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Let's deal with the squealing pig in the room right away: Yes, this is indeed the movie best (or perhaps exclusively) known for the scene in which poor, porcine Ned Beatty gets roto-rootered at gunpoint by one backwoods Georgia hillbilly, as the second compliments Jon Voight on his "real purty mouth," and secondarily known for that little twinkly refrain of banjo music, which has become shorthand for "hillbillies who will hit your dirt button." What hasn't sunken into the public consciousness is that the dueling banjos scene is actually the one early moment of connection between blithe and arrogant city people and their backwoods rural guides who admittedly seem to be a little, ah, what's the polite word? Inbred.
But as the central river-shooting trip, taken on a lark by survivalist-type Burt Reynolds and his three totally unprepared friends, spins out of control, it's a promise kept by these backwoods folks that might mean salvation. The portions given to the expedition itself can drag, and the movie pads itself mercilessly with unexciting shots of middle-aged guys paddling canoes. However, the ideas stick. The deeper meaning of this movie can be found in the often heavy-handed dialogue about the thin skein that civilization stretches over the remorseless Darwinism of The Wild, and the human animal that yowls beneath the surface. It's about two good 'ol boys who decide to rape a couple city slicker, because they can, sure. But it's also about the excited gleam in Reynold's eye as he realizes he finally got a chance to hunt man. It's a story that is more about The End of the World as (I suspect) a movie like 2012 would be. This isn't about things blowing up during the end. It's about the way it will be after the end, and more to the point, it's about the fact that there are some people who long for that day.