Saturday, October 16, 2010

Best Director: David Cronenberg

A bug's asshole is talking. A sharp, fleshy shaft is jutting out of a girl's armpit. Blondie is naked. Jeff Goldblum's ear fell off. The bald guy's head exploding. The bone gun. These famous images, and many more like them, were hatched in the brain of David Cronenberg. Well, maybe not the naked Blondie one. But if it weren't for Cronenberg, we never would have cared.

[This is a blog post, and as such it contains nothing except for one writer's opinion. So when I say that Cronenberg is the "best director," remember that it's okay to comment and discuss. He's not even my favorite actually, that honor is easily bestowed on the Coen brothers. But you can't call two people a singular "best." So I digress.]

Now that that's clear, let's have a look at David Cronenberg, the best living film director in the world.

Why is he more interesting than Scorsese, Lynch, and Malick? Not to take anything away from those masters, Cronenberg infuses psychology into his motion pictures better than any of other director. Since Hitchcock, there hasn't been a director who can better help his audience relate to subconscious struggles through visual storytelling (except perhaps Kubrick).

But perhaps his greatest strength, Cronenberg is watchable. His films are strange, often violent, and occasionally frightening, but none of them are an impenetrable art-house. He isn't making movies for film snobs, but for a mass audience. Anybody who enjoys movies can enjoy a Cronenberg film. He's never going to make an Inland Empire.

The first few Cronenberg films were classified as horror films. But, unlike most horror films, Cronenberg doesn't waste the many metaphors that can be utilized by the genre. He correctly sees fear as one of humankind's most interesting and psychologically potent qualities. After all, fear is that thing which helped humans evolve. Being scared made us stronger. So instead of simply slashing for the biggest blood-spill possible, the violence in his films comes directly from a deeper psychological place. A primal place, even.

For example, take his most popular film, The Fly. On the surface, it's a terrifying tale of a half man, half monster and the endangerment he brings upon Geena Davis. But when the movie gets really fascinating is when you relate the Brundlefly's condition to our own. Humans live healthy and normal lives, until something goes wrong. As simple as that sounds, just ask any person with cancer or a life threatening disease how it felt when they got the news. It comes seemingly out of nowhere, and the result can mean decrepitude, pain, ugliness, sorrow, and death. But that's just an extreme. The true reality of The Fly is that every human goes through what the Brundlefly experienced. We age. We fall apart. We die. And yes, the response to this reality should indeed go something like "be afraid. Be very afraid."

[Try interpreting The Fly as an attack on spiritual life. It's a fun way to analyze those metaphors.]

Though impossible events take place on the screen, they always symbolize real-life possibilities or ideas. By the time Cronenberg ventured into science fiction, his ideas were more visually stimulating than ever. Videodrome, Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch were mind-flustering. Yet, all of these movies retained a high level of entertainment value.

Some artists just drivel in disguise. But Cronenberg creates images that impact the psyche. Themes of abuse and dysfunction lay under his films visible layer of flesh and guts. Beneath the carnage is the soul, for Cronenberg tells stories about the human condition. And those deeper truths are much more terrifying than the fictional gore.

Sex and violence. Fear and biology. The films of Cronenberg strike deep into the human mind. Crudities have a place in his films, because real life is full of crudities. But perhaps my favorite thing about Cronenberg is that in spite of the heavy intellectual weight in his films, they are excruciatingly fun to watch. You can be a professor of psychology or a horror film nerd and you'll take away the same amount of pleasure from his movies. He's working for the human. The universal, not the selective.

Now let's all get excited for A Dangerous Method.

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