Cinema and Media Studies David Cronenberg
by
Ernest Mathijs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0086

Introduction

David Cronenberg (b. 1943) is a filmmaker from Toronto, Canada. Between 1966 and 2012 he directed twenty feature films. He also directed short films, episodes of television shows, and commercials. Cronenberg is regarded as the best-known filmmaker from Canada, and one of the most accomplished auteur-directors working today. The main theme of his films is the physical revolt of the human body (through disease, trauma, and mutation) against attempts to capture it in rational terms. Cronenberg’s films have often attracted controversy and censorship, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, when he was associated with a wave of “body-horror.” This affiliation earned him the nickname “Baron of Blood.” Since the 1990s, Cronenberg’s oeuvre has gained respect and prestige, especially after he started adapting literary works. Even then, some controversy remained. Cronenberg first became an object of scholarly study in Piers Handling’s book The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg (Handling 1983, cited under Anthologies), and, ever since, his films have attracted a steady stream of academic attention. By and large, the career and films of Cronenberg are discussed through three perspectives: (1) as a form of cinema aesthetics, (2) as an oeuvre addressing and expressing social and cultural themes, and (3) as a body of films that explore political and philosophical issues of the contemporary age. The first perspective contains discussions of Cronenberg’s films as part of the horror genre (and the subgenre of the visceral body horror film in particular) as well as studies of his films as “literary cinema.” It also includes most studies of the use of special effects in Cronenberg’s films. The methods of analysis most commonly employed under this perspective are formalist, textual, and comparative analysis. The second perspective consists of discussions of Cronenberg’s films in relation to their cultural contexts, most often as a kind of Canadian cinema or as a kind of cinema that has attracted moral commentary and censorship. The method of analysis most frequently used in this approach is a combination of reception study and cultural analysis. The third perspective studies Cronenberg’s films with respect to how they explore, and are reflective of, ideas and philosophical issues that circulate in the Western world today. The method most often used in this perspective is that of post-structuralist analysis. Across these three perspectives, one remarkable characteristic stands out: the almost unanimous acceptance by scholars of Cronenberg’s own interpretation of his films. A highly articulate speaker, Cronenberg has commented eagerly and eloquently on his films. This characteristic trait has had a significant impact on how academics have tended to study Cronenberg’s films, namely as a more-or-less unified body of work of which the author’s own vision equals the truth.

General Overviews

Cronenberg’s prolonged success, both critical and with audiences at large, has led to an abundance of general overviews, from cursory, useful little books for the popular and fan market to studious and comprehensive analyses of his entire corpus to investigations of capita selecta of his oeuvre. The overviews that have appeared since the early 1990s are diverse in number and cut across language markets, with a slight dominance of English-language books over French-language and German-language studies. The limited size of Cronenberg’s oeuvre (twenty feature films) and the coherence of themes across his career ideally fit the template of the monograph, allowing scholars and critics to devote detailed attention to each film while also discerning an overarching trajectory to the career. Most overviews sketch a trajectory that sees Cronenberg’s films move from art house to horror movies to auteur cinema, all the while maintaining a preoccupation with out-of-control bodies (many of them female), flawed and fatalistic heroes, fraught family and sexual relationships, and monstrosity as an expression of desperate attempts to “make reality” (often inspired by science). The earliest monograph study, Grünberg 1992, comes from the ranks of the leading film magazine Cahiers du cinéma, which had been praising Cronenberg’s films since the early 1980s. It follows the critical acclaim of Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch, two films that gave Cronenberg’s oeuvre respectability. In the wake of Grünberg 1992, several other European-based overviews were published, many of them by critics associated with prominent film magazines, such as Oetjen and Wacker 1993 and Canova 1993. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Canadian scholars started to publish overviews of Cronenberg’s work. Most of these efforts concentrate on offering textual interpretations of Cronenberg’s films, with more-or-less definitive English-language and French-language textual analyses, including Beard 2005 and Pompon and Véronneau 2003, respectively, issued within a few years of each other. Ricci 2011 and Wilson 2011 are excellent examples of recent overviews (up to A Dangerous Method). Only very few volumes break away from textual analysis, with the noteworthy exceptions of Morris 1994, a biography, and Mathijs 2008, a mix of reception study and textual analysis.

