Posts Tagged ‘David Cronenberg

26
Jan
13

Cosmopolis (2012)

Packer meets his wife for a meal.

Packer meets his wife for a meal.

Just a little over a month and I’ve made it to the end of my trek through David Cronenberg’s filmography. I won’t hesitate to say how weird it made me feel, or how difficult it was at times, but I have no regrets! The ride ends here, with his latest film Cosmopolis.

Based on the Don DeLillo novel of the same name, Cosmopolis stars Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer, a 28-year-old wall-street billionaire with a yen for a hair cut and a misunderstanding of the Chinese Yuan. While he watches his empire crumble due to a bad market play, he insists on going to his favorite barber, despite the fact he’s across town and the streets of New York are loaded with obstacles: the President and his cavalcade, a parade for a dead rapper’s funeral, and an Anarchist protest. Packer has his

Why not meet with your financial adviser and get a proctology exam at the same time? This is the kind of ingenuity America needs.

Why not meet with your financial adviser and get a proctology exam at the same time? This is the kind of ingenuity America needs.

own personal obstacle, as well – constant threats on his life are reaching “the complex,” but the threat doesn’t resonate with Packer.

The film follows Packer on his journey through New York. His consultants, art-dealers, mistresses, doctor and his “Chief of Theory” all meet him in his glowing, airbrushed limo to discuss business, have sex, or both. Packer obviously has no real understanding of society. He does not know what it means to be happy or to be sad; he is cold and emotionless. We know he likes to eat, and we know he wants to sleep with his wife, but that’s probably because it’s the one thing she refuses him. Nothing really has meaning for Packer; he can’t even express anger or fear at the loss of his fortune. Perhaps the most revealing moment comes from

Packer is safe inside the limo, with his "Chief of Theory" as the Anarchists outside trash his limo.

Packer is safe inside the limo, with his “Chief of Theory” as the Anarchists outside trash his limo.

his daily doctor visit, in which the doctor tells him to let a mole on his torso “express itself” and also that Packer has an “asymmetrical prostate.”

Most people probably won’t like this movie. I must admit towards the end I was getting a bit antsy myself. Nothing, however, is more hilarious than picturing a gaggle of Pattinson fans renting Cosmopolis expecting another heartthrob turn, and instead getting an anti-capitalist, the-world-is-empty-and-so-is-your-life-if-you-keep-living-this-way message. Because that’s what this movie is, and that is why I like it. I love the way it looks, too: perfect – perfect skin, perfect clothes, perfect bodies, all with empty souls. The book was written in 2003, but seems even more relevant today than ever, what with the financial crisis and the passing of Occupy Wall Street. There is a whole hell of a lot going on in his movie, I suggest you see it for yourself; there is no way I could appropriately sum it up here, nor would I want to.

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24
Jan
13

A Dangerous Method (2011)

If psychoanalysis is this painful, I'm not interested. Jaw.

If psychoanalysis is this painful, I’m not interested. Jaw.

A large percentage of my posts seem to start off with some sort of apology or confession. This time, I must confess that I almost didn’t watch A Dangerous Method just because Keira Knightley was in it. But, when one commits to watching all of David Cronenberg’s work, one simply cannot leave a film out because of its lead actress. What a shame it would have been, because as much as I hate having to admit being wrong, I was. Knightley was really good in this, dammit.

A Dangerous Method is sold as a Freud biopic, but that’s misleading; really the film is about the early years of psychoanalysis. Of course that’s going to include a large dose of Freud, here played by Viggo Mortensen (in a very, very different role than he previously delivered in Eastern Promises, that’s for sure!), but I think it’s fair to say the focus is largely on Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a very troubled young Russian woman who eventually becomes the first female psychoanalyst.

Mortensen does Freud.

Mortensen does Freud.

Spielrein is brought, very much against her will, to Burghölzli, the psychiatric hospital where Jung is practicing. Jung practices talk therapy with Spielrein: sitting behind her in a chair while asking her questions. Some answers are so difficult for her to spit out her mouth and body contort in such strange ways it’s frightening. Eventually, therapy brings out the root of her “hysteria” and Spielrein is cured, on a certain level. What is the root of this hysteria? Spielrein is turned on by humiliation and it makes her feel vile and disgusting.

