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What Is 'Deliverance's 'Squeal Like A Pig' Scene Really About?

Entertainment | April 4, 2019

You've heard the line "squeal like a pig!" and you're probably aware that it's from the 1972 film Deliverance. What happens in the "squeal like a pig" scene is a brutal sexual violation, one that is shocking to watch even 47 years later. But while the scene is, on its surface, a lurid gothic thriller with horror elements that features an all-male cast, it's also making a strong point about sexual violence directed at women.

The tense 1972 film about four men attempting to survive in America’s backwoods has long been one of the best and most terrifying films about the nightmares that wait for us just outside the modern urban sprawl. The most famous scene in the film is when Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty) is forced to “squeal like a pig” while he's sexually assaulted by terrifying backwoods men, as his friend Ed Gentry (Jon Voight) watches, unable to help. Even if you haven’t seen this movie you know about this unforgettable movie moment, but what happens in the squeal like a pig scene?

The film is brooding look at the effects of modernization, machismo, and assault, and all of that is distilled into a haunting three and a half minute scene by director John Boorman. Everything about Deliverance is disturbing, but it’s such a thrill ride that it’s impossible to look away, so how did the filmmakers behind this scene capture something so real? 


Dueling Banjos Sets The Stage For The Horror To Come

Source: (warnerbros.com)

Even now, nearly 50 years after its release in 1972, the twang of a banjo elicits the tense feeling of being lost in the middle of nowhere. The scene itself begins harmlessly enough, much like the journey of the film’s four main characters, with guitar-toting city slicker Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) engaging in a simple musical back and forth with a rural boy. However, by the end of the scene, the boy is tearing up the banjo and breaking away from the song’s rhythm, essentially overpowering Cox.

Until the final moments of the scene where Cox can be heard saying, “I’m lost,” it’s a fun watch. It’s clear by the final moments of “Dueling Banjos” that the four men from Atlanta, and the audience, are in for a bumpy ride. They're in a place where they don't belong, they've brought a condescending attitude and the locals aren't interested in being friendly.

“Squeal Like A Pig” Was Thought Up On The Set

Source: (warnerbros.com)

The famous line “squeal like a pig” is so specific and intimidating that it sounds like it must have been in the script. Not according to everyone involved. Director John Boorman says that at the time he was under pressure from the studio to film the scene two ways, one for theatrical release and another for television. He didn’t want to do that so instead, he and the rest of the crew thought up a dialogue that would work in both versions.

According to the director’s commentary, a crew member named Ross Berg said that Ned Beatty should simply “squeal like a pig.” Boorman thought the phrase was perfect so he instructed Bill McKinney, the Mountain Man, to tell Beatty to start squealing. It’s simple and effective. Beatty also claims that he made the line up on the spot and gave it to McKinney. It seems that no one will ever know the true genius behind this line. 

The Scene Is Meant To Make Men Think About Sexual Assault

Source: (warnerbros.com)

If the “squeal like a pig” scene makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. The overall film – and this scene in particular – is designed to make the men in the audience think about sexual assault and the ways in which victims are looked down on in society. Not only is Beatty’s character made to be one of derision, but in the film, he and his friends decide to commit murder in order to keep the outside world from knowing what's happened to him.

While speaking with the Huffington Post, Deliverance star Burt Reynolds (who played Lewis Medlock) stated that the filmmakers were trying to make men understand the helplessness that engulfs a victim of sexual assault: 

Women get this movie much quicker than men. Women also understand. You know, for so many years men threw the word rape around and never thought about what they were saying. And I think the picture makes men think about something that’s very important, that we understand the pain and embarrassment and the change of people’s lives.

People Shouted “Squeal Like A Pig” At Ned Beatty For Years

Source: (warnerbros.com)

While speaking with The Guardian director John Boorman noted that executives for Warner Bros. were panicked. They were concerned about the cast and worried that it wasn’t going to make any money, and they had to be shaken by the film’s lynchpin of a scene. Boorman relishes that his film performed so well at the box office, but he notes that people loved to shout “squeal like a pig” at Ned Beatty for years to follow. He said: 

[Executives said] 'There’s never been a film in the history of Hollywood without women in it that made a lot of money.’ But it made $46m, the No 5 film that year. And it’s entered the language, as poor Ned Beatty can testify. Wherever he went, people would say: ‘Squeal like a pig!’ It went on for years.

For Ned Beatty, the scene was a further risk as Deliverance was his first film. Would he forever be remembered as the guy who was brutalized and sexually humiliated in that movie? To an extent, that's what happened. Ned Beatty has appeared in over 160 films, including Nashville (1975), Network (1976), All The President's Men (1976), two Superman movies, The Toy (1982), Rudy (1993), and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). He's been nominated for an Academy Award, two Emmys, and a Golden Globe. But he's still best remembered for the "squeal like a pig" scene.

The Scene Puts The Audience In The Victim’s Shoes

Source: (warnerbros.com)

Everything about this scene, from the dialogue, to the way it was shot, put the audience in the shoes of a victim. The wide camera angle suggests the voyeuristic view of someone watching from afar. Boorman has stated that the audience is essentially watching the scene from Jon Voight’s vantage point as if the viewer is who’s tied to a tree and being forced to watch helplessly.

This horrific and debasing scene also shows that Beatty and the rest of the men from Atlanta would rather commit murder than attempt to prove that such a horrible crime was committed. 

Even though Beatty's character was the victim of a crime, and the rapist was killed (by Lewis) in self-defense, Beatty and his friends cannot think about going to the police with the story. Because that would mean publicly acknowledging what happened to him, which might be a worse consequence than the brutal act was in the first place. Furthermore, the legal system in the area might not be sympathetic. Men have often had trouble understanding why female victims of sexual violence don't just come forward, report the crime and bring the perpetrator to justice. Deliverance invites male viewers to put themselves in Ned Beatty's shoes and then ask themselves whether such a public, legal course of action is so appealing. 

The protagonists of Deliverance decide it's better to hide the dead bodies (of which there are three when all's said and done) and move on.

Bill McKinney Loved The Line

Source: (warnerbros.com)

Even though he’s only credited as “Mountain Man,” actor Bill McKinney makes a meal out of his role. McKinney appeared in some of the greatest genre films of all time including The Outlaw Josey Wales and First Blood, but Deliverance is where his ferocious chops are most on display. Prior to his death in 2011 McKinney used the domain name www.squeallikeapig.com as his personal website.

Unfortunately after McKinney’s passing in 2011 from esophageal cancer, the website ceased to exist. Even though he passed away at the age of 80, McKinney continued working right up until his death. He filmed a Doritos commercial two weeks before his final moments. 

Tags: Banjo | Burt Reynolds | Deliverance | Famous Movie Scenes | Famous Quotes From The 1970s | Jon Voight | Movies In The 1970s | Ned Beatty

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.