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Richmond 1            Terror Incognita:Body Horror and the Fear of the Flesh in the       Films of David Cronenberg       ...
Richmond 2                                                          “A young child can understand a                       ...
Richmond 3Cronenberg’s first two commercial feature films, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), fallunder this simplistic cate...
Richmond 4of scenes that Shivers strives to place the characters and the audience in a new, disturbingframe of mind, one w...
Richmond 5       If the parasites and the infected represent the body, primarily driven by urges,then the doctors in Shive...
Richmond 6       Cronenberg’s early works, Shivers and Rabid, seem to take on the society as awhole and how modernity (wit...
Richmond 7become is not completely due to the meddling of science but because of their unresolvedinternal conflicts, as no...
Richmond 8follow the will of Nola. They are, as David Cronenberg puts it, “creatures from theunconscious, making the menta...
Richmond 9transformation. Towards the end of the film, Frank finds Nola at Somafree andapproaches her calmly, while Raglan...
Richmond 10world of abstractions”27 offered by science rather than the unknown world of humaninteraction. The teleportatio...
Richmond 11to marry both the mind and the body with the teleportation device, just as he seeks tomarry his own rationality...
Richmond 12a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake."33 Even thoughSeth was physically combin...
Richmond 13certainly is correct about Cronenberg’s distillation of his films – Cronenberg owes a lot tothe sophisticated c...
Richmond 14The opening scene depicts how alien they are in comparison to the outside world. Theirfascination with sex is n...
Richmond 15Cronenberg strives to make the point that the brothers were doomed to failure from thebeginning. Their outlook ...
Richmond 16Cronenberg’s Crash (1996), a tale of the search for meaning and pleasure in thetechnological age. In Crash, Jam...
Richmond 17they chase after cannot elevate them or transform their lives. As William Beard notes,“the ‘radical’ transforma...
Richmond 18Gabrielle. Cronenberg uses Gabrielle to portray the ultimate in new sexuality – themarriage of pleasure and pai...
Richmond 19       Over his career, Cronenberg has examined the various connections between themind and the body. At first,...
Richmond 20
1                                           ENDNOTES: David Cronenberg, Cronenberg on Cronenberg (London: Faber & Faber, 1...
43   Crash. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. James Spader, Holly Hunter. New Line Home Video, 1996.44   Royes 71.45   Crash.4...
5. Hulkrans, Andrew. "Body Work." Artform International 1 (March 1997): 1-12.6. Mathjis, Ernest. The Cinema of Cronenberg:...
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Terror Incognita: Body Horror and the Fear of the Flesh in the Films of David Cronenberg

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Terror Incognita: Body Horror and the Fear of the Flesh in the Films of David Cronenberg

  1. 1. Richmond 1 Terror Incognita:Body Horror and the Fear of the Flesh in the Films of David Cronenberg Rachel Victoria Richmond
  2. 2. Richmond 2 “A young child can understand a monster jumping out of the closet, but it takes a little more […] to understand that there is an inner life to a human being that can be as dangerous as any animal in the forest.”1 – David Cronenberg The philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes argued that there existed an“independent nonmaterial soul inhabiting and finding expression in a mechanicallyoperated body.”2 This belief gave birth to the idea of Cartesian Dualism, or the mind-body split, a discussion of the interaction of the body on the mind and vice versa.Director David Cronenberg has chiefly devoted his career to the mind-body split and thegap between the rational, functional mind and the body. As Cronenberg says, many issues“revolve around the impossible duality of mind and body.”3 Some critics have argued thatCronenberg’s work can be split into two eras with two distinct focuses - before DeadRingers (horrors of the body) and after (horrors of the mind). This false assertion is basedon the idea that Cronenberg’s early films are primarily body-horror genre films wheregore takes importance over psychological insight. In reality, Cronenberg’s films havealways depicted the struggle to unite the mind, restrained and shackled by modern societyand technology, with the abject and wild body. In his films, the body becomes the screenon which the characters’ fears, obsessions, and desires are projected. Ultimately, themind-body gap spurs transformation, mutation, and evolution – either mentally orphysically – that pushes the characters to a new understanding of what it is to be human. It is undeniable to those who have followed the career of David Cronenberg thathis films have increased in palatability (for mainstream audiences) while over time,moving away from films that could so easily be labeled as biological horror.