  • Beard, William. The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. 2d ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

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    Complete and thorough, offers the most in-depth academic insight into Cronenberg’s feature films until 1996 (Crash). Organized chronologically. Written by the world’s most prominent Cronenberg scholar. Focus is on the internal meanings of the films. Contains bibliography. A first edition was published in 2001. The second edition has new chapters on eXistenZ and Spider.

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  • Canova, Gianni. David Cronenberg. Florence: Editrice Il Castoro, 1993.

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    Thoughtful overview of Cronenberg’s films up to Naked Lunch (including Fast Company). One of the first studies to “normalize” Cronenberg, treating his work not as an exception (to horror, to adaptations, etc.) but as an oeuvre worth exploring in its own right. Chronologically organized. Contains a detailed plot synopsis and a bibliography per film.

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  • Grünberg, Serge. David Cronenberg. Paris: Éditions de l’Étoile, 1992.

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    First book-length single-authored study of Cronenberg’s oeuvre by Cahiers du cinéma critic and editor (and William Burroughs specialist) Grünberg. Organized around themes in Cronenberg’s oeuvre (virus, hallucination, organism, machine, sex). Heavily influenced by literary and philosophical inspirations (Burroughs, Kafka, postmodernism).

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. The Cinema of David Cronenberg: From Baron of Blood to Cultural Hero. London: Wallflower, 2008.

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    Comprehensive academic overview. Focuses on the reception of Cronenberg’s films (criticism, fandom, festivals). Organized chronologically. Covers feature films (up to Eastern Promises), short films, television shows, and ancillary work. Contains illustrations, filmography, and exhaustive bibliography. Initially published by Wallflower Press; later distributed by Columbia University Press.

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  • Morris, Peter. David Cronenberg: A Delicate Balance. Toronto: ECW Press, 1994.

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    Slightly dated but still the most definitive biographical account of Cronenberg’s life from a scholarly angle. Especially insightful when discussing Cronenberg’s early career and start in filmmaking (almost half of the book). Contains a wealth of information on his personal life, including rare pictures. Includes a timeline of events, bibliography, and filmography.

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  • Oetjen, Almut, and Holger Wacker. Organischer Horror: Die Filme des David Cronenberg. Meitingen, Germany: Corian Verlag, 1993.

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    Generalist introduction to Cronenberg’s films up to Naked Lunch. Valuable for its agenda-setting attention to Cronenberg’s themes of body-horror and the clash/fusion between the human body and modern technology (the so-called new flesh). Contains filmography and selected bibliography.

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  • Pompon, Geraldine, and Pierre Véronneau. David Cronenberg: La beauté du chaos. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2003.

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    Well-balanced, highly useful overview. Ideal for college students. Organized chronologically. Contains bio-filmography that also includes useful a list of documentaries about Cronenberg. Exhaustive, thematically ranked bibliography (referencing interviews, essays, and film-by-film overviews). Appeared in long-running book series Septième Art, directed by Guy Hennebelle (editor of Cinémaction).

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  • Ricci, Stefano X. David Cronenberg: Umano e post-umano: Appunti sul cinema di David Cronenberg. Rome: Sovera Edizione, 2011.

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    Balanced overview of Cronenberg’s feature films, up to A Dangerous Method, by a prominent Italian scholar. Concise, superb introductory text to the dominant themes and motives across Cronenberg’s career. Refrains from overly theoretical considerations and avoids debating other scholarly works yet digs deeper than many overviews of similar length.

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  • Wilson, Scott. The Politics of Insects: David Cronenberg’s Cinema of Confrontation. London: Continuum, 2011.

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    Solid career overview of Cronenberg. Argues persuasively for the continuity between Cronenberg’s films across three interrelated topics: Cronenberg as auteur, Cronenberg and the film industry, and Cronenberg’s audiences. Balances theoretical views with critical descriptions.

