Sunday, October 14, 2012

Night of Terror #13: Videodrome

It's tempting to try and view David Cronenberg's Videodrome through the prism of some kind of social satire or commentary on the media, akin to They Live on Regan-era greed or Dawn of the Dead on materialism, but I don't think this reading comes close to getting at the dark and nightmarish guts of the movie. It's more like window-dressing, pr maybe just content Cronenberg needs to get your nervous system to accept the signal he's transmitting - and it's a much darker and more complex signal than some "the media is bad" thesis statement.

At its heart, Videodrome isn't about TV, not really - it's more about the terrifyingly real hallucinations that can drive people suffering from serious mental illnesses to do horrible and violent things. In my probably uncontroversial opinion, it's a much more satisfying exploration of that theme than Cronenberg's later film Spider which is more explicitly about schizophrenia and its effects. But everything about James Woods' character in Videodrome screams schizophrenia to me, from the deeply disturbing hallucinations of technology made flesh (and vice-versa) to the strange directives from supposed authority figures telling him to "kill your partners." So what starts out (or seems to start out, anyway) as a relatively uninteresting satire about the sick shit we watch on TV becomes a deeply chilling picture of how scary and awful it would be if we couldn't tell the sick shit on TV from the sick shit in the real world.

As usual with Cronenberg, these themes are brought from the realm of heady, Dick-inspired science-fiction right to your front door thanks to the earthy settings and hyper-stylized dialogue (as well as crack acting from the entire cast, particularly Woods). Even if you buy the schizophrenia interpretation though, Videodrome resists easy answers: I would have sworn I remembered the final shot being Woods holding a gun like normal, implying that the organic fuse between gun and hand was another hallucination, and by extension the rest of the Videodrome conspiracy was simply a product of his diseased mind as well. But nope, it turns out that Cronenberg keeps the illusion going to the very end, so we can't be sure what was "real" and what wasn't. Now, just be glad that feeling goes away after the movie is over - if you're lucky, I mean.

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