  3. 3. Richmond 3Cronenberg’s first two commercial feature films, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), fallunder this simplistic category. In both films, parasites and mutations cause their hosts toact in a manner dangerous to the established order of society, displaying either violentrage or sexual outbursts. While it would be easy to call Shivers and Rabid “exploitationfilms”4, as writer Carl Royer does in his essay on Cronenberg, “Atheism and ‘The Deathof Affect,’” the truth is much more complex. Shivers is as much a psychological horror asDead Ringers (1988) or Spider (2002). However, Cronenberg (in creating his own genre)uses parasites as a form of bodily mutation, a reaction to a sterile society and a projectionof the characters’ fears of the unknown, especially that of the body. Shivers introduces many of the subjects that will become familiar in Cronenberg’slater works. The story centers on Starliner Towers, a new apartment high-rise on anisland “far from the noise and traffic of the city.”5 The opening shots are balanced,unremarkable, and staid frames of the Starliner design. A voiceover asserts that thetenants have control over the elements of life of which they find displeasing. “Exploreour island paradise – secure in the knowledge that it belongs to you and your fellowpassengers alone.”6 Cronenberg’s detached camera emphasizes the cold and compartmentalized life that Starliner Towers offers, a dull existence devoid of the unknown. This civility is broken by a struggle between a half-naked young woman and an older man, culminating in her murder and his suicide. The scene is amix of sex and violence, tantalizing and yet terrifying. It is clear from this juxtaposition
  4. 4. Richmond 4of scenes that Shivers strives to place the characters and the audience in a new, disturbingframe of mind, one where the old rules of conduct do not apply. Beneath the polishedsteel and glass of Starliner Towers, beneath the veneer of polite behavior of the tenants,all that is abject and restrained threatens to come bursting to the surface. The parasites that attack the tenants of Starliner Towers are foul creatures thatseem to reference every wretched part of human nature that society deems necessary to control. The parasite is both phallic and fecal. The swelling dark mass oozes and squirms from the bodies of the infected, reminding the viewer of that which is kept hidden inside and out of conversation. In the book The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg, William Beard notes “all thingsexpelled – ‘ab-jected’ – from the body interior are culturally constructed as disgusting.”7He continues by arguing that the only thing that “contain and repress the abject”8 arebody boundaries but in Shivers, the parasites create a “boundaryless body interior”9 thatattack the sterile and repressed environment of Starliner Towers. Doctor Hobbes (FredDoederlein), the older man who murdered the girl in the beginning of the film and theprogenitor of the parasite, saw the parasite as an aphrodisiac that was capable of turningthe world into “one beautiful mindless orgy.”10 The parasite is an antidote to a worldwhere “bodies are overly regulated and restrained by society’s structures,”11 thusresulting in a loss of the abject – a key part of human existence. Sexual repression isreplaced with uncontrollable orgiastic revelry and civility is replaced with frenzy. In theend, a new order is born out of chaos.
  5. 5. Richmond 5 If the parasites and the infected represent the body, primarily driven by urges,then the doctors in Shivers are the defenders of rationality and the mind. Doctor Roger St.Luc (Paul Hampton), the resident physician in Starliner Towers, battles against theparasites with the help of his nurse and fiancé Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) and Hobbes’former partner, Rollo Linsky (Joe Silver). St. Luc’smission to restore Starliner Towers back to normal isaided by his reliance on facts and science. Hedoggedly pursues clues, even spurning Forsythewhen she strips in front of him in his office.Cronenberg contrasts the sexless St. Luc with his hot-blooded fiancé who is in touch withher feelings and her sexuality. It is of course no surprise that towards the end of Shivers,Forsythe becomes infected. Before she reveals this to St. Luc, she recalls a dream inwhich she had sex with a strange man: Hes old and dying and he smells bad, and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual. You know what I mean? He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh. That disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other. That even dying is an act of eroticism. That talking is sexual. That breathing is sexual. That even to physically exist is sexual. And I believe him, and we make love beautifully.12Cronenberg’s idea of The New Flesh as mentioned in Videodrome (1983) and The Fly(1986) is first introduced here in Shivers. The New Flesh of which Forsythe speaks aboutis born out of the body overriding the mind. That which the mind says is disgusting ordiseased becomes beautiful. The end of Shivers has St. Luc finally being infected andleading a caravan of automobiles back into the city. Cronenberg takes great care to showthe infected not as monsters but as a new order, more in touch with the humanity they solong denied.
