The Brood (1979)

First glimpse of the dwarf murderer.

First glimpse of the dwarf murderer.

As worrisome as this might be, The Brood was the Cronenberg movie that made me fall in love with him. The first time I watched it I was just absolutely rapt; mouth agape, eyes wide, completely terrified.

The last three Cronenbergs focused on physical illness and modern medicine’s treatment of it. The Brood focuses instead on mental illness and its physical manifestations. Oliver Reed plays Dr. Hal Raglan, founder of the Somafree Institute and psychoplasmics, a controversial psychotherapy in which he goads his patients by preying on their weaknesses until they exhibit physical symptoms of their psychological ailments. Most interesting to Dr. Raglan is rage.

There are some seriously disturbed characters currently inhabiting the Somafree Institute, one of which is Nola Carveth. Physically abused by her alcoholic mother and emotionally neglected by her alcoholic father, Nola has an awful lot of rage pent up inside. Dr. Raglan has her in complete isolation as he works to tease out the anger from her. Nola’s husband, Frank, knows only what he’s read in Raglan’s book The Shape of Rage as he is restricted from contact with his wife. The

Girl's got issues. Serious issues.

Girl’s got issues. Serious issues.

only outsider who has visitation privileges is Candy, Frank and Nola’s daughter.

When Candy returns from a weekend at Somafree with cuts and bruises all over her back, Frank’s had about enough and threatens a nasty custody battle. Raglan insists this will be devastating to Nola’s therapy, and Frank’s lawyer says that the “law believes in motherhood” and he’d be fighting a losing battle. Frank’s only hope is to prove that psychoplasmics is nothing but a dangerous hoax, and so he sets off to find former patients of Dr. Raglan’s to prove his case.

Frank leaves his daughter with Nola’s mother while he looks around for victims of psychoplasmics. While Candy and her grandmother are looking at pictures together, they hear strange sounds coming from the kitchen. Grandma decides to check it out (and also get a refresher on her beverage) only to find a terrifying dwarf-like creature with a meat tenderizer that ends up beating her to death.

Naturally, the incident is traumatic for Candy, who finds her grandmother bludgeoned to death on the kitchen floor, but she escapes otherwise unscathed. All the while, Frank meets some very interesting former patients of Dr. Raglan’s, particularly Jan Hartog, who is filing suit against Dr.

Thanks, psychoplasmics.

Thanks, psychoplasmics.

Raglan, blaming him and psychoplasmics for causing his lymphoma.

I really don’t want to say much more about the plot. This movie, unlike some of the other Cronenberg that’s out there, unfolds slowly and it kept me on the edge of my seat the first time I saw it. Much in the same way I didn’t want to out the secrets of Andrzej Żuławski’s PossessionI’m not going to be the one to spoil the secrets of The Brood if you aren’t already aware of them.

This movie has quite a lot in common with Possession: first of all they’re both completely crazy. Second, both directors were going through nasty divorces at the time of filming, which may account for the troubling misogyny of both. There are some other similarities that, again, I hesitate to mention… But if you’re looking for a double-feature you may never

Therapy is doing wonders for Nola.

Therapy is doing wonders for Nola.

psychologically recover from, how about watching these two films together?

But, I digress. How can I say what I want to about this film without spoiling it? Philosophically, I have issues with it. For the most part, women are painted as nasty, angry, destructive and/or pathetic creatures. To be fair, the men aren’t doing much better, but there’s a definite slant here that is discomforting. Still, it’s not enough to steer me away from this movie. I can’t help but appreciate its effectiveness: it’s so perfectly shocking and mounts to this incredible crescendo that gives me chills just thinking about it. And if the point of this movie was in some way to document the emotions Cronenberg was going through during his divorce, then he succeeded with flying colors. Suffice to say I’m glad I’m not his ex-wife.


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