Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs carries particular relevancy in light of the recent remake of the film. The specific scene under analysis is the seminal scene when the thugs attempt to break into the protagonist’s home and a full-scale and violent feud erupts. As noted, Sam Peckinpah is the film’s director. In addition to Peckinpah, the film’s production designer was Tony Fanning and the art director was Ken Bridgeman (“Answers”). These individuals designed the sets and greatly contributed to the staging of the violent confrontation. Weddle noted that while the film is largely character based, “these individuals’ contributions to the specific scene in question greatly enhanced the filmic effects” (Weddle, pg. 301). Indeed, in examining the mise-en-scene elements outside of the immediate plot and script it’s clear that they profoundly influence the power of the scene.
In terms of the scene’s specific mise-en-scene aspects, there are many notable elements. The scene implements dark, film-noir like lighting techniques. For instance, Dustin Hoffman’s character is first witnessed in a dark basement, and then later half of his faced in light and the other half ensconced in dark shadows. In the context of this scene the lighting has a tremendous influence on the viewer’s understanding of certain characters. The dark lighting of Hoffman’s character demonstrates a similarly dark internal state, wherein he has assumed an antic disposition and is intent on violently confronting the intruders. The lighting
also has the effect of contributing greatly to plot elements. The intruders are featured in a misty fog, while Hoffman’s character is either completely concealed or only partially witnessed. This allows for the element of surprise when the intruders finally try to enter the home and are surprised by Hoffman’s rifle. In addition to lighting, the setting also greatly contributes to the film’s story. The setting occurs entirely in the confines of a man’s home. Most obviously, this is central to the plot as the occurrence is the attempt to stop the home invasion. On a symbolic level, the setting in the home contributes to Hoffman’s characterization as the confined area forces an almost stir crazy mood on the scene. In addition to setting and lighting, costuming, hairstyle, and makeup also contribute to the scene. The Dustin Hoffman character is dressed fairly conservatively and is also fitted with glasses. This costuming functions to provide a strong juxtaposition against the violent actions he will take against the intruders, and contribute to viewer’s intrigue. Conversely, the intruders are depicted in ragged costumes, with overgrown hair, and dirty makeup. This has the effect of heightening their role as foreboding and menacing. In examining the extent that these mise-en-scene elements contribute to the scene’s overriding effect, it’s clear they are highly effective. Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs has rightly assumed a place in pantheon of great American films, and the film’s mise-en-scene is largely responsible for this standing. The lighting, setting, and costuming aspects work together in a harmonious way to create a manic and suspenseful scene that goes beyond simple action for a psychological thrills. If there are discordant elements, they fit in within Peckinpah’s overriding aesthetic vision for the scene. Ultimately, it’