  6. 6. Richmond 6 Cronenberg’s early works, Shivers and Rabid, seem to take on the society as awhole and how modernity (with the paradox of improving and extending life throughtechnology) affects the individual’s psyche. In The Cinema of David Cronenberg: FromBaron of Blood to Cultural Hero, Ernest Mathijs draws a parallel between Cronenberg’swork to German philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse “saw the regulation of sexualimpulses and instincts […] as the key to establishing civilization and culture” through theuse of “abjection and repression.”13 The disadvantage of repressing desires is that it canlead to unnecessary “surplus repression” and the formation of a “onedimensional man,”an unwavering conformist to society’s norms.14 But within that onedimensional man thereis the Other, controlled by desire and always at odds with the rational self. As WilliamBeard says, “Whatever is destructive to the ego-self is to the benefit of the bodily-Other.”15 In a hermetic world, both are not allowed to exist in balance. Cronenberg usesmutation to push out into the world for all to view that which is reviled. After Shivers andRabid, Cronenberg refines his focus to the mind-body connection as it is reflected by anindividual’s own nature. Beard notes this change as well, “You can’t fix human nature,that is the moral of the early films (which in the later films is amended to ‘you can’t fixyour own nature’).”16 Cronenberg progresses from the body rebelling against the mind to the mindtransforming the body because of internal conflict. The Brood (1979) and The Fly remaintwo of Cronenberg’s most popular and commercially successful films. In both films,Cronenberg depicts characters who through their own makings are slowly transformed(literally) into monsters, aided by science. The characters experience “an innerexploration of the self through ritualistic science or pseudoscience.”17 What the characters
  7. 7. Richmond 7become is not completely due to the meddling of science but because of their unresolvedinternal conflicts, as noted by Ernest Mathjis. “The monster comes from within ourselves,bursting out of our bodies; it is everywhere, in all walks of life, in what we hold familiar,as well as in our own families.”18 In The Brood, a woman gives birth to her rage, in theform of disfigured children who carry out bloody revenge against those who have hurther. In The Fly, a scientist is transformed by love, obsession, and ambition into an insect– an embodiment of his “innate otherness.”19 The Brood is one of Cronenberg’s most personal films, interesting in the way heblends his own experience with horror genre conventions to create a true psychologicalstudy of a broken family and the effects of repressed anger. Like the couple, Frank (ArtHindle) and Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), Cronenberg and his wife experienced adestructive divorce that placed their child in the middle of the conflict. In The Brood,Nola finds herself in the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics, being treated by DoctorHal Raglan (Oliver Reed) for her anger and the abuse she suffered as a child by the handsof her mother (Nuala Fitzgerald). Doctor Raglan’s treatment of psychoplasmics requiresthe patient to relive their traumas (“Show me your rage.”20) and allow their negativeemotions to physically manifest. A man in the beginning of the film produces welts onhis back as a result of the process, while another man later on develops a cancerous lumpon his neck. Nola, on the other hand, becomes able to asexually reproduce, a twisted formof parthenogenesis. What Nola gives birth to are her children, her physical manifestations of hate justas her real daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) is a physical manifestation of the love sheused to have for her husband Frank. The children are sexless and deformed and only
  8. 8. Richmond 8follow the will of Nola. They are, as David Cronenberg puts it, “creatures from theunconscious, making the mental physical.”21Cronenberg also explains that Nola’s rage“goes beyond certain moral categories, so theresulting creatures were primal, nearly foetal,nearly formless. Just pure anger.”22 The firstvictim of Nola’s rage is her mother Julianawho used to abuse Nola as a child. In a parallel, Frank finds bruises on Candice’s backafter a visit with Nola and then Juliana tells Candice how Nola frequently was marredwith bumps and bruises when she was young. Nola’s creature-children then attack Julianain her home and kill her in obedience to the will of their “mother.” However, The Broodis not just about Nola and her familiars, the film also is Cronenberg’s response toHollywood fare such as Kramer vs. Kramer.23 Frank fights for Candice’s safety andwellbeing in a situation that he finds himself completely unprepared for. As the maleprotagonist, Frank is also saddled with the feminine responsibilities of raising a daughter.While Nola transforms into something monstrous, Frank has joined the two roles ofparenting together for the sake of his daughter. The most infamous scene in The Brood is also the key to understanding Nola’s
