also known as the King of Venereal Horror or the Baron of Blood
By Mavrokefalou Caterina
The director who was one of the pioneers of body horror – a movement, which as the name reveals has as its object fear, caused by mutations of the body, and its starting point is the man, shown as an empty container void of any spiritual or mental content, upon whom the repercussions of his actions come solely on a physical level, initially separated completely from the psyche. In essence, however, the superficial deterioration of the body stems from much more extended, internal causes, and affect the body so profoundly as to often alter the very nature of man, so that this change is ultimately inseparable from the psychological and social fields. This is readily observable inFly (1986) where the motive behind the scientist’s mutation is a strong desire to change the world and the very perception of human life, which gradually turns into a catastrophic end in itself.
Filmography of this genre, usually discusses absolute obsession with sex and bodily transformations -most times in a repulsive manner. However, in the hands of Cronenberg, these themes transcend the limits of trite cult, not aiming primarily on causing intense, albeit emptyemotions through only their demonstration. Cronenberg highlights equally those peculiar situations as the ultimate cause and consequenceof the complex and yet unexplained human nature.
Having the body as his raw material, it is not initially distinct if Cronenberg loves or hates the flesh, and we can observe, especially in his directorial infancy, the fury to either exploit it sexually, driven by the most peculiar impulses –as we see in Crash (1996), where traffic accidents become an object of lust- or to destroy and restructure it, thus creating a peculiar and in a sense unreal new order of things.
Beginning in Naked Lunch (1991) –an adaptation of the book by William S. Burroughs, which, as Cronenberg himself has admitted, could not be turned into a film, and which for the purpose of filming he essentially rewrote, in a sort of ineffable spiritual collaboration with the writer- it becomes evident that in his later work, Cronenberg gradually moves away from the previously discussed themes, as he intensifiesthe exhibition of the unchanged form of the psychological element and human relationships both on a personal and social level, relievedfrom the classic horror of mutation and perverse sexuality. Nonetheless, these stories do not become common narratives, they are onlypresented in a more realistic background, which contracts and expands depending on the characters’ past, as they have been transformed.Main examples are the History of Violence (2005) and the more recent Maps to the Stars (2014), where family bonds and warmth are prevalent like the skin on a human body, but that skin subsides and rots when the darkness within each individual, that makes up the familyor even a wider society, is revealed.
To conclude, if anything, the provocative Canadian filmmaker has succeeded more than anyone else in the English film industry, in presenting to us the repugnant spectacle of the disfigured body and perverse sexual habits in ways that do not create within us feelings of repulsion, but leave us wonder at the tremendous and boundless greatness of the human mind. Therefore, in this sense, using what’s on the outside, Cronenberg has highlighted the fullest splendor, the very beauty of what’s on the inside.