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Case Studies

Besides general overviews and anthologies, a surprisingly large volume of book-length case studies of small portions of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, on single films, or on selections of no more than three to four films have appeared. Most of these studies, such as Browning 2007, single out sections of Cronenberg’s oeuvre in order to concentrate on specific themes (literature in Browning’s case) or to enable speculation on more general topics that are illustrated by Cronenberg’s films (which is the case with Yates 1995, which concentrates on myth). The most commonly found topic in case-study approaches to Cronenberg is that of the director’s fascination with the (often violent) fusion among human body, mind, and technology, encapsulated in the slogan the “new flesh.” Papenburg 2011a is a good example. A small range of studies, including Barker, et al. 2001, have investigated the impact of Cronenberg’s films on practices of censorship boards, film reviewers, campaigns, and film criticism. The most remarkable trend in the output of case studies of Cronenberg’s films is the increasing number of case studies that are devoted solely to one film. Concise in size, but dense in detailed information and invariably extremely well researched, these studies usually concern his most respected films. This is especially the case with Videodrome and Crash, studied in Lucas 2008; Sinclair 2008; and Barker, et al. 2001. But it also extends to Cronenberg’s more prestigious and accessible films, such as Dead Ringers and A History of Violence, of which Grant 1997 and Beaty 2008 offer near-definitive critical accounts. This increase in the number of little books on single films testifies to the ever-rising importance of Cronenberg’s oeuvre among scholars and critics. In this respect, it is also worth noting that many of these case studies come from well-established figures in the field of film studies (Lucas, Beaty, Barker) and public intellectuals (Browning, Sinclair), figures who carry with them their own aura of authority.

  • Barker, Martin, Jane Arthurs, and Ramaswami Harindranath. The Crash Controversy: Censorship Campaigns and Film Reception. London: Wallflower, 2001.

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    Enlightening, influential case study of the troubled release of Crash, arguably Cronenberg’s most controversial film, in the United Kingdom. Detailed analysis of press campaigns, distribution, and reviews followed by discourse analysis of audience surveys. Written mostly by Barker, a leading scholar of film censorship. Currently available via Columbia University Press.

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  • Beaty, Bart. David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

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    Illuminating study of Cronenberg’s most successful and mainstream picture. Interesting focus on the film’s deconstruction of American genre cinema and on a comparison between film and the comic book–source material. Contains selected bibliography and suggestions for further viewing. Published in the series Canadian Cinema, of which Beaty is co-editor.

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  • Browning, Mark. David Cronenberg: Author or Film-Maker? Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2007.

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    Study of literary connections that surround the oeuvre of Cronenberg (source materials but also “influential texts,” especially by Vladimir Nabokov, Brett Easton Ellis, and Clive Barker). Employs comparative analysis and Freudian psychoanalysis as methods. Focuses on the period 1983 to 2002. Interpretations of Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, eXistenZ, and Spider.

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  • Grant, Michael. Dead Ringers. Throwbridge, UK: Flicks, 1997.

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    First book devoted to a single Cronenberg film, art house favorite Dead Ringers. Essentially an extended essay. Examines the film as a modern tragedy and puts it in relation to the poetry of Donne, Eliot, and Shakespeare. Author also published an edited collection on Cronenberg (Grant 2000, cited under Anthologies). Published in the series Cinetek.

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  • Lucas, Tim. Videodrome. Lakewood, CO: Millipede, 2008.

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    Near-definitive chronicle of what many consider Cronenberg’s most important film. Based on exclusive behind-the-scenes materials and on-set access. Lucas (editor of Video Watchdog) is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Cronenberg. Contains highly valuable interview materials and unique illustrations (including set photos). Appeared in the series Studies on the Horror Film.

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  • Papenburg, Bettina. Das neue Fleisch: Der groteske Körper im Kino David Cronenbergs. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2011a.

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    Thorough investigation of Cronenberg’s core theme (the “new flesh”: fusion and clash between body and technology) by a promising scholar in the field. Analysis concentrates on selected scenes from Crimes of the Future, The Brood, Videodrome, Crash, and eXistenZ. Publisher specializes in scholarly studies in the social sciences, arts, and humanities.