Eventually Jung & Spielrein end up having an affair, while Jung’s wife Emma keeps popping out babies. Freud and Jung finally meet, and Freud fully expects Jung to carry psychoanalysis along the path it started on, but is more than distressed to find out Jung’s interested in some mystical crap. The rift widens when the truth about Jung’s relationship with Spielrein comes out and their strained friendship never recovers. In the end, Spielrein ends up having more of an intellectual affinity with Freud than with Jung, despite their personal and professional relationships.

She really *does* like it.

She really *does* like it.

There’s a whole hell of a lot more going on here (I didn’t even mention Vincent Cassel’s awesome portrayal of Otto Gross), but I’m no psychoanalyst and I wouldn’t want to try to summarize the whole thing here. I will say, though: this movie felt like Cronenberg: the first scene with Jung and Spielrein recalled that first frightening, dramatic scene from The Brood – I was rapt almost immediately, and by an actress I really usually have no time for at all. This also reminded me a bit of Stereo: both broach the subject of patients’ dependency on their doctors. I’ve said it before, and I will reiterate here: I understand Cronenberg doesn’t like the idea that there’s even a word “Cronenbergian” but themes such as this are so common in so much of his work, how can it be avoided? It was quite refreshing to see the director film new ideas while picking up the threads of old themes.

23
Jan
13

Eastern Promises (2007)

Eh, guess it's time to snip this guy's fingertips off...

Eh, guess it’s time to snip this guy’s fingertips off…

In Eastern Promises, my old friend David Cronenberg takes on the Russian mafia in London. Probably most well-known for some blurry frames which happen to include Viggo Mortensen’s most private of parts, Eastern Promises offers a lot more than the potential for a freeze-frame party. Like Cronenberg’s last film A History of Violence, Eastern Promises is about living the dream. This time, of course, it’s not the American dream, but the Western dream; the non-post-Soviet dream.

The story begins when a midwife namd Anna (Naomi Watts) helps deliver a baby girl to a 14-year-old Russian girl named Tatiana. Tatiana dies soon after giving birth, leaving only her diary and the orphaned girl behind. Having Russian roots herself, she asks her uncle Stepan to translate the Russian girl’s diary. His stubborn refusal sends her off to explore the only clue she finds: a business card for the Trans-Siberian restaurant. There she encounters a (seemingly) kind old man named Semyon, the owner. Semyon claims he knows of no girl fitting the description, but happily agrees to translate the

Anna and the orphaned child she's dubbed "Christine"

Anna and the orphaned child she’s dubbed “Christine”

diary. If he finds any hints of Tatiana’s family’s location, he promises to give Anna the address, so they can care for the orphaned child.

What we soon find out is Semyon is no kind, old man; he is in fact the leading man behind London’s Russian mafia. His drunken lout of a son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) can hardly be trusted to carry out small tasks for his father, what with his irascible nature and inattention to detail. If not for Kirill’s focused driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), Kirill probably wouldn’t get anything done.

Anna’s persistence in finding a home for the orphaned child quickly embroils her into this underworld of angry, tattooed

Ummmmmmmm, why don't you want to watch this?

Ummmmmmmm, why don’t you want to watch this?

men with agendas she can’t even begin to understand. As we watch the story unfold, a voice-over of Tatiana’s diary tells us of her perception of London: she’ll make her uncle’s monthly salary in just one day at this restaurant; London is the world of the future. Like A History of Violence, things aren’t what they seem, and dreams don’t turn out like we’d hoped.

The film offers much more, from Kirill’s stifled homosexuality to a document of the meaning behind Russian prison tattoos (Mortensen and Cronenberg watched Alix Lambert’s Mark of Cain to study up for this film; if this topic is interesting at all to you, watch it). I’ve admitted before to having a soft spot for Viggo Mortensen, but seriously, he is so damn good in this, watching this is worth it just for his performance alone.

17
Jan
13

A History of Violence (2005)

Ed Harris, I love you!

Ed Harris, I love you!

A History of Violence is another Cronenberg that doesn’t shout Cronenberg, and seems to seal the coffin shut on his long string of interesting, albeit gross, body horror films. Sure, his filmography is peppered with movies I think any “normal” moviegoer would be able to stomach, but usually ol’ Dave comes back with another knockout weirdo flick that makes me fear my own body.