  9. 9. Richmond 9transformation. Towards the end of the film, Frank finds Nola at Somafree andapproaches her calmly, while Raglan tries save Candice from the creature-children. “I’min the middle of a strange adventure,”24 Nola tellsFrank and although he attempts to appease her,she does not believe him. Nola lifts her gownand shows Frank the sac that hangs from herstomach, the second womb for her children ofrage. She then pulls apart the sac and licks the fetus lying inside. Cronenberg shows Nola,deep in a state of ecstasy while licking her new child. She seems less like a woman andmore like an animal, a wolf perhaps, celebrating the life it brought into the world. Withthis shot, Cronenberg cements Nola’s complete transformation into something whollycontrolled by impulse, anger, and emotion. The Brood at its core is a film about the destructive nature of divorce and theemotions that arise. Ernest Mathjis describes The Brood as manifesting these emotions in“messy fluids (blood, sweat, tears)”25 and in the physical representation of pain anddisgust. The mind-body connection in The Brood finds links with Shivers - repressedemotions will physically manifest. Nola’s mother offers an interesting parallel when shequips, “Thirty seconds after youre born, you have a past and sixty seconds after that youbegin to lie to yourself about it.”26 Nola’s repression of her abuse and of her rage at Frankfor taking her daughter away from allowed her to transform herself from mentally weakand helpless to physically powerful and dangerous. Likewise, The Fly also deals with a character’s obsession with transformation andtheir tragic loss of humanity. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) finds solace “in the stable
  10. 10. Richmond 10world of abstractions”27 offered by science rather than the unknown world of humaninteraction. The teleportationmachine that Seth is obsessedwith creating is much likehimself; it is unable to understandthe body (the flesh) and itscomplexities. As Seth says, “Computers are dumb. They only know what you tell them. Imust not know enough about the flesh myself. Im going to have to learn."28 Seth’seducation of the flesh is through his girlfriend, scientific journalist Veronica Quaife(Geena Davis) who leads Seth to an emotional and sexual awakening. Seth is then “madecrazy by the flesh”29 that threatens his relationship because of his jealous behavior andsuspicions. It is Seth’s newfound irrationality (spurred by his introduction to a sexualrelationship) that causes him to go unattended through the teleporter and become splicedwith the fly. William Beard argues that in Cronenberg’s films, science poses two kinds ofproblems – either a society based upon repression and controlling technology or “it isinfected by desire/the body and produces mad scientific projects that heedlessly endeavorto direct the biological/instinctive realm with dreadful outcomes.”30 In The Fly, Sethmeddles with the laws of nature and the basic laws of the human body with histransporter. Before Seth’s introduction to the flesh, the teleporter was something that hewas doing unquestionably as a project for a company. After Seth’s splicing with the fly,he uses the teleporter to enhance himself, to create a better Brundle. The teleporterbecomes transformed into a gene splicer, a tool for Seth’s self-improvement. Seth seeks
  11. 11. Richmond 11to marry both the mind and the body with the teleportation device, just as he seeks tomarry his own rationality with his new desires – a disastrous combination. Seth’s transformation into the Brundlefly slowly deteriorates his humanity, bothphysically and mentally. He becomes addicted to the teleporter because at first it refineshis senses and makes Seth feel, for once in his life, stronger than those around him. Thisperiod of self-realization has also come with Seth’s slide into egomania and irrationality.After Veronica shows concern for Seth, he berates her for her refusal to be teleported: Youre afraid to dive into the plasma pool, arent you? Youre afraid to be destroyed and recreated, arent you? Ill bet you think that you woke me up about the flesh, dont you? But you only know societys straight line about the flesh. You