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  • Sinclair, Iain. Crash. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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    Subjective and impressionist interpretation of Crash. Compares film with the literary source (J. G. Ballard’s novel of 1972). Interrogates Crash as a prophetic critique of modern society. Written by an acclaimed novelist, poet, and essayist. Published in the acclaimed series Modern Film Classics. Originally published in 1999.

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  • Yates, James. “David Cronenberg as Mythmaker: An Archetypical Interpretation of His Films, 1975 to 1991.” PhD diss., Oklahoma State University, 1995.

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    The first full PhD devoted to Cronenberg’s films. Divides nine of his films (identified as his genre films between 1975 and 1991) into three trilogies (cosmic, hero, and journey) and interprets manifestations of Cronenberg’s monomythical mythos through the lens of Carl-Gustav Jung.

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Anthologies

Edited collections were among the very first expressions of scholarly interest in Cronenberg, predating monographs and journal essays. The vast majority of edited collections on Cronenberg, with the exception of Riches 2012 (which uses a tight philosophical perspective), offer multifaceted interpretations with the aim to produce an overview of (most of) his oeuvre that highlights diversity instead of cohesiveness. The two first anthologies, edited by Piers Handling (Handling 1983) and Wayne Drew (Drew 1984) were published by cinephile institutes (the Toronto Film Festival and the British Film Institute, respectively) and issued in two nations (Canada and the United Kingdom) where a high degree of critical activity has since centered on Cronenberg. As these first collections demonstrate, interviews have constituted an integral part of anthologies on Cronenberg. And interviews are essential in later works, including Handling and Véronneau 1990 and Grant 2000. It is an indication of how highly respected Cronenberg’s own voice is in the critical discourse surrounding his films. Interest in Cronenberg has grown since the 1990s, an interest articulated through anthologies from various regions and from different critical perspectives. Handling and Véronneau 1990 comes from Canada, Robnik and Palm 1992 hails from Austria, and Canosa 1995 was published in Italy. Each of these volumes contains similarities in how Cronenberg’s films are viewed (as cutting-edge art house cinema that borrows from the horror genre), a sign that the oeuvre is regarded as truly international (even if it carries regional accents). Recent years have seen collaborative efforts at studying Cronenberg, such as anthologies, become less frequent at the same time as more and more monographs and journal articles appear. This change is likely evidence of a growing degree of specialization of critics and scholars within the oeuvre of Cronenberg. Stiglegger 2011 and Riches 2012 are welcome exceptions to that trend.

  • Canosa, Michele, ed. La bellezza interiore: Il cinema di David Cronenberg. Genoa: Le Mani-Microart’s Edizioni, 1995.

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    Underrated collaborative overview of Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Thorough yet accessibly written. Ideal introduction for undergraduate students. Studies each Cronenberg film up to M. Butterfly. Contributors are from a mix of scholars (Ottavio Di Brizzi), festival programmers (Stefano della Casa), and critics (Serge Grünberg). Richly illustrated. Contains filmography.

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  • Drew, Wayne, ed. David Cronenberg. BFI Dossier 21. London: British Film Institute, 1984.

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    Important collection from the ranks of the British Film Institute. Includes novel attempts to interpret Cronenberg’s films as articulations of postmodernism and Gothic sensitivities. Some essays are critical of Cronenberg (Robin Wood, Colin McArthur). Contains Cronenberg interview and an appendix with Cronenberg’s eccentric selection for a science-fiction retrospective as well as a short endorsement by Martin Scorsese.

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  • Grant, Michael, ed. The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg. Throwbridge, UK: Flicks, 2000.

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    Very influential collection, from mostly British scholars, that is widely cited. Balances textual interpretations, reception analyses, literary comparisons, and interview materials (one of the few directly scholarly interviews with Cronenberg). Grant also published a little case study of Dead Ringers (Grant 1997, cited under Case Studies).

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  • Handling, Piers, ed. The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg. Toronto: General Publishing, 1983.

