Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Friday, May 15, 2009

SCANNERS amongst us

Someone tried to scan me today at a graduation party, so I thought back to that Cronenberg film from 1981 that looks like it's set in 1972. Then I found this review I wrote, from 2007. Coincidence?

Cronenberg cast Patrick McGoohan in SCANNERS as the Professor of mind melting, whose languid drawl makes one trust him implicitly. He slides around the room on the tranquil force of his measured speech. The wars of the world and word with Cronenberg are fought between corporations, and this back in the seventies, before the world was destroyed!  While snowy desolation roars outside the corporate HQ, inside the cozy offices, people nap on reception area couches. It's Canada, where the laws are looser, the drugs are better, peoples' minds are still rooted in the world of sideburns, medallions, turtlenecks and deep mellifluous actorly voices.

In America everyone's getting all uptight over who's gonna get that last line on the mirror. In Canada they're egoless, locked in lysergic staring contests that go on for years, and the styles of the 1970s settle in like bears for the 80's winter. But all the coziness does not come from home, it comes from the laboratory. Where America goes to the nightclub to hear Richard Belzer, the people of SCANNERS live at their corporation like hospital interns (Cronenberg's medical experience again) until they psychically meld into their jobs. Flesh and nervous systems become corporate walls and crude early versions of the internet. Back in the day before digital plasma screens, Cronenberg already suspects that blood flows through LAN cables.

Cronenberg keeps the exploding heads and gunfire and bursting blood vessels and injections and so forth occurring regularly enough that the parts where people are cordial to one another become oases, cozy little nooks. In keeping us constantly in dread over the vulnerabilities of the body, we become warm and cheerful when we see said bodies snug in sweaters and toasty in their drinks; our own telemorphically-connected bodies sigh in gratitude. Cronenberg’s films are humbling, the dread creates a sense of bodily awareness and if you're not in pain, you feel pleasure to be there.

Cronenberg's violence--however--guarantees you're staying awake. No outcome is certain except MACBETH-style mass slaughter. Mankind's bloody evolution is ultimately unstoppable and the pulpy, lurid grand schemes of the shadowy corporations are ultimately just another form of evolution, as if the fish had to be duped into growing legs and sucker-punched into breathing air. They are forced first, then they learn to like it, then they're addicted. Air junkies. The other fish won't even let them come home -- they're suspicious, they make air a schedule one narcotic. Now there's rows of experimental subjects gasping on the shore, their gills not quite yet lungs, while bearded scientist coelacanths read charts and mutate appendages. Long live die neu fish fleische!

Similar to the way a horoscope seems to directly address one’s situation, emotions, moods, Cronenberg’s scientists always meet their experiments at the personal level. Cronenberg would be an ideal president as he's all too aware of how no one can escape changing forever once they engage minds or bodies with another person, whether just reading their blog or going all the way and linking their bloodstreams via mutated worm-like stomach orifices. A president to remain pure has to live in a bubble and communicate only with through a voice descrambler. Even then the diseases of the corporations infiltrate and warp his mind, each letter of text packed with subliminal counter-meanings.

Without Cronenberg's clinical detachment, the operation would never succeed. Medically trained in real life, Cronenberg betrays a deeply felt ambivalence towards death; it's very Canadian after all, to make peace with the inevitable, it's called... I don't know... growing up? Achieving enlightenment? Or just seeing one too many dead bodies in med school? Any way you choose, America needs to learn how to do this. We still take every death as if a punch to the gut and every birth like the second coming. Dudes, it's a cycle, quit clogging the tube and let the old ladies die with dignity!

America shouldn't be blamed on a personal level for its faults either, though, and Canada via Cronenberg understands the importance of America's need for grandstanding and violent outbursts of self-righteous clownery. Once America’s dream was to be left alone to do its thing; but everyone needed our help to lick Hitler, so we got ourselves all tough and cop-like; after the second world war we were suddenly up in everybody’s grille all the time, trying to get all the nations rested and quiet so we can go back to the sleep of 1900s. Looking for an end to the noise so it can sleep again, that's America. Only everyone else knows the truth: There ain't no noise, America's punching the mirror like Travis Bickle on a meth jag. 

We're too close to see it, but we have this Ned Flanders-ish neighbor who does, and from the safety of his own back yard it's downright hilarious. Would he have it any other way? Hell, he needs our insanity to keep him from going mad with cabin fever. While we continually fuck shit up old Canada quietly looks on, shakes its head bemusedly, and gets back to shoveling out the driveway. A true Canadian, Cronenberg uses us as his model in an art class where the project is bloody medical exhibition pretzels, as if trying to pass some nightmare show and tell. A+!


  1. Sterling.
    We Maciste Bros. hope writers like you never shut up. Nice stumbling onto this site. Keep it coming.

    The FMB

  2. Bless you, Mighty Maciste Brothers. I link to you (above) and behead a dummy in your honor.