cant penetrate beyond societys sick, gray, fear of the flesh.31Veronica’s rationality about tampering with the body is seen as fear of evolution by Seth.Seth has descended into mania and becomes less logical as more of his fly-self takesover. He sees the teleporter as the next step in human evolution, the key to thepurification of the self through modifying the body. The visceral horror of The Fly mirrors Seth’s psychological decay. As his teeth fall out, his body becomes deformed, and his ears fall off, Seth also moves further away from any semblance of humanity, as William Beard argues is measured in decency,unlike insectness, which is “marked only by the predatory instinct to destroy.”32 Whatonce seemed as a positive growth has now transformed into disease. Seth remains lucidthrough his transformation into the Brundlefly and soon begins to see the truth of hisexperiment. As Seth sadly muses toVeronica, “Im an insect who dreamt he was
  12. 12. Richmond 12a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake."33 Even thoughSeth was physically combined with the fly through the teleporter, his secret side and his“innate otherness”34 were his all along. They were only released by the experiment andphysically mirrored by his slow decay into the Brundlefly. Writer David Roche breaksdown the Cronenberg ethos that runs from Shivers to The Fly: What Cronenbergs films demonstrate is that the self cannot come to terms with his body because: (1) it is mortal and open to diseases and will one day die, taking the self along with it--the mere possibility of disease reminds the self that he does not control his body; and (2) it represents the hidden perversions the self tries to repress. So it is often when they are sick that Cronenbergs characters become aware of their body as if it were separate from themselves.35Seth fears his new body because it opens up to him the possibility of death, the death ofthe body and the death of the self, of his identity. Seth’s transformation represents the“hidden perversions” he tried to deny himself through hiding behind science. In the end,the Seth does see himself as separate from the Brundlefly he becomes. He marvels at hisdecay as though it is happening to something else. But no longer can Seth deny the bodyand its complications until finally, he becomes that which he initially feared and mustaccept death over total psychological transformation. Two years after the release of The Fly, Cronenberg radically switched genres withDead Ringers, the psychological drama starring Jeremy Irons. This change caused manyto believe that David Cronenberg had turned the corner from the biological horror filmsof his past and into deeper examinations of the mind. However, from Dead Ringers andon, Cronenberg still wrestled with the mind-body split in his films. In the article “BodyWork,” writer Andrew Hultkrans describes Cronenberg as having “distilled his primarytheme - psychological and bodily mutation - dispensing with rebellious flesh andtwitching viscera in favor of far more unnerving internal transformations.”36 Hultkrans
  13. 13. Richmond 13certainly is correct about Cronenberg’s distillation of his films – Cronenberg owes a lot tothe sophisticated cinematography of Peter Suschitzky in this respect. However, theinternal transformation that Hultkrans mentions does not occur without a physicalrepresentation or impetus. Cronenberg still deals in repression but he also adds adiscussion of the connection between the body and the self in the modern age. Scienceand technology play a major role in his films (especially Crash and eXistenZ) but insteadof being portrayed as the destroyer of the body, Cronenberg portrays technology as a partof normal life. The characters struggle to adapt to technology and still retain their humandesires. Instead of parasites and deformations, the later films in the Cronenberg canoncenter on the struggle for identity through one’s own body. The Mantle Twins (Jeremy Irons) in Dead Ringers represent Cronenberg’sfascination perfectly. As David Cronenberg notes, the Mantle Twins essentially are“[one] body separated into two parts.”37 They share physical makeup, women,employment, and secrets. They even share identities. When Elliot presents Beverly withthe Mantle Retractor (a surgical device), he tells him that he should have been at thereception where they were honored for their work. Beverly, without a second thought,replies, “I was.” This short scene between the two hints at a shared consciousnessbetween the twins. This intense relationship isolates them from outside influence. Aschildren, Bev and Elly seem strangely detached, analytical, and scientifically minded.
