You might call Deliverance a tale of man vs nature, or perhaps man vs man, but truthfully, I think it is man vs himself – the limitations of his own body and mind.
It begins innocently enough, with four men, Lewis, Ed, Drew, and Bobby who set out for a weekend canoe trip down an extremely remote section of the Cahulawassee river in northern Georgia. They are respectable family men – city men – and looking to get a glimpse of near wilderness before the entire river valley is flooded with the construction of a dam. Only one of the four, Lewis, is fit for this type of trip.
Ed knows Lewis better than the other two. He likes and admires Lewis, but he thinks him a bit fanatic. Lewis is a survivalist, not the bomb-shelter type, but a man who trains his body and mind to overcome. During the drive to the launch site, Ed explains his own more comfortable philosophy:
I am mainly interested in sliding. Do you know what sliding is?
No. You want me to guess?
I’ll tell you. Sliding is living antifriction. Or, no, sliding is living by antifriction. It is finding a modest thing you can do, and then greasing that thing. On both sides. It is grooving with comfort.
Ed, Drew and Bobby, are trusting Lewis to get them through any difficult challenges. But they don't anticipate the life and death struggle against the forces of nature and other forces more sentient and malignant they will face.
Dickey seems to believe that modern men have sublimated their primal instincts and have become what Lewis describes as “lesser men”. Dickey, via Lewis, seems to believe that most men will be unfit to survive if tested.
Oh and by the way, Lewis is badly injured and incapacitated. It is up to the others to find their primal strength – or perish.
It is riveting. Ed, the first-person narrator, describes the wilderness so beautifully, that in spite of the danger, I wished I was there. He describes the charm and mystique of the locals with delicacy, and the urgency of survival crisis with terrifying effect. It is troubling, but also hopeful in a most unusual way. Deliverance is the call of the wild for humanity.
My rating 4 ½ stars
My edition of deliverance, is one of my most prized books: a Franklin Library, leather bound, autographed Edition (not signature facsimile…genuine autograph).
What I thought about mainly was that I was in a place where none – or almost none – of my daily ways of living my life would work; there was no habit I could call on. Is this freedom? I wondered. ~ Ed
Film rendition: there is a very good 1972 film, starring John Voight (Ed), Burt Reynolds (Lewis), Ronny Cox (Drew), Ned Beatty (Bobby)…and a small role by Dickey as the local sheriff. It is very true to the book, perfectly cast and portrayed. It was nominated for numerous academy and golden globe awards, though it didn’t win any. Marvelous little clip from the film HERE