Scanners (1981)

I'm sure you know it well.

I’m sure you know it well.

Scanners may not be Cronenberg’s most famous film, but it is safe to say it may be home to one of his most notorious scenes: yes, I’m talking about the head explosion. This was the first Cronenberg movie I’d ever seen, when I was far too young to be watching or to understand what was actually going on, but one thing is certain: that scene will stick with me forever.

Scanners is a pretty straightforward sci-fi/action/horror flick, and probably Cronenberg’s most marketable to date. It combines his taste for body horror and his interest in medicine and its effect not only on the body, but also on the mind. The story revolves around Cameron Vale, a newly-discovered Scanner – a mutant human who has the “gift” of reading the minds of those around him. Dr. Paul Ruth is an expert on Scanners, and works for ConSec (because it’s not a Cronenberg without a giant corporation, right?).

I wouldn't want to mess with Darryl Revok, or Michael Ironside for that matter.

I wouldn’t want to mess with Darryl Revok, or Michael Ironside for that matter.

Vale doesn’t know what he is or how to use his abilities until Dr. Ruth initiates him into the Scanner world. He introduces him to the drug Ephemerol, which quiets the storm of others’ thoughts that plagued Vale before his discovery (it also prevents a Scanner from using his abilities as a weapon). He also teaches him how to control his powers, all so that he can help track down a very bad Scanner who has a plan to overthrow the society that created them: Darryl Revok (played by the eternally scary Michael Ironside).

In search of Revok, Vale comes across a sect of hippie-like Scanners who want nothing to do with Revok’s revolution. They’re all about peace, and interested in using their gifts to fuse the experience of all Scanners into one (an idea Cronenberg first introduced in Stereo). Vale unwillingly drags these peace-lovers into a fight most of them won’t

One of my favorite bits: Scanner Benjamin Pierce can only quiet the voices with his art.

One of my favorite bits: Scanner Benjamin Pierce can only quiet the voices with his art.


I like Scanners, but I don’t think it’s Cronenberg’s best or most-interesting. It’s far from boring, though, and it does still have all the classic marks of Cronenberg, specifically: look what medicine could do to you and society! Look what big corporations are really involved in! Look what powers the human mind and body have! I will say the end held a few surprises for me, and the movie gets more interesting as it moves along. There’s a lot more I could say, but again I’m trying to avoid the dreaded spoiler bug. Should you watch this? Of course you should. If you like movies, it’s like a must-see. Is there better Cronenberg out there? Yes, absolutely.

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