David Cronenberg Videodrome

David Cronenberg Sees People As The Flesh Bags That They Are

David Cronenberg’s films offer a brutal truth: that humans are merely meat. This is not to say that cannibalism is the norm for him. Rather than emphasizing any potential consumption or digestion of bodies, he takes a look at humanity through the lens of our physical reality and the possibilities therein. Any person is capable of being broken down into the elements of flesh and bone, blood and guts. Cronenberg’s posit sits underneath all of his films, rising closer to the surface as needed.

While most closely associated with horror, and rightly so, Cronenberg has flirted with other genres in his 55-year career. Eastern Promises and A History of Violence might offer truly horrifying moments, but beyond the presentation of human brutality, there is no easily persuasive avenue to argue that either is a categorical horror film. Cronenberg is not trying to argue that films should aim to scare, or that they deal with a monster, but his treatment of the human body as a vehicle for pain and abject cruelty can crawl through whichever genre he decides to make his sandbox that time.

Famously, of course, his association with horror is well earned. It feels like a fool’s errand to go through the myriad ways that Cronenberg has earned his stripes as one of the most influential and brilliant horror directors in the history of cinema. Like trying to document how grass is green or beer tastes better outside. Even with the obviousness of the statement, it does bear some examination into the ways that Cronenberg embraces body horror through the horror of the body.

The Fly is a crystal clear example of his love for the body as a source of disgust. Sure, the mere concept of humanity’s hubris over molecular location is bound to be a fundamentally terrifying concept, but the true consequences of this audacity plays out all over Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum) body. We can see his human form dripping away as his body succumbs to his own errors, but none of that is possible without Cronenberg first acknowledging that Brundle is a bundle of flesh, just like that wayward fly. His mind elevates his humanity to the level of awareness which brings out empathy, but his flesh is no different from any other animal.

The true horror in Dead Ringers is surgeon twins being unable to see their patients as anything beyond being that warm slab of meat. Beverly and Elliot (Jeremy Irons) are not only monstrous in their inability to draw distinctions between one another, but in their growing inability to see their female patients as anything but a fleshy problem to solve. They cannot quite get it right when looking for the balance and division between body and mind, self and other. Again the mere concept of these brothers and their tortuous surgeries is enough to make audiences squeem, but that concept would be less impactful were it not for Cronenberg’s basal mode that humans are flesh.

The same approach of this analysis can be extended to Scanners, The Brood, The Dead Zone, Rabid, and Videodrome. Heck, Videodrome even has “Long Live The New Flesh” as its call to arms within the film.

It looks like Cronenberg’s next film, Crimes of the Future, is bound to carry on his affection for the meatier relationship between people and their bodies, Premiering later this month at the Cannes Film Festival, Crimes of the Future is not even trying to hide its exploitation of human carnality in its marketing. The film’s poster is a torso. Scars running like an inverted cross from sternum to belly. If this poster is not shouting a declaration that this film will carry the torch of the director’s testament of bodies as viscera, then his marketing team has a lot to answer to.

Cronenberg’s preoccupation with bodies, pain, and humanity has given us over half a century’s worth of films that shock, intrigue, and nauseate all in their own perfectly packaged ways. I hope he never stops.

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