I was shocked to discover that Scanners was a movie about people shooting each other with shotguns — always shotguns. That’s a lot of what the story is. Reviewing Videodrome, I was surprised to see how similar the end of Videodrome was, how it simplified itself to become about people shooting each other.
No issue with that me, believe, but after the first watch of David Cronenberg’s early opus, I thought it was more complex. And it was, just not on the surface. Storywise, it makes sense that the film ‘goes Scanners’ (I’m not looking to coin a term, not this time) at the end, because like The Dead Zone, Videodrome is about the transformation of an ordinary man to an assassin.
Blunt, raw violence is the end result, and it plays out sans the intelligence and wit of Cronenberg’s scientists. Rationalizing the situation is gone, and all that’s left now is killing for some enigma. Killing with cancer bullets as the guy implodes, gurgling and crunching into a microphone.
The second episode of The Battle Beyond Planet X was about Videodrome, and the seeming contradiction that the meister of body horror would make a film about the destructive effects of violent media on society, especially given this period in his career — as a young artist struggling against censorship in the formal, and I imagine general suspicion of character in the moment-to-moment. Even now, we’re surprised that the man is a regular at big-name festivals and at this point, acclaimed novelist.
His first feature film, Shivers, came about from an image he had, kind of like where the Terminator came from — this image was of a spider coming out of a guy’s mouth, and already we have that mix of the gruesomely shocking, and the psychologically inventive. Not just for the allusion to popular fear, but the vague indication of dream-exploration: what might this image mean, metaphorically? And Cronenberg would have a number of these images over the course of his career, whether shocking or even emotionally resonant, but always stirring in some way.
In Videodrome, the images are aplenty, and they are of course, not just for shock value. Not that that’s quick to be discounted. But this might be where our answer lies, as continuation to Episode 2, which was left open-ended (like Oldboy) and as highly entertaining and powerful. Cronenberg might be dealing with seemingly paradoxical or self-critical themes and ideas, but perhaps it is only in the exploration that the work is identified.
How else to make sense of this phallotastic reel of thrusting, splicing, gasping, killing? I still haven’t been able to parse it in the way I OCD a trail through most others of its type, but I do know that my own exploration, even without conclusion, and regardless the writer/director’s, is what finds its place here.