but I think Spielberg does it.  There's such a finely wrought escalation of tension in the film, from the beginning where they're passing each other for driving too slow, to the end where they're trying to send each other over a cliff.

Much like Jaws, a lot of the horror and tension in this film comes from the fact that we don't really get a chance to see the bad guy, and there is no sense of motivation for the truck driver.  It makes it all the more frightening because it mirrors our own driving experiences.  Most of us drive everyday, putting our lives in the hands of strangers controlling massively dangerous machines.  Driving is such a casual thing, but when you think about it, we are so vulnerable when we're in our cars.  Every time we get behind the wheel, we take the risk that we'll be sharing the road with an anonymous menace, like the truck driver in Duel.

Random Musings:

  • I know absolutely nothing about trucks, so I'm probably wrong about this, but how does a truck manage speeds of almost 100 mph when they're going through a pretty hilly area?

  • Feel soooo bad for the weird old lady who got caught in the crossfire.  She was just trying to run her creepy little petting zoo in peace.  "Ma snakes!"  Her poor pets all got hit by the truck!

  • I love that he buckles his seatbelt with purpose about half way through the film.  Because during all the shenanigans that happen in the first half of the film, he didn't think to buckle himself in before that point.

  • Honestly I think the best chance this guy has is getting out of the car and running on the terrain where the truck can't go.  This is why I would survive being chased by a malevolent truck, and this guy seems to be having trouble.

Thanks for reading, and come back next time!

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