Archive for cronenberg

eXistenZ – David Cronenberg – 1999

Posted in 90's with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by bookofdread



David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ is a condemnation of virtual constructs and a diagnosis of the sickness that exists as an organism reproduces their reality in great likeness. Throughout the picture there is a sense that at any given moment your perception can shift. Once reality is compromised in the first place, there is no end to how detached one can become from existence. 

The film begins at a private debut of the new VR game eXistenZ. Certain people are in the first wave of twelve to get out their bio-pod, (more on this later), and plug in. As Allegra Gellar, the game’s programmer, leads the first wave into the game, there is an assassination attempt on her life. This leads her to escape with a security man, Ted Pikel. So far, the film has portrayed the game designers as victimized and on the run.

Pikel digs a bullet out of Gellar’s arm. It is a human tooth. The gun was made of bones and skin and shot teeth. It was completely organic so as to get through security. Here Cronenberg is making a value statement about flesh and bone vs. technology. The strong flesh and bone are the only source of resistance against the impending digital worlds.

She needs someone she can trust to plug into eXistenZ with her to make sure the game isn’t compromised. Pikel needs a bio-port so they stop at a Mechanic shop. Willem Dafoe worships Gellar. She invented a game called Art God in which one plays God the creator/Artist. It changed his life. We are comparing the artist to god, not just as a video game designer, but even begging the question, does not the novelist, painter, filmmaker act as the Art God? Do they determine all parameters of their work? Later in the film Gellar refers to the game as, “Free will disguised in a deterministic reality”. If we can be sold this believably at any point, how can we ever trust the chaos of natural reality? How do we know it isn’t all determined?

Cronenberg is just having a bit of fun casting Jesus as the manipulative mechanic who installs Pikel with a bogus bio-port. He betrays Gellar and Pikel and they escape, only to have their slave-pods blown by the port. What the fuck does this all mean? Slave pods? Yup. Cronenberg straight up calls video game controllers slave pods. Sure, their made of mutant amphibian insides and you plug them into your spine but all they same they are video game controllers. SLAVE PODS. These are the tools of self-enslavement. Plug in and the real world doesn’t have to worry about you till you re-surface.

These fleshy lumps are biological in nature and you plug them into your back. Pikel feels a bit violated when Gellar plugs into him. She licks the plug and fingers the hole in Pikel’s back. This stuff feels incredibly pornographic and inverted. A woman plugs the child of her consciousness into a man. Not only are we reversing penetration, with the woman entering the man, also, the fruit of her labor is going into the man, and he absorbing it into his mind. Cronenberg is detailing and deconstructing the mirage of the birth myth. Here gender is meaningless, here births happen inside your mind and anything is possible.

As I said before, the port blows the pod, the myth of Jesus the Mechanic proving unpalatable, we move on to another bit of casting fun, Ian Holm as a Port Fixer/Engineer. This is ironic because Holm’s most iconic role is that of Ash the betraying Android from Alien. Turns out, in this movie, he’s a good guy, or at least installs a valid port. And now we get to the part of the movie where they finally play eXistenZ.  This stuff is interesting based on the shift at the end. But as it is, the game is virtual and Gellar and Pikel have seeming freedom, but occasionally the game will take over and have them say certain lines to advance the program or give them sexual urges to heighten emotion in game play.

Here a game of cat and mouse begins, Pikel assassinates his contact or does he? The game confuses and confounds the players until they don’t know whom they are playing for, whom the empire or the rebellion is and ultimately Gellar betrays Pikel. And they wake up, players in a game called tRancendEnz.  Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law were just playing a video game. The room applauds. Everyone fills out test cards. The games actual designers confer. They are concerned about a strong anti-gaming theme in the game.

Jude Law and JJL approach the designer and congratulate him for achieving the most effective re-creation of reality. Then they kill him and his assistant. They raise their gun at another player. He raises his hands and asks, “Wait, are we still in the game?”

This is Cronenberg’s point. Once divorced from an accepted upon reality, one can never be sure. Is the film anti-video game? I’d say pretty completely. I’d offer that the film suggests that video games are destined to become perversions of existence and worse if such a thing is possible how do we know we do not live inside of such a perversion. 


Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg – 2007

Posted in 00's with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by bookofdread



Cronenberg is one of my top, top most favorite guys working, and Eastern Promises ranks very high on a list masterful pictures. Naomi Watts is a maternity nurse who is working when a fourteen-year-old Russian girl is brought in hemorrhaging horribly. The girl dies in childbirth but her daughter survives. Watts, in hopes of finding the name of a relative or a form of contact, takes a diary from the dead girl. She hopes to have her Russian uncle translate the text. Inside that diary is hell.

He tells her to forget such things, that the diary is dangerous. This is the same guy who earlier told her, her baby died insider her because her lover was black. He’s old school and a bid gnarly. So Nursey goes to a club she finds a card from in the diary. There she meets the creepiest most soft-spoken gangster ever, Semyon, portrayed with masterful restraint by Armin Mueller-Stahl. Semyon exudes implied threat with his every word, his every stance. When he asks Watts if she always works at the hospital, it gives me chills every time.