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    First book-length interpretation of Cronenberg’s films. Indispensable standard work that has become the most widely cited, and acclaimed, study of Cronenberg (up to Videodrome and The Dead Zone). Highlights include an eighty-page overview essay by William Beard, a long interview with Cronenberg, and a tense dissenting chapter by Robin Wood.

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  • Handling, Piers, and Pierre Véronnea, eds. L’horreur intérieure: Les films de David Cronenberg. Montreal: Cinémathèque québécoise, 1990.

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    Much of the material from Handling 1983 (translated by Alain Moffat) forms the basis of this collection, which updates it significantly (including interpretations of The Fly and Dead Ringers). Influential volume for the Francophone discourse on Cronenberg (subsequently spearheaded by Grünberg 1992, cited under General Overviews).

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  • Riches, Simon, ed. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

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    Explores Cronenberg’s films from a range of philosophical subjects (identity, truth, morality, etc.) or perspectives (hermeneutics, existentialism, determinism, etc.). Contains three sections: the human body, issues of psychology, and society. Focuses on The Fly, eXistenZ, A History of Violence, and Eastern Promises. Highly useful for advanced students.

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  • Robnik, Drehli, and Michael Palm, eds. Und das Wort ist Fleisch geworden: Texte über Filme von David Cronenberg. Vienna: PVS Verlag, 1992.

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    First German-language book-length work on Cronenberg,. Has shaped much European critical discourse on Cronenberg. Offers a variety of critical and scholarly angles, mostly through textual analysis and philosophical interpretation.

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  • Stiglegger, Marcus, ed. David Cronenberg. 2d ed. Berlin: Bertz+Fischer, 2011.

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    Excellent introduction to Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Edited by one of Germany’s major horror film scholars (editor of Testcard, critic at film-dienst) with a wide array of first-rate contributions from Germany’s top critics. First edition published in 2008. This second edition includes analyses of every film up to A Dangerous Method.

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Interviews

Cronenberg eagerly comments on his own films and, thus, scholars have at their disposal a relatively large and detailed corpus of interview materials. From the earliest days of his career, Cronenberg has also engaged with fervor in discussions with critics whose views conflict with his own. His presence in the critical discourse has given Cronenberg unprecedented authority over the meaning of his films, and it has made interviews crucial for nearly every perspective on his oeuvre. By and large, four kinds of interview materials are useful for students of Cronenberg, and they occur roughly in chronological order. The first kind concerns the fan interview, which constitutes a mix between a critical and celebratory approach that provides a great deal of first-rate and often novel information on the films’ aesthetics and inspirations. Sammon 1981 is an excellent example. These interviews dominate the period of Cronenberg’s career when his visibility was largely confined to the horror genre. The second kind concerns political interviews. At the exact time Cronenberg (and the horror film) came into the view of mainstream culture, questions were raised about the political and ideological implications of Cronenberg’s stories. This led to a number of interrogations of Cronenberg’s “politics.” Much of this is also reflected in interviews of the time. A common point of reference for these interviews is Robin Wood’s series of criticisms of Cronenberg (see Wood 1979, cited under Sexual Politics and Feminism). Ayscough 1983 is a good example. The third kind of interview covers the period from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. This type still approaches Cronenberg’s work through a mix of horror-related issues (morality and gender politics in particular), but an increasing tendency to accept Cronenberg’s authority in that discourse is apparent. Excellent examples are Ciment 1989 and Breskin 1997. The fourth kind of interview presents Cronenberg as a philosopher, a connoisseur of cinema and humanity, who is given largely free rein to ponder any issues related to his films. These interviews started in the mid-1990s and they continue to today. They appear mostly in the cinephile press, which has adopted Cronenberg as an auteur pur sang (Smith 1997), and in book-length interviews, especially Rodley 1997 and Grünberg 2000, both of which rank among the most valuable sources on Cronenberg. Rushdie and Cronenberg 1995 is a fascinating exception because Cronenberg is actually the interviewer. Some of the best interviews with Cronenberg can be found in anthologies of his work (especially Handling 1983, Drew 1984, and Grant 2000, all cited under Anthologies).

