It Comes From Within

Paper by Veronica Arvidsson.

The films of Cronenberg have reoccurring themes of science/technology, violence and sex. Looking at the relationship between these themes in Shivers (1975), Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986) they all share a similar meaning and structure in all these three films. They use these three themes to express the ultimate self-destruction a person can cause on themselves by allowing themselves to let go of their inhibitions and let themselves be wrapped up or sucked into new ideas or lifestyles that were brought on them by their own obsessions or lusts. Are these ideas that Cronenberg set off in his films relatable to todays society where technology and science grows faster than ever and in that way controls our lives similar to how it’s controlling the characters of these films? The changes that all these characters from Shivers, The Fly and Videodrome go through are in one way or another being controlled by technology or science and the self-destruction is being expressed through sexual acts and violence in different forms.

All these films deals with some kind of transformation of the central characters that ultimates in them being unrecognizable to their old selves. This is brought on by the characters themselves not being able to restrict their wants and needs, ignoring their inhibitions, they get obsessed and wrapped up in a new lifestyle brought on to them by themselves but also with help from technology or science. Slowly these factors take over their minds and body and ultimately fully controls the character who have no way out, unable to control his/her own fate.

In Videodrome Max starts out as eager and confident. He’s always looking for more vulgar action, rougher, edgier and more sexual. He is exposed to Videodrome and he’s immediately interested in it, he finds what he’s looking for. This is where he gives in to his wants and his needs.

When having watched Videodrome with Nicki they start to replicate the vulgar sex acts in reality, they become obsessed with it and can’t stay away from exploring it even deeper. The deeper Max gets involved the more he’s no longer able to control his actions. ”a paranoid scenario involving the subjection of individuals to multinational corporate and political ends through the means of technology” (Beard. 132) is an opinion suggesting that the Spectacular optical wanting to use Max for their own purposes finds a way to stimulate Max’s desires, Videodrome. Through Videodrome they have him captured in a world of paranoia, hallucinations alternative reality to the point where they are in complete control over his life since he’s unable to even know what is reality and not.

Seth in The Fly has a similar confident and greed as Max ”I am working on something that will change the world and human life as we know it” he says about the Brundlefly that is his technological experimental machine. He has difficulties with it, when trying to teleport a baboon it comes out on the other end as just a piece of gory flesh. His ambition to create something that will make a change almost turns into a crazy obsession, similar to Max’s obsession with exploring Videodrome. In one very crucial scene where Veronica is visiting her old boyfriend, Seth is extremely jealous, he gets drunk and in this moment he’s stupidly confident in his creation. ”What are we waiting for” he says before stepping into Brundlefly without noticing the fly that has joined him.

In Shivers, university professor and medical researcher Dr Emil Hobbes develops the parasites originally as a substitute for ailing body organs, and then they turn into stimulators of desire. So this is Emil Hobbes experimenting in field of health science, he’s also pretty obsessed with the idea of this. Now what differs Shivers from the two other films is that the obsession doesn’t really start with the protagonist but what will ultimately turn into an epidemic disease that takes over the residents of Starliner Tower and driving out the lust in every one of them making them into liberal unconditional sex maniacs Is like in The Fly also a scientists over-ambition experimenting within a special science field.

The author of The Artist as Monster talks about the scientists of Cronenberg’s films as ”a rationalist attempt to intervene in the natural progress of human life” (Beard. 32) but in Cronenberg’s world this of course doesn’t coincide because ”all of our projects and meanings are existentially determined by ourselves” (Beard. 32) So both Seth in The Fly and Emil Hobbes are doomed to fail their scientific experiments because they both try to mess with the nature of humans. The failure is proved ironically through self destruction since both of them fall as victims for their own innovations, Seth being transformed into a fly using himself as scientific experiment and Hobbes will eventually be taken over by the parasite that he initially created.

The first time we realize that the effect of Videodrome is starting control and inflate Max’s mind is in a scene where Max is watching Videodrome and his assistant Bridey walks in. He gets upset with her and slaps her across the face for a short second he thinks it was Nicki he just slapped but then realize that it was Bridey. When he wants to apologize, Bridey is confused ”Hit me? You didn’t hit me.” It turns out the slap never happened. This proves that the impact Videodrome has over Max takes shape in violent behavior at least in his mind.

Like the impact that the transformation has over Seth which starts out pretty unharmful or in Seth’s perspective even beneficial. He’s no longer just a man he’s a superman. He’s stronger, he’s more sustainable, he has incredible focus. More than anything he’s stuck in the idea that nothing is good enough anymore if it’s not perfection. In one scene he has finished a long-stretched sex session with Veronica and while she’s exhausted he’s not nearly satisfied. He comes up with the idea that she should go through Brundlefly as well, in that way they will be the ultimate couple because in his mind he’s now the definition of perfection. He’s now obsessed with this idea of ultimacy and perfection. He later ends up picking up a girl at a bar and continue to have sex with her. So early on in the transformation it clearly has a control over Seth that takes shape in sexual acts. Just like in Videodrome and Shivers the effects of being controlled by something other than your own mind is expressed through sex and violence.

The Starliner Tower in Shivers is a promise of control, It’s clean, stylish, has it’s own police department and hospital. It’s basically made so that people don’t have to leave, they are contained in this tower and when this parasite works it way through the people living there, they are now not only allowed but infected with the lust to explore complete sexual liberty. They can’t control it, the Tower can’t control them anymore, the creation of science, the parasite has taken over and it’s taking over everyone.