Soon we meet Viggo Mortensen’s Nikolai, a driver and bodyguard for “prince” Kirill, Semyon’s drunk and possibly homosexual son. Kirill has had a Vor killed for spreading rumors of his queerness and Nikolai helps him cover up the crime. The dynamic of these two characters is complex. On one hand Kirill actually feels a genuine love for Nikolai while simultaneously resenting the way his father responds to him. On the other hand, Nikolai is never playing anyone straight. Even at the picture’s end it is hard to decipher his motives.

Tatiana’s diary reveals the dark secrets of Semyon’s world, and Cronenberg gives us through this tale an eye-opening look at the world of human trafficking. It’s done behind closed doors, and often with the initial participation of the girls. The diary says, “My friend tells me of a club in London where girls can go to sing. They can make more in a night than here in a week.” These clubs are forced prostitution rings. Once the girls are in town they are no longer human beings. They are a good to be sold or used by the king.

What’s brilliant is the way that Cronenberg uses these details as background instead of as the main focus of the plot. Essentially, after ingratiating himself to Semyon, Semyon has Nikolai made, just so he can serve him up to the Chechens who want his son dead.

But oh no! Nikolai is a bad-ass deep-cover agent working with Scotland Yard. He survives a brutal attack in a bath house and tells his contact that he is going to replace Semyon.

I remember seeing this film opening night in a theater full of fancy folks, (older ladies really), who had heard about the nude Viggo Mortensen scene and come for that. What they got was a brainfull of subversive ideas about class and Eastern and Western culture. So different, yet so gangster.

The film is full of characters meeting an extreme to fulfill their convictions. Kirill killed a man for calling him queer because he was afraid that the idea, true or not, might diminish him in the eyes of his father. Anna enters a dangerous world in hopes to secure a future for child with no prospect. She may represent the naivety of western hope. Semyon is the Eastern Promise, a powerful king who will help you once you arrive in his kingdom. But his palace is built of lies. He is not only is guilty of proliferating prostitution, he’s a pederast and a rapist. But he would risk fraud in front of his gangster peers to keep his son out of harms way.  Finally, there is Nikolai, in deep-cover , building a lie he created so he could dismantle the evil from within.

Even though the baby is saved at the end of the film, and Semyon jailed, the film feels overtly movie like in these final moments, calling attention to itself with a visual cliché, such as Anna tending to the baby. You know this is a movie. You know this is a happy ending. But you know for the real Tatiana’s and Christine’s out there, there is no happy ending. “Slaves are born to slaves.”, Nikolai tells Anna. There’s the root of it. These people are slaves. Intimidation, money and power can enslave. But that’s not necessary. All you need is one good promise.


Antiviral – Brandon Cronenberg – 2012

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , on October 6, 2012 by bookofdread


Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature film, Antiviral, is a stunner. Set in the very near future where celebrity obsession has become paralyzing infection of the populace, a salesman in a virus clinic sees beyond the cloud of asphyxiating distraction and, by virtue of his own addictions and through chance of fate, is drawn into a complex mystery, that only he can solve.

That being said, we’ll never get to meet Hannah Geist. Because Hannah Geist died. But we could meet our Hannah. I have a friend who once said he never wanted to meet his heroes because it would humanize them in his mind. That’s dead on. Once met in person, these glamorous people become humanized and small. This is key in keeping in perspective the danger celebrity obsession can become.

In Antiviral, all news channels seem to be E! television, an invasive look into the lives of celebrities. It is never explained why these people are famous, but it is surely to allow them to act as proxies of any audience favorites.  The lengths these people go to, be closer to these celebrities includes injecting themselves with viruses in an act of biological communion. And the man gets paid off of all of that.

Syd works in one of these virus clinics and sells the sauce to fans, giving them whatever sickness they desire, from whichever superstar they can afford. But Syd is clever and makes money on the side selling stuff from the factory to a steak dealer. Furthermore Syd is not immune to the societal plague, and he constantly injects himself with a variety of sicknesses.

The film works as a drug abuse parable, a cautionary tale about mass obsession, a mystery, and a philosophical gauntlet. Every audience member will come down on the film a little differently and Antiviral acts as carefully calibrated barometer, reflecting shallow obsessions back on the viewer.  Whether you read trashy supermarket magazines or work as a paparazzi most people in our media saturated culture will recognize this future as fairly prescient.

Beyond those casual fans, the film comments on that old Cronenbergian horse, the flesh. What newer transformation of the flesh than to have yourself injected with a virus. Antiviral, equates these obsessions with addiction, and as each plot point turns, these themes are blended and blurred for Syd. Even when you think you have every turn and motivation figured out, Cronenberg keeps you guessing until the very end.

The design and sound of this film are engrossing. His use of white as negative space, contrasted with only giant photos of the famous, create an angelic atmosphere, as if in the clinic one could buy heaven with enough money. As the film progresses, we shift to blues and blacks, only to find ourselves in the white of the clinic again by the end. These color shifts are smooth and compliment the story, as Syd’s morality shifts again and again. The score is droney and dark, in the best possible way. It looms seamlessly over uncomfortable imagery a slithering force neither condemning nor praising the actions on screen but providing intensity to the text.

I enjoyed this film immensely and hope to see a new trend of body-horror oriented filmmakers come out of this amazingly entertaining whirlpool of a film. I cannot wait to see the next film from Brandon Cronenberg.

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