Genre and Aesthetics

A prominent part of the study of Cronenberg is devoted to analysis of his films with respect to their role in the aesthetics of cinema—as a form of film art. Dominant within that area are discussions of Cronenberg’s films as part of the horror genre (and the subgenre of the visceral body horror film in particular) as well as studies of his films as departures from generic cinema (for instance as “literary cinema” or as innovations in film style). The general scholarly consensus is that Cronenberg’s films are excellent artistic achievements that stand out from more formulaic examples of horror cinema. Cronenberg’s films are seen as paying lip service to the genre’s conventions all the while forging an aesthetic of their own (one that is increasingly referred to as “Cronenbergian”). A distinction can be made between studies that focus on Cronenberg’s general importance to the horror genre and studies that focus on particular contributions (usually covering the period 1975 to 1989). Within that latter segment, Cronenberg’s films up to Videodrome are usually grouped together as his “early work”; they are regarded as a unit of films that can be studied as a coherent whole (and are more likely regarded as “typical” horror films). Films since Videodrome are more frequently studied in separation and are invariably seen as “atypical” horror films that rise above the genre’s limitations. The structure of subcategories in this section attempts to reflect this consensus. Analyses of Cronenberg’s aesthetics and genre also include studies of special effects, a specialty practice within film production that is heavily associated with the horror genre within which Cronenberg’s films are frequently seen as groundbreaking and trendsetting. The methods of analysis most commonly employed are formalist, textual, and comparative. Most book-length overviews (monographs in particular) and interviews devote significant attention to the aesthetics and generic frames of reference of Cronenberg’s films (see General Overviews and Interviews).

The Horror Genre

For the majority of his career, Cronenberg’s films have been placed under, or firmly linked to, the horror genre. For the period between 1975 and 1989, it is widely accepted that Cronenberg was one of the genre’s main directors, as evidenced in Cherry 2009 (Rodley 1997, cited under Interviews and Beard 2005, cited under General Overviews are essential reference works as well). For a Canadian perspective, see Vatnsdal 2004 (cited under Canadian Cinema). Within the horror genre, Cronenberg was (and in many ways remains) the single most significant exponent of the subgenre of body-horror, a type of film he pioneered and with which he became identified. Body-horror places the threat of monstrosity literally inside the human body (or at least sees that body as a site of acute invasion) and offers, through gross-out aesthetics, narratives of mutation, infection, and contagion, often with a sexual component (encapsulated in the metaphor of “flesh”). Essential to understanding body-horror are issues of embodiment, gender, and textuality (see also Sexual Politics and Feminism and Disease and Disability). Brophy 1986, Riepe 1994, and McLarty 1996 offer excellent introductions to Cronenberg’s body-horror, especially for the period up to 1989. Roche 2004 focuses on the practice of the director and adds a moral perspective. Next to that, Cronenberg’s horror films are occasionally, but to good effect, interpreted along traditions of gothic fantasy (Oren 1998 and some essays in Drew 1984, cited under Anthologies). Concurrent with treatments of Cronenberg as horror, a tendency exists to argue that even his most rabid horror films transcend generic markers, deconstructing the genre rather than affirming it. Excellent examples are Vernaglione 1987 and Allinson 2002.

  • Allinson, Ashley. “David Cronenberg.” Senses of Cinema 22 (October 2002).

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    Perfect summary introduction to Cronenberg’s main horror themes. Argues that Cronenberg transcends generic deconstruction. Ideal for junior undergraduate students. Contains a filmography, bibliography, list of web sources, and links to other essays in the same journal.

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  • Brophy, Philip. “Horrality: The Textuality of Contemporary Horror Films.” Screen 27.1 (January–February 1986): 2–13.

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    Frequently cited essay on new wave 1970s and 1980s horror (with body-horror at its center) by an undisputed authority in the field. Uses Cronenberg as a paradigmatic case study. The concept of “horrality” involves both explicit gross-out aesthetics and a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the audience that anticipates such aesthetics.

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  • Cherry, Brigid. Horror. London: Routledge, 2009.

