The Weird Cinema of David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg has actually been on the cultural radar a decent amount this past month, what with releasing his new film Cosmopolis or saying that Batman is stupid because he wears a cape. Unfortunately, both of those stories have resulted in negative press for the director.

Of course, he’s no stranger to controversy. Cronenberg’s movies are almost always polarizing affairs, even for his own fanbase. His films are often met with intense analysis, dismayed audiences, and a little thrilled cult of fans.

Why? Probably because he keeps making movies like…

Dead Ringers

One of the tedious things about being a fan of someone like Cronenberg is when people ask you what your favorite movie of his is. If you’re me, Dead Ringers is the title that springs to mind, and you have a habit of saying it before realizing that people are going to follow up by asking you what the movie is about. Forced into a corner, you simply say, “Oh, um… it’s about twin gynecologists who fall in love with the same woman. But it’s really about identity and stuff like that.”

And it is. Jeremy Irons just owns the movie, playing both gynecologists flawlessly. There are long stretches of the movie that showcase nothing other than Jeremy Irons acting into an apartment by himself.

There are also stretches of the movie where new, bizarre gynecological instruments are designed for the treatment of women with “mutant genitalia.” It’s around the the scene where one of the twins uses them while wearing blood-red scrubs that you realize two things. One, this movie is freakin’ amazing…

…and two, stop that.

According to Cronenberg, guys are almost always the ones who get way freaked out by this stuff. Make of that what you will.

The Fly

On one level, this movie doesn’t sound all that strange. It’s about a guy who turns into a fly. It’s only when you step back and look at the fact that morphing into a giant insect seems a relatively normal affair that you realize how truly bizarre Cronenberg’s movies can get.

Anyway, the real surprise of The Fly is that it’s not actually that scary. It is gross as hell, sure, but the overwhelming feeling you’re left with at the end of the movie is sadness. Yep. Jeff Goldblum spends eighty minutes slowly turning into a giant insect. He vomits on his food, tears off the ends of his fingers, and sheds extraneous body parts willy-nilly, and it all seems very melancholic.

Isn’t that weird?

Isn’t this weirder? Also, this scene can go to hell.


OH yeah, this is the big one. Dead Ringers is my favorite Cronenberg film, but Videodrome is the one I have the most trouble forgetting. It’s probably due to the movie’s poignant satire of television’s effect on the human brain, or the moral maze its main characters get themselves entangled in.

Or maybe it’s because of the scene where James Woods uses a giant vagina on his stomach to store a sidearm. Yeah, actually, that’s probably it.
Videodrome chronicles a smut entertainment broadcaster’s descent into hallucinatory madness after watching a new underground videotape simply titled, “Videodrome.”

Which is probably where they got the idea for the movie’s title.

I know that movies with hallucinations tend to be weird anyway, but when Cronenberg portrays that kind of subject matter the results move several stages past “curiouser.” One of the terms for the kind of material Cronenberg tends towards is “body horror.” I.E., the source of the horror in his movies isn’t a monster or a maniac, it’s the main character himself. It’s really an entirely unnerving idea; the thought that your own body and mind might be working against your best interests.

And I bet it’s really unnerving when they team up to stick a VHS tape into your stomach-vagina. Speaking of female anatomy showing up in unexpected places…



No, not the tear-jerker about contemporary racial stereotyping. That one’s kind of a downer, sure, but the only weird thing about it is how it managed to win the Best Picture statue over Capote.

Yeah, Capote. Not Brokeback Mountain. I said it.

No, I’m talking about the 1996 film about people who get sexually aroused by car accidents.

Cronenberg has made a career out of skirting the edges of the NC-17 rating, but with Crash he finally crossed the line. And really, it’s understandable. I know there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the application of the NC-17 rating, but surely a movie like this would be the kind of thing that would earn a bit of a restriction —

There’s a scene where a guy uses a vagina-shaped leg scar for sex, is what I’m trying to say here. Which almost makes the earlier scene where the characters get turned on by crash-test dummies seem downright normal. As we’ve seen earlier on this list, Cronenberg isn’t one to shy away from taboo or bizarre representations of sexuality, and Crash is about as far as he’s ever gone.

As you can see, though, we here at Unrealitymag don’t believe in… hey, what the…

I should probably mention at this point that David Cronenberg isn’t a “shock” director. When he puts this kind of outrageous material in his films, you better believe he’s saying something very specific by it. In Crash, he’s commenting on a number of things, from the fascination we have watching people be destroyed (When’s the last time you saw a car crash in a movie? Saturday?) to the sexualization — or lack thereof — of the injured and disabled.

As with Dead Ringers, it would take someone like Cronenberg to have the guts to put this stuff onscreen. Because (to bring us back to our topic), it’s f***ing weird.

Naked Lunch

There was a Simpson’s episode where Nelson walked out of this movie saying, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.”

One of the primary characters in the movie is a typewriter, which turns into a giant beetle (a “writing bug,” get it?) that talks out of an anus on its back. And it is still a functioning typewriter at times, too, if a typewriter that has six waving legs and distracts you while you’re writing can be considered functioning. Although, if Cronenberg turned out to have one of these stashed in his office that would probably explain a lot.

Hi, I’m a PC. Zing!

As I discussed earlier, Naked Lunch is essentially the “making of” story behind a drug-fueled, nightmarish book that a lot of people say is really funny but is honestly a bit much for me to stomach. I’m sure they’re right. Anyway, the movie revolves around a guy named William Lee, an exterminator, who starts to hallucinate (here we go again) after taking some of his own “bug powder.” He winds up in a strange place called Interzone, where a whole slew of odd business goes down.

Naked Lunch is so pervasively bizarre that the movie doesn’t even really feel that threatening. It’s got a lot of interesting imagery, but there’s so little for the audience to grab onto that it’s hard to even get all that worked up when a huge man-centipede violates one of the human characters.


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  1. I love Cronenberg! I think this article should have made at least one mention of Scanners and his news like Eastern Promises. He is a pretty versatile director and you dont get many people doing work like his.

  2. While I like Cronenberg’s horrorific movies, it’s his weighty dramas that he should be focusing on now. He’s a better director than 95% of drama directors. He’s the director we need.

  3. My favorite (not necessarily best) Cronenberg is ExisTenz. It’s simply amazing following this labyrinthine movie/video game. What Videodrome did for television this movie does for video games.

    If you get the Canadian version of the DVD it has a Cronenberg commentary ( always fascinating) and an hour-long documentary of Production Designer Carol Spier (who also did Blade 2 among all of Cronenberg’s films). Well worth checking out.

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