  14. 14. Richmond 14The opening scene depicts how alien they are in comparison to the outside world. Theirfascination with sex is not one based on arousal but on mechanics. They seek to dissectwhat they cannot understand – the female Other. The Mantle Twins chosen profession (gynecology) allows them to observe,analyze, and deconstruct that which they are fascinated by. Generally, the sexual organsare a physical representation for desire, lust, emotion, and love. The twins can learn aboutthe female sex in a “controlled and impersonal”38 setting, with no room for emotions orrelationships. Just like Dr. St. Luc in Shivers and Seth Brundle in The Fly, the MantleTwins find comfort in the world of science, where there is no fear of contamination orintrusion on their relationship. However, Cronenberg adds an infection into the sterile lives of the Mantle Twinsin the form of Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), an actress with a vaginal deformity thatintrigues the twins. When Claire begins her affair with Bev (or what she thinks is Bev, asElly often plays his brother’s part), Bev withholds intimate details from Elly for the firsttime, creating the first fracture in their bond. As the relationship progresses, Bev pullsaway from Elly and instead of finding his own identity, he suffers immensely from theabsence of his brother. Much like Siamese twins, one flourishes (Elly, who continues hislife to his best ability) while one grows weak (Bev, who falls to drug addiction). Ellyrealizes the toll of the separation on Bev and confronts Claire, saying, “You bring aconfusing element to the Mantle Brothers saga.”39 What she brings is emotion, feeling,and the question of identity into the twins’ sterile world, a sense of the body against theirfocus on the mind. The final scenes where both brothers fall to drug abuse are heartbreaking, yet
  15. 15. Richmond 15Cronenberg strives to make the point that the brothers were doomed to failure from thebeginning. Their outlook on life, especially women, was too extreme and theirdependence on each other faltered. Their own innate Otherness would not allow them tointegrate into the world. In the last shot of the film, Bev is lying over the corpse of Elly intheir apartment, a final attempt to rejoin themselves through death. In his book on DeadRingers, Michael Grant explains that “for Cronenberg, individuality finds expression inthe body.” 40 The vagina, for the Mantle Twins, becomes a physical manifestation ofthose concepts they cannot understand. By beingable to manipulate and control a woman’sfertility, they gain a great power. Their tools thatonce helped women conceive later becomeBeverly’s weapons against a race of “mutant women”41 whose bodies have transformed.Perhaps the most telling quote about the mind-body relationship in Dead Ringers comesfrom Beverly at the height of his addiction. The women, he complains, “look alright fromthe outside. But their insides are deformed.”42 Just like these mutant women, Bev andElly look alright from the outside. They are handsome, intelligent, and successful.However, on the inside they are deformed by a conjoined consciousness (Cronenberg’svery own Chang and Eng) and a lack of understanding for human nature. Physical and mental deformities play a large role in
  16. 16. Richmond 16Cronenberg’s Crash (1996), a tale of the search for meaning and pleasure in thetechnological age. In Crash, James Ballard (James Spader) finds his life irreversiblychanged after a car crash he has with the mysterious Helen Remington (Holly Hunter).The two begin an affair that marries sex and violent car crashes in a frenzy of sensuality.Through Helen, James meets Vaughn (Elias Koteas) and his flesh and metal wifeGabrielle (Rosanna Arquette). Vaughn acts as the leader of the car crash cult, a prophetof “benevolent psychopathy”43 that fuses the machine (cars) with the flesh in order toelevate mankind out of its emotional despondency brought on by the hollowness ofmodern life. From the opening scenes of infidelity, it is clear that James and his languid wifeCatherine (Deborah Unger) are desperately searching for something – “a meaningfuliconography in a world of meaninglessness”44 – that will make them feel alive and betterconnected to themselves. James brings Catherine along in his journey by introducing herto the enigmatic Vaughn. Cronenberg juxtaposes the graphically depicted scene ofCatherine painfully having sex with Vaughn to the aftermath of James caressingCatherine’s cuts and bruises from her encounter. For a while, Cronenberg allows thecharacters to experiment in their new world but after the death of Vaughn, their bonds arebroken. In the final scene, James steps intoVaughn’s role (even driving his car that hedied in) and initiates a crash with Catherine.However, Catherine survives the crashunharmed and unscarred. When James makes love to her on the side of the road, theyecho the phrase from the beginning of the film: “Maybe next time.”45 The new sexuality