The book The Philosophy of David Cronenberg brings up from a scientific perspective an idea on the relation between humans and the overtaking of the parasite ”We, like the other organisms and systems, are merely here because we are, for the moment, well adapted to our environments. Some of the creatures and diseases coevolved with us.” (Riches. 38) The people of Shivers are adapted to the situation of the Tower but the disease now coexists with them and in a mutant manner the people after being infected readapt to the new order which proves that they have truly gone from one thing to something completely new, the transformation is truly caused by a mutation without them being able to control any of it, it’s simply the rule of nature combined with scientific exploration.

Later in Videodrome reality is no longer a certainty for Max, his hallucinations become mightier and more violent, or are they hallucinations? Max starts to lose himself even deeper into Videodrome. He’s now controlled by it but mostly he’s controlled by it’s creator Barry Convex who wants to use Max for his organization’s own purposes. In a a scene where Barry literally puts a Videodrome tape into a viganil snit that has appeared on Max’s stomach, Max gets instructions to kill his colleagues and Bianca Oblivion, he then pulls out a gun from the viganil opening, the gun then screws itself to his hand, making it a part of him. He’s compelled to kill Bianca Oblivion the manager for another company that has a relation to Videodrome and also want to use Max for their own benefits. Bianca finds a way to convert him over to their side and because Max is only a shell of who he used to be he’s easily manipulated by Bianca. Now compelled to kill Barry and his allied and ultimately puts the gun to his own head and utter the word ”long live the new flesh” before pulling the trigger. The self-destruction is complete. His obsession with Videodrome has led to complete in-control over himself and his actions and then made him into a compelled murderer.

Seth’s transformation in The Fly is now controlled by the scientific progress working through his body. It’s not pretty to watch and not pretty to go through for Seth. The first noticeable change towards destruction is insect hair sticking out of his back, and his skin changing. It then follows by spewing, his voice changes, his ears fall off, he loses he’s teeth and ultimately he makes the complete transformation into a humanized fly. What’s interesting is the transformation of Seth’s psyche, He becomes in a way more desperate and violent in his actions. He kidnaps Veronica before her planned abortion of his child. He’s so wrapped up in the idea of creating ultimate perfections of himself, the action unwrappes with Seth making the complete transformation and in a pleading moment from what little human that is left of him he begs Veronica to shoot him and she does. Just like in Videdrome the complete destruction is a fact.

Shivers is much more open ended then these other two films. Of course every character is turned and they set out on what looks like a mission to take over the rest of the area as well. Even if their old selves are completely taken over and destroyed, does it mean that it’s an apocalyptic doom for humanity as saying everyone is gonna become a zombie-like sex-maniac, or is it simply a new human condition, a step in evolution.

In the book The Cinema Of David Cronenberg the author talks about one of the possible driving forces for these scientific men and that their ambition is supported of self interest ”Icarian greed for recognition and messianic power – power over women, power over themselves and power to create life” (Mathijs. 140) With all these films I have been talking about an obsession that the characters can’t take themselves out of. I think this obsession springs from this greed for power, or a greed to create, that all these men have.

Croneneberg is in a way in all these three films warning us for this concept of people trusting and experimenting with science and technology that in the end will affect us, because it could very well end up hurting us as it did with all these characters. Much like in todays society where we are dealing with these issues constantly. Just like Max in Videodrome we are being exposed to massive amount of technology in different forms. One example is Media that has psychological impact on us that we don’t fully understand when it’s happening to us, for example the strategies that media uses to influence us. A book that covers this topic is How fantasy becomes reality: Seeing through Media Influences the author brings up one of the worlds most influential psychologists on this subject ”Watson recommended to advertisers that they could make a fortune by manipulating basic human motivations and emotions to their advantage, and often, of course, to the consumer’s disadvantage. One of his basic ideas, used with gusto and impunity by advertisers today, was to convince people that their possessions were inferior and consequently that they needed new possessions” (Dill. 144) This indicates that media is in ways manipulating us into a behavior, creating a need of possessions and since we fall for this impact we buy more stuff. So media are in a way controlling our lives by compelling us into these behaviors. Not unlike Max who gets obsessed with Videodrome and captured by it. Or in Shivers where people living their lives accordingly to one social pattern but now are being infiltrated by a new obsession that controls them and compels them into new behaviors. Or even in The Fly where Seth is hoping to reach new levels of scientific discovery and the excitement of it takes a hold of his mind which causes him to make the error he does that ultimately leads to the full transformation into a different creature. Just like these characters, we in todays society are unable to control the way science and technology takes ahold of us in some ways, and our minds as well go through transformations because of the impact it has on us.

Noticeably Shivers was first thought out to be named ”It comes from within” an appropriate aspect for all these films is that the horrific transformations that all these characters go through one way or another comes from within them. Their eager, ambition, lust their persistent self-interest and greed to make a change causes what will become the doom for their better judgement and who they used to be.

Works cited

Mathijs, Ernest. The Cinema Of David Cronenberg, from baron of blood to cultural hero, (Wallflower Press, 2008)
Beard, William. The Artist as Monster, the Cinema Of David Cronenberg, (University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2001)
Riches, Simon. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg, (The University Press of Kentucky, 2012)
Dill, Karen E. How Fantasy Becomes Reality : Seeing through Media Influence. Oxford University Press, 2009. EBSCOhost, login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=294781&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
The Fly. Directed by David Cronenberg, performances by Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davies, John Getz, SLM Production Group, 1986.
Videodrome. Directed by David Cronenberg, performances by James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry, Leslie Carlson, Canadian Film Development Corporation, 1983.
Shivers. Directed by David Cronenberg, performances by Paul Hompton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Canadian Film Development Corporation, 1975.


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