A man (called David Mann) is travelling to meet an appiontment but is stalked, driven insane (pun not intended) and almost killed by a driver in a huge battered old truck.
This movie is amazing. Firstly, it was directed by Steven Spielberg for TV which makes the fruits of his labour even more staggering. So much innovation, imagination and art was poured into this project whereas many directors of TV movies would have treated them as a low art form and a way of making an easy quick buck.
This is like Jaws on the road. Instead of a shark persuing the hapless prey theres a truck. The amount of ingenuity that Spielberg used to film in the sea years later he here uses when filming speeding vehicles on desert highways. The cinematography is flawless and could serve as a tourist film for California if the events depicted weren’t so frightening.
The way that I read the film was that the truck is a test to Mann’s manhood. Up until the encounter with the truck Mann hears on the radio a discussion regarding modern gender roles and how men in general are now emasculated and subserviant to women. One caller says that his trick when dealing with his wife is to ‘play meek’. There is also a phone call with Mann to his wife in which he apologises as the previous night they had been a party at which a man had been a bit too ‘hands on’ with her. Mann had done nothing and this had caused his wife to argue with him and question his masculinity. There is also a conversation with a garage owner. ‘You’re the boss!’ says the garage owner to whch Mann replies ‘Not in my house I’m not!’
The truck in this film is a test to this masculinity. The modern man (or Mann) who has had his baser instincts of being a hunter/gatherer eroded by the modern world is going to be pushed to the limit. Thus certain events happen during the film- the truck won’t let Mann pass when its travelling too slow. The one time he motions for Mann to pass it is to make him run into oncoming traffic in the other lane. There are also moments in the film where Mann thinks hes gotten rid of the truck only to find it hiding in wait further on in his journey. The truck driver wants to control, manipulate and wear Mann down. Will Mann play meek and accept this or fight back?
There is an amazing sequence in which Mann retires to a roadside cafe as a respite to the onslaught from the truck. When he comes back out from the bathroom hes just used he sees to his horror that the murderous truck is parked in front of the cafe. The driver must be in the cafeteria as Mann and so his paranoia goes off the scale! This sequence is amazing- are the other patrons really looking around at Mann or is he just imagining it? Can he eliminate the patrons and single out the truck driver who is trying to kill him? This is one of the tense, nervous and nerve wrecking sequences I’ve ever seen in a film.
The film even feels like a live action horror version of a Roadrunner cartoon during one scene. When the truck starts pushing Mann’s car into a level crossing which is closed and with a train travelling through it the sheer surreality of the whole situation can be seen. This scene was added to the TV movie to make it into a full length film to be released in cinemas in Europe.
The ending of the film involves Mann defeating his adversary but by sacrificing his own car. Mann jams his briefcase full of paperwork onto the cars accelerator so that it keeps on running. The truck crashes into the car but on doing so both run off the edge of a cliff. The dinosaur roar that is heard when the truck is falling and crashing into the rocks down below was later used by Spielberg in Jaws to accompany the death of the shark.
Spielberg seems to be implying that when man (Mann) strips away all of the trappings of modern life (symbolised by his car, his briefcase that is indicative of his job) then he possesses what man has always possessed- ingeuinity, intelligence and a strong survival instinct. No amount of watering down of these qualities by modern societal forces can erode this.
This film is amazing as are so many of Spielberg’s TV movies- and indeed his movies made for the cinema. This has been released on Blu ray thankfully. Now if only Steven would oversee the release of the brilliant Something Evil then I would be truly happy.