  17. 17. Richmond 17they chase after cannot elevate them or transform their lives. As William Beard notes,“the ‘radical’ transformative experiment has not succeeded in transforming anything.”46In the end, James and Catherine are stuck in an endless cycle of a joyless life. Cronenberg is able to deftly portray the gap between the mind and the body inCrash through the repetitive sex scenes. The sex that James and Catherine have, thoughgraphic, is mechanical. Their disconnection from their bodies has turned sex into apassionless act controlled by the mind. Once James discovers the thrill of crashes, hewants to experience more and transform himself, much like Vaughn and Gabrielle.Cronenberg directly addresses the mind-body split as it is related to Vaughn’s philosophyin Crash: Merging with technology - our bodies merging with metal - is us merging with us, with different aspects of ourselves. There is no technology without the human mind. Technology is the human will made physical - the incarnation of human will and creativity.47Technology can be viewed as the antithesis of the world of the flesh and desire yet thecharacters are able to adapt to the changing world by realizing that technology andmachinery can be beautiful is imbued with a sense of the flesh (as with The Fly). Gabrielle seemingly bridges the gap with her body, creating a new ideal beauty. Her legs are held up with metal rods and leather straps, while a scar on the back of her thigh becomes an orifice that James cannot help but want topenetrate. Her twisted form is in direct opposition to that of Catherine – the perfect andflawless human sex doll. James’ involvement of Catherine in the crash is an attempt totransform her body and mind to that of the free-spirited and more sexually desirable
  18. 18. Richmond 18Gabrielle. Cronenberg uses Gabrielle to portray the ultimate in new sexuality – themarriage of pleasure and pain (called jouissance) and of body and machine. Cronenberg’s films after Crash still hold to his genre-defying message of themind and body. The videogame-thriller eXistenZ (1999) centers on the division of mindand body caused by technology and virtual reality gaming. In Spider (2002), Dennis“Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) is haunted by the murder of his mother – one that heperpetrated. The repression of his memories and the reshaping of his reality cause othercharacters to physically transform to look like his mother including his father’s mistressand the woman overseeing the boarding house that he calls home (both are played byMiranda Richardson). Their physical transformation forces Spider to come to terms withhis actions for the first time in his life. Cronenberg’s recent films A History of Violence(2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) are a far cry from his science fiction roots yet stillargue that the body bears the history of an individual and also the trauma of the mind thatis imprinted on it through violenceand crime. Nikolai Luzhin (ViggoMortensen), the undercovercop/Russian gangster in EasternPromises, is covered in ornatetattoos. In one scene, Nikolai sitsbefore the gang elders and explains his history through the tattoos. They tell who he is,where he’s been, and what gang belongs to. As one Scotland Yard detective says, “InRussian prisons your life story is written on your body in tattoos. If you dont havetattoos, you dont exist.”48
  19. 19. Richmond 19 Over his career, Cronenberg has examined the various connections between themind and the body. At first, Cronenberg’s films pitted the logical mind against thelicentious body in a battle for sexual expression and the destruction of society’srepressive order and structure. Cronenberg’s films then grew to encompass ideas such asthe body, identity, and the struggle to find personal meaning in a changing world. In thearticle “David Cronenberg’s having to make the word be flesh,” writer David Rochedescribes the Cronenberg philosophy: The fear of the body is ultimately the fear of the other within me, whether it be my uncontrollable flesh or my unconscious desires which often express themselves through my flesh. […] The self cannot be defined as purely psychological: it is the psychological self plus the physical self. The Cronenberg project thus aims at coming to terms with the fact that, not only does my flesh represent my self in my own subjective gaze and that of others, it is in fact my self.49While his current films are not exclusively focused on the mind and body connection, onecan still find Cronenberg’s fascination with the subject in bruises, tattoos, and strangedoppelgangers that mar and haunt his main characters. Just as in his films, DavidCronenberg’s body of work is constantly transforming, evolving, and becoming a morecomplex creation that challenges our beliefs and forces us to look on the outside ofourselves to fully understand what lies beneath.
