Thursday, December 10, 2009

A quick reflection on David Cronenberg's The Brood


I just saw The Brood, a Cronenberg film from 1979, just preceding his much-lauded Scanners and Videodrome. What a movie... what issues. This body horror opus is a tangle of neuroses about motherhood, psychotherapy, parents, parenting, and physical wholeness. It doesn't provide a particularly fair representation of either mental illness or the mental health profession, and its climatic scene does what Cronenberg is famous for: it uses sickening effects to express deep psychological anxieties about flesh... creating an aversive bridge between body and mind, which are so brutally separated in Western society.

In this way, Cronenberg's work could be read as a critique of Cartesian dualism and the longstanding mind-body difference that infects Western culture. Dr. Raglan's techniques are based on an essential opposition to dualism, asserting that we can't get the body out of the mind, or vice versa. In a practice that was fixated for some time on the idea of unearthing hidden memories and experiences, what could be a more complete method of exposing those repressed feelings than by manifesting them on the body itself? Psychoplasmics seems to be based, at least in part, on the idea that psychological damage can be treated more easily as physical damage.

If this is true, then Dr. Raglan's biggest problem is that he assumes "expressing" these anxieties automatically solves them... that by creating welts on his body, Mikey is fixing the underlying damage that those welts are expressing. The film makes it clear that this is simply not the case: expressed anger and anxiety, left untreated, are just as damaging as repressed anxiety. Again, this could be read as a critique... in this case, a critique of psychoanalysis itself.

Psychological trauma aside, there's something about this movie that makes it relentlessly uncomfortable, and I think it's 70's aesthetic. The Shining benefited from the same effect... the grainy film, the earth tones that seem to suggest mud and soil, the red and yellow accents that suggest body fluids, and the shadows that seem ready to swallow you whole... there's something creepy about that decade, isn't there? In my opinion, it beats the hell out of a lot of our highly-saturated horror movies, shot through blue filters with conspicuous red bursts here and there. The houses in The Ring and Drag Me To Hell feel like they were build ten minutes before the movie was made, and the space feels too scripted. The woods and wooden shacks and attic apartments of the 70's... these are spontaneous, empty spaces, quietly genuine in their loneliness.

For a bit of a longer reminiscence on this topic, mentioning a few of the same concepts that I mention, but with more information on the actual technical qualities of the film: Q Branch on The Brood. Also, this is where I stole the picture.

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