I must admit all my griping about it isn’t fair – Cronenberg himself has never wanted to be pigeonholed into one genre or another, I guess it just sort of happened that way. Suffice it to say, I prefer a certain Cronenberg to this new one. I still think A History of Violence is a very well-done movie, it’s just not Cronenbergian! Anyway, onto the film…

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is just your average, run-of-the-mill middle-American. He’s got a wife (Edie), two kids (Sarah and Jack), and he runs a small-town diner – one of those where-everybody-knows-your-name kinda places. His relationship with his wife is so adorable and perfect (and sexy!) it almost makes you wanna puke.

Everything’s hunky dory until two desperate out-of-town criminals try to hold-up the diner. As one starts to grope a waitress, Tom’s instincts kick in: he smashes one in the face with hot coffee, grabs his gun (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, anyone?) and puts them both out of their misery. Tom is quickly labeled “local hero,” much to his dismay, and we soon find out why.

All-American alpha-male aggression in its purest, high-school form.

All-American alpha-male aggression in its purest, high-school form.

Some megalopolis-mobsters show up at his diner a few days later after seeing Tom on the news. One of the baddies, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) is particularly unnerving, and insists he knows Tom from Philadelphia – and that Tom’s name isn’t Tom at all, but Joey Cusack.

Tom and his wife are, of course, baffled and disturbed. No matter what they do, though, the mobsters just don’t go away – they follow Edie and Sarah to the mall and continue to threaten the family ominously, until they finally show up at the family home after abducting Jack (who had just beat the shit out of his own, personal bully) and insist that “Joey” come back to Philadelphia with them.

Normally I’d dance a little bit around spoilers, but I’m not going to here – I mean, the movie’s called A History of Violence, after all. So, when Tom sees his family so blatantly threatened, Joey finally comes out and he manages to kill all the mobsters – except for Carl, who Jack takes care of with a shotgun.

Now, the whole family has witnessed Tom’s transformation into his old self – they are disgusted (rightly so) and afraid.

Like father, like son.

Like father, like son.

They try to continue on as normal, but when Tom/Joey gets a call from his brother Richie (William Hurt) he decides to end things once and for all, and he hightails it to Philadelphia.

This movie isn’t just about a good guy who used to be a bad guy. It’s about masks, masculinity, and America. Do we ever really know the people we love? Who were they before we knew them? What does it mean to be a man? Do you have to hurt other men to be drafted into that club? And what did I learn about America after watching this movie? Well, I guess you can’t live the All-American dream without a history of violence – America is a country built on violence, after all – a violence that is covered-up or downplayed in history books and is something our national consciousness is almost totally blind towards. The women and children need-not know the truth that would only hurt them, right?

I think I actually do really like this movie – it’s a little ridiculous at parts, but thinking about it with Cronenberg on the brain made it a little more interesting. Also, I can’t lie: I have a giant soft-spot for both Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, so their presence didn’t hurt either.

17
Jan
13

Spider (2002)

See, they call him Spider because he plays with yarn, or something.

See, they call him Spider because he plays with yarn, or something.

When I first heard that David Cronenberg made a film called Spider, I thought to myself: awesome! It’ll be about people turning into spiders! Or spiders coming out of people’s orifices! Or something exciting and gross like that! 

Sadly, this is not the case. In my excitement, I must have forgotten how much Cronenberg has changed since the good old days of body horror. Instead of some kind of horror movie this is more of an internal, quiet drama. Ralph Fiennes plays Dennis Cleg, aka Spider, a mentally ill man who, after spending the last few decades in an mental institution, has graduated to a wonderfully gloomy halfway house somewhere in London, with the equally gloomy Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave) watching over its fragile tenants.

As the movie progresses, the audience is witness to Spider’s own observation of his childhood memories. Adult Spider watches (in frame) as kid Spider and his mom (Miranda Richardson) go hunting for dad (Gabriel Byrne) at the pub. Knowing that Spider has some mental illness, we’re tipped off that perhaps Spider’s rendition of the past isn’t exactly true to the actual events that occurred. This becomes obvious after Spider sees his mom and dad kissing in the backyard and he conflates his mother’s image with the town whore’s. Adult Spider watches on as his father and the town whore, Yvonne, murder and bury his mother. Afterwards, Yvonne immediately moves in and tells Spider he should think of her as his mother now.

