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Film Review


Figure 1: Duel Poster

Duel directed by Steven Spielberg in 1971 is the first movie from the filmmaking genius which
catapulted him as one of the most inspiring storytellers in cinema, accompanied by the superbly
scripted efforts by Richard Matheson the film was supposed to only be broadcasted on television,
however the success of Duel allowed for it to be played on the silver screen.
Duel is about the masculine crises as it tells the story of a man named David Mann played by Dennis
Weaver who is tormented and terrified by a mysterious truck driver that battles Mann along a dirt
dessert road as he gradually gets engulfed by paranoia and anxiety over the shadowed truck driver
and his no motivations or explanation for toying with Mann’s emotions.

The film opens up with a Point of view shot of Mann driving his car in the city which is bustling with
life, as he makes his way towards the more secluded rugged dessert a man on the radio is heard
talking about how he hates seeing people and how his wife makes him see people and how he hates
being married to her. The man on the radio is key at supplying information to the viewer about what
the sub text is saying in Duel as a stereotypical man is moaning about how he hates his wife and his
life, this sets the viewer up for a deeper understanding of the meaning of the mysterious truck and its
phantom driver.

The fact that David’s last name is Mann is a complete allegory as this suggests that the struggles Mann
is going through could actually be the struggles of all men, which is their own thought patterns and
the way they are wired with paranoia and anxiety,

The semiotics of the truck is up to ones own interpretation, the truck could represent all men’s psyche
and the fact that you never get to see the driver instills this sense of semiotics, in the book Steven
Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career by Steven Awalt, Awalt describes “The film has also
been seen as an exercise in paranoia, a study of masculinity in crisis, an updating of the Western Duel on
wheels, the mythic struggle of David and Goliath, and even as a parable of repressed homosexuality”
(Awalt 2014)

Mann is seen battling this truck constantly throughout the film in a adrenaline fueled cat and mouse
chase scene which shows Mann’s mind slipping into a paranoid anxiety filled altered perception of
reality. The truck itself is a rusty brown colour and looks menacing as it resembles a face it shows that
it is its own persona. In one scene the truck is seen smashing a woman’s array of pets which include
snakes and spiders it could be argued that because the truck could represents Manns mind and all
men’s minds that the smashing of these snakes and spiders which are common phobias for many
people represent that these creatures are not something to be feared and actually the thing to be
afraid of is your own mind, when it goes awry and when it starts to induce paranoia and anxiety and
all the mental and physical symptoms that manifest in this skewed mentality.

Figure 2: The Truck and Mann's red car

Spielberg comments about the many theories surrounding Duel and how he was ignorant to different
peoples interpretations “It taught me to think a little more in the abstract, It really instructed me not to
just look at something and say, ‘Okay, everybody is bound to see this picture the way I see this picture.
We’re going to see the same colors, the same sky and horizon. We’re going to interpret this exactly alike I
learned very early on that nobody ever sees the same picture the same way. It’s impossible.” As quoted by
Steven Awalt in Steven Spielberg andD: The Making of a Film Career

Spielberg uses many effective montage edited close up shots of the car’s pedals and speed dials to
invigorate the intensity of the constant car chase, also effective shots are used to get inside the head of
Mann, a camera that trucks and follows Mann with a shake effect after his car is ran off the road shows
how unsteady and flighty he feels after the incident, Ian Freer writes of the editing
“Plotting the action and camera placements on a map that Spielberg fashioned stunning variations on
the cat and mouse theme, pepping up the pursuit with bizarro camera angles (big close ups of Mann
captured with a telephoto lens) and sound effects (the truck's heavy duty rumble, the car's pathetic
engine whine) all knitted together into stunning editing patterns.” (Freer 2000)

An interesting shot of Mann as he calls his wife in a Laundromat shows his silhouette inside the
window of a washing machine, which shows that he is inside a woman’s world as he talks to his wife,
many close up shots that truck in overlaid with an inner monologue shows Mann’s paranoid thoughts
ruminating as he wonders who the mystifying man is that is driving the truck and driving him into
insanity. The most effective shots at glimpsing inside the mind of Mann are when he is in the diner as
he is reaching his epitome of paranoid thoughts a shot of a pool table showing the break shot of the
pool balls shows David’s mind breaking as men are lined up at the bar with shoes and jeans that fit the
description of the shadowed truck driver an inner monologue of Mann is overload as he ponders
about who the perplexing truck driver could be.

Figure 3: Shot of inside of wasching machine

With Duel Spielberg has managed to produce a complex film full of subtext and lots to divulge in trying
to figure out the meaning of the truck and the phantom driver. The fact that you do not get to see the
driver and have no idea what the drivers intentions are make Duel gripping and thrilling. It is easy to
see why Spielberg is one of the most successful directors of all time, especially since the classic Duel is
his first directed film at the young age of 26, which highlights how he would have a long and very
successful career in filmmaking.

Illustration List

Spielberg S, (1971) Figure 1. Duel Poster
(Accessed on 11-02-17)

Spielberg S, (1971) Figure 2. The truck and Manns red car
Accessed on (8-11-2016)

Spielberg S, (1971) Figure 3 Shot of inside of washing machine
Accessed on (8-11-2016)


Awalt , S. (2014)
Accessed on (8-11-2016)

Spielberg S, cited in Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career Awalt S, (2014)
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Accessed on (8-11-2016)

Freer I, (2000)
Accessed on (8-11-2016)