  20. 20. Richmond 20
  21. 21. 1 ENDNOTES: David Cronenberg, Cronenberg on Cronenberg (London: Faber & Faber, 1997) 58.2 Arthur Custance, “Cartesian Dualism: Mind and Brain Interaction,” Doorway Papers April 10, 2009 <http://www.custance.org/old/mind/ch2m.html>.3 Cronenberg 79.4 Carl Royer, The Spectacle of Isolation in Horror Films (New York: Haworth Press, 2005) 55.5 Shivers. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Paul Hampton, Joel Silver. Cinepix, 1975.6 Shivers7 William Beard, The Artist as Monster (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001) 29.8 Beard 29.9 Beard 29.10 Shivers.11 Ernest Mathjis, The Cinema of David Cronenberg: From Baron of Blood to Cultural Hero (London:Wallflower Press, 2008) 32.12 Shivers.13 Mathjis 31.14 Mathjis 31.15 Beard 45.16 Beard 33.17 Royes 53.18 Mathjis 30.19 Beard 202.20 The Brood. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar. MGM Video & DVD,1979.21 Cronenberg 84.22 Cronenberg 84.23 Mathjis 79.24 The Brood.25 Mathjis 81.26 The Brood.27 Beard 204.28 The Fly. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis. 20th Century Fox, 1986.29 The Fly.30 Beard 32.31 The Fly.32 Beard 220.33 The Fly.34 Beard 202.35 David Roche, “David Cronenbergs having to make the word be flesh,” Post Script Winter-Spring2004, 4.36 Andrew Hultkrans, “Body Work,” Artform International March 1997, 1.37 Cronenberg 144.38 Beard 248.39 Dead Ringers. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold. Warner Home Video,1988.40 Michael Grant, Dead Ringers (Wiltshire: Flicks Books, 1997) 3.41 Dead Ringers.42 Dead Ringers.
  22. 22. 43 Crash. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. James Spader, Holly Hunter. New Line Home Video, 1996.44 Royes 71.45 Crash.46 Beard 410.47 Hultkrans 10.48 Eastern Promises. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts. Universal Studios,2007.49 Roche 5. BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1. Beard, William. The Artist as Monster. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2001. 2. Cronenberg, David. Cronenberg on Cronenberg. London: Faber & Faber, 1997. 3. Custance, Arthur. "Cartesian Dualism: Mind and Brain Interaction." Doorway Papers. April 10, 2009 <http://www.custance.org/old/mind/ch2m.html>. 4. Grant, Michael. Dead Ringers. Wiltshire: Flicks Books, 1997.
  23. 23. 5. Hulkrans, Andrew. "Body Work." Artform International 1 (March 1997): 1-12.6. Mathjis, Ernest. The Cinema of Cronenberg: From Baron of Blood to Cultural Hero. London: Wallflower Press, 2008.7. Roche, David. “David Cronenbergs having to make the word be flesh.” Post Script (Winter- Spring 2004): 1-14.8. Royer, Carl. The Spectacle of Isolation in Horror Films. New York: Haworth Press, 2005. FILMOGRAPHY:1. Shivers. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Paul Hampton, Joel Silver. Cinepix, 1975.2. The Brood. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar. MGM Video & DVD, 1979.3. The Fly. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis. 20th Century Fox, 1986.4. Dead Ringers. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold. Warner Home Video, 1988.5. Crash. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. James Spader, Holly Hunter. New Line Home Video, 1996.6. Eastern Promises. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perfs. Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts. Universal Studios, 2007.

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