What the audience knows, but Spider does not, is there really is no Yvonne. Yvonne is just how Spider sees his mother after she’s been sexualized: she’s turned into someone

Is that you, Mom?

Is that you, Mom?

else, someone horrible. It isn’t until Spider revisits these memories as an adult that he actually sees and understands the horrible truth of his past, and his place in it.

I guess that all sounds interesting, and I love the concept of the unreliable narrator and the examination of the human tendency to turn memories into whatever we wish them to be. I think Spider’s schizophrenia actually makes the movie less effective: wouldn’t it be more interesting to examine the transformation of a mentally healthy person’s past from what they believed it to be to what it actually was? Or maybe it would be more interesting if we didn’t know Spider was schizophrenic until the end? I know this movie could have been better – though the critics seemed to have creamed their jeans over it, it’s just missing a lot of somethings for me.

As a side note,  I can’t help but think of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Despair as I write this – which, I only just recently found out, was made into a film in 1978 – directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (!) with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard (!!) – one day you’ll see a post about that movie, but until that time, I direct you to read Despair instead of watching this.

16
Jan
13

Crash (1996)

Sexy, sexy metal.

Sexy, sexy metal.

Ah, my old friend Crash. The first time I watched this movie, I hated it. Deeply. The second time it didn’t fare much better, and it’s not even entirely James Spader’s or Holly Hunter’s fault.

James Ballard (Spader) is a horny tv director. He gets into a car crash, and he and his horny wife are turned on by the twisted metal and resulting scars. Ballard falls in with a crew of other people obsessed with car crashes, including the woman involved in his initial crash. They all hang out and diddle each-other while watching crash-test dummy footage on TV.

My favorite character, Vaughan (Elias Koteas), stages reenactments of famous car crashes, such as James Dean’s and Jayne Mansfield’s. He pulls Ballard and his wife deeper

Vaughan takes this very seriously.

Vaughan takes this very seriously.

into this weird world of perverted car sex, staging fake car accidents on the road that end up being very successful, indeed.

Ugh, no thank you. I was informed my synoposis of “perverts fucking in cars” was too reductive; that I was missing the point. I’m sure that’s true, and maybe my gut-reaction of disgust means the film is ultimately successful. If Crash is about a world where everything is so far removed from reality, humanity, and emotion, then perhaps alienation and discomfort is precisely what I’m supposed to feel. In that case, bravo, Mr. Cronenberg!

16
Jan
13

M. Butterfly (1993)

MButterfly1Based on a true story is, thankfully, something we’ve never seen from Cronenberg before M. Butterfly. Actually based on a play that’s based on a true story, M. Butterfly is disturbing in its own way (especially since it’s based in reality), but certainly not in the ways we’re used to coming from Cronenberg.

René Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) is a French diplomat. It’s China. It’s the 1960’s. It’s the Cultural Revolution. René starts off pretty low on the diplomatic totem pole, dealing with expense reports and other bureaucratic crap. He knows very little about Chinese culture. One of his first nights in Beijing, he is invited to a little entertainment, featuring a Chinese opera singer doing songs from Madama Butterfly. During the show he is intrigued by the singer’s performance and catches up with her after the show.

René offers Song Liling compliments, but Song quickly reproaches him for his imperialist ignorance: only a European would find Madama Butterfly, a story about a Japanese woman who commits suicide because her American husband has left her favoring his other, white family across the world, “beautiful.” René is taken aback by Song’s comments, but intrigued nonetheless, and is determined to learn more about the Chinese opera.

MButterfly2As hard as René studies, he never learned the one fact that would have saved him a lot of grief: Chinese opera singers are men. Not knowing this, he falls in love with Song, calling him his “butterfly.” Beliving Song when he asks René to respect his “modesty,” René has his way with him while Song’s wearing all his clothes. To add insult to injury, Song is also a Communist spy, leeching secrets from René.

How could René not know he’s been with a man? Well, René is clearly living in some fantasy world where he’s got an Asian woman under his European thumb, and it turns him on hardcore. His promotion at work has also given him a false sense of superiority. While the man thinks he’s on top of the world, he’s just playing the fool.

I really dug this movie. There are lots of reasons why, but I’m experiencing serious writer’s block. I’ll be back later.




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