Examining the Work and Style of Cinematic Master David Cronenberg

The day has finally come: the latest dark masterpiece from David Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars, finally begins its U.S. theatrical run. Written by Bruce Wagner, the dryly ironic and seedy exploration of Hollywood stars recent Oscar winner (and always engaging actress) Julianne Moore, alongside a stellar cast featuring John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, and Robert Pattinson. The film has already been recognized as a different playing field for Cronenberg, as his films usually take place in settings more confined, or filmed near his hometown of Toronto. But, in truth, Maps to the Stars has many Cronenberg staples, stylistically and thematically. It’s a film that, like Cronenberg’s previous works, explores quintessential themes of self-identity, mortality, and the ghosts of our pasts, set in the insular Hollywood world filled with greed, power, obsession, and evolution.

So, let’s take a look back at some classic moments from David Cronenberg’s past films and get ready for some Hollywood mayhem in this nasty piece released in theaters today.

SCANNERS (1981)

Much like Cronenberg’s other films that particularly pertain to somewhat of an insular world, focusing on a select group and its manifesting effects on society, Scanners is a story about a man with telekinetic powers sent to hunt others like himself, seemingly “infected”, as assigned by a perplexed, inquiring scientist investigating consecutive instances, such as this opener. The opening scene, as shown here, is remarkably tonal and completely Cronenbergesque, as he gives us audiences reacting to the horror show of something sinister looming upon them, something physical, beyond comprehension-something we cannot explain but witness.

“It’s my conceit that perhaps some diseases perceived as diseases that destroy a well-functioning machine actually turn it into a new but still well-functioning machine with a different purpose. The AIDS virus: look at it from its point of view. Very vital, very excited, really having a good time. It’s really a triumph if you’re a virus. See the movies from the disease’s point of view. You can see why they would resist all attempts to destroy them. These are all cerebral games, but they have emotional correlatives as well.”— David Cronenberg

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005)

A History of Violence received rave reviews upon its release, earning it two Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (William Hurt), and stirred audiences reactions, especially when word-of-mouth got around about this infamous staircase scene between Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen. As always, Cronenberg has touched upon the peoples’ immediate obsession with violence in this film, this time using the family device as a means of exploring Darwinism, survivalism, and the bonds we mold or break.

“David Cronenberg says his title “A History of Violence” has three levels: It refers (1) to a suspect with a long history of violence; (2) to the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and (3) to the innate violence of Darwinian evolution, in which better-adapted organisms replace those less able to cope. “I am a complete Darwinian,” says Cronenberg, whose new film is in many ways about the survival of the fittest — at all costs.”—Roger Ebert.com

EXISTENZ (1999)

The humorous aspects of Existenz are beyond hysterical and, yes, satirical as Cronenberg gets. Check this scene out from his sci-fi film Existenz featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law. It packs some bloody flesh, sick humor, a surrounding audience reacting, and some social commentary, once again, on violence, this time using video games as a catalytic device, rather than video (as seen later in the classic Videodrome). Oh yes, there’s a dog at the end of this clip just to add the cherry to the top.
“You need language for thought, and you need language to anticipate death. There is no abstract thought without language and no anticipation. I think the anticipation of death without language would be impossible.”—David Cronenberg

VIDEODROME (1983)

Long live the new flesh… Videodrome stars James Woods as Max Renn, a sleazy employee who works at a broadcast station (that’s also sleazy) and begins to unravel the origins of a pirated bootleg show known as Videodrome, an ultraviolent show depicting torture and has spawned a cult among those who watch it. The film explores conspiracy theories, the relationship between sex and violence (very Cronenberg), and bodily transformation. It’s a crucial Cronenberg that, for anyone who hasn’t yet seen a Cronenberg film, should be viewed immediately. Blondie’s Deborah Harry also stars as the seductive Nicki Brand.

“I see technology as being an extension of the human body.”- David Cronenberg

THE FLY (1986)

A remake of the 1958 cult classic starring Vincent Price, The Fly stars Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, as a couple whose relationship is pushed to the limits when an experiment goes terribly, terribly wrong. Seth Brundle (Goldblum) creates a teleportation device that he puts to the test himself when a fly intervenes with the experiment, transforming his body unexpectedly, merging both insect and man. The final scene is breathtaking and yet heartbreaking as Brundle’s fate is soon sealed and his lover, Veronica, watches him disintegrate.

“For me, the first fact of human existence is the human body. But if you embrace the reality of the human body, you embrace mortality, and that is a very difficult thing for anything to do because the self-conscious mind cannot imagine non-existence. It’s impossible to do.”—David Cronenberg

DEAD RINGERS  (1988)

Dead Ringers is a special film. It features not just one but two sexy Jeremy Irons, playing twin gynecologists that share practically everything you may imagine- women, an apartment, and career. Though, the two lead characters, Elliot and Beverly, are completely different by nature. Cronenberg explores self-identity and madness in this eerie psychological drama that explores themes of mortality, the physical and mental states of mind, and loss.

“Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.”- David Cronenberg

EASTERN PROMISES (2007)

Cronenberg, as he usually does, recasts a fellow collaborator (this time Viggo Mortensen) in 2007’s drama thriller Eastern Promises, the story of a stranger whose ties with crime families in London intersect with a midwife (Naomi Watts) who also has ties with a family and evidence that may potentially be harmful.

“We’ve all got the disease – the disease of being finite. Death is the basis of all horror.”-David Cronenberg

CRASH (1996)

The most sexually-explicit piece (and graphic) of David Cronenberg’s filmography is, hands down, Crash, based upon the same titled novel by J. G. Ballard. The controversial film featured a well-known cast, including Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette, and James Spader, was rated NC-17. The subculture depicted in the film focuses on car-crash victims who fetishize the driving machines and sexual energy that they believe rejuvenates their lives. It’s bizarre, transgressive, unapologetic, and completely nihilistic.

“There’s an entire generation of Americans who have been spawned in the back seat of a 1954 Ford. So it’s not like I invented sex in cars.”—David Cronenberg

NAKED LUNCH (1991)

Adapting a book such as William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch into a film is no easy feat whatsoever. Remarkably construed, visually warped, and featuring (Cronenberg staple) Howard Shore’s swooning music Naked Lunch is a visual feast not to be missed.

“Drugs and creativity don’t go together for me. Like everybody in the ’60s, I had one acid trip and some cocaine and hash, you know, the stuff everyone did. But it’s been 30 or 40 years since I bothered to do that. What I need is clarity. Even not having enough sleep is a problem for me, never mind doing any kind of drugs.”— David Cronenberg

THE DEAD ZONE (1983)

 

Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a man who has just survived a car crash, awaken from a coma, only to discover he withholds psychic powers. The plotline involves a politician, whom Johnny shakes hands with, and the inevitable fatalistic fate that awaits as this man whose powerful status may soon bring present great danger. Martin Sheen stars as the politician whom Johhny Smith confronts.

“Civilization is repression. You don’t get civilization without repression of the unconscious, of the id. And the basic appeal of art is to the unconscious. Therefore, art is somewhat subversive of civilization. And yet at the same time it seems necessary for civilization. You don’t get civilization without art.”—David Cronenberg

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