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    Concise, accessible introduction to the horror genre. Uses the films of Cronenberg as a thread throughout its (largely historical) description of the genre. Ideal starting point for high school and undergraduate students interested in Cronenberg and who are unfamiliar with the genre. Demonstrates Cronenberg’s importance to the genre.

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  • McLarty, Lianne. “Beyond the Veil of the Flesh: Cronenberg and the Disembodiment of Horror.” In The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Edited by Barry Keith Grant, 231–252. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

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    Solid overview of Cronenberg’s theme of body-horror and its implications for representations of gender. Employs a mix of textual reading and psychoanalytic analysis to identify Cronenberg’s monsters as “detached” from normality. Appeared in one of the most respected and widely used anthologies on the genre.

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  • Oren, Michel. “The Grotesque in the Films of David Cronenberg.” Exposure 31.3–4 (1998): 5–12.

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    Original perspective on Cronenberg. For Oren, the gothic is a liminal presence in Cronenberg’s films. Links the gothic to issues of abjection, the uncanny, and pollution, and groups them under the heading of the grotesque (visualized through gross-out aesthetics). Part of a special issue on the grotesque in photography.

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  • Riepe, Manfred. “Das Fieber im Kopf: David Cronenbergs Filme.” Blimp 27.8 (Spring 1994): 44–54.

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    Excellent overview of major themes in Cronenberg’s horror films, from Shivers to Dead Ringers (short addendum on Naked Lunch and M. Butterfly). German-language main text with English translation running alongside. Some of this material was later expanded into a book on Cronenberg and body-horror.

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  • Roche, David. “David Cronenberg’s Having to Make the Word Be Flesh.” Post Script 23.2 (Winter–Spring 2004): 72–87.

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    In-depth study of the importance of the ethos of the “flesh” metaphor for understanding Cronenberg’s directorial practice and main concerns. Adds a moral (and religious) perspective to discussions of body-horror. Also contains references to Cronenberg as a literary figure (see also Adaptations and Literature).

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  • Vernaglione, Paolo. “Cronenberg: Veux-tu venir chez moi après la peste?” Filmcritica 38.372 (1987): 101–105.

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    Brief critical study that argues that every Cronenberg film transcends the horror genre and that, therefore, Cronenberg’s films are deconstructive (rather than constructive) to the field of horror. Focuses on Shivers to The Fly, with special emphasis on Scanners, Videodrome, and The Dead Zone.

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Early Horror, 1975–1981

Alongside considerations of Cronenberg as a paradigmatic exponent of the horror genre, a strong current exists among scholars to separate the so-called early horror films from the rest of the oeuvre. These films include Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, and occasionally also Videodrome. They are often labeled the Cinepix films (named after the Canadian production company that financed them) the tax-shelter films (named after the fiscal climate of Canadian film production at the time, though there is a slight historical mismatch), or the “original” Cronenberg films (referring to the original screenplays for the films—they are followed by a string of adaptations). One of the most powerful arguments in scholarly writing on this group of films is that of the “ascension” of Cronenberg into, and beyond, the genre, a line of reasoning often dependent on auteurist methodology. Good examples are Chute 1980 and Campbell 1984. MacMillan 1981 and Harkness 1983 constitute efforts from a Canadian perspective. Given the rapid development of Cronenberg’s oeuvre at the time (and of the horror genre in general), most of these discussions appeared in cinephile publications or cultural magazines instead of scholarly journals. Another strong tendency is that of the contextualization of Cronenberg’s early horror films within the “cult of horror,” which was part of a fast-rising and highly contentious wave of films generating unprecedented attention, as seen in Conrich 2000 and McCarty 1984. A fascinating function of both tendencies is their desire to identify both Cronenberg’s early horror films and the development of the genre through novel labeling (schlock, splatter, and neo-horror among them). In spite of the ways Cronenberg’s subsequent career has altered critical and scholarly views on his oeuvre (significantly limiting efforts to see the “early” films in separation from the others—Livingston 1993, cited under Disease and Disability, is an exception), a substantial body of scholarly work on “early horror” remains whose authors are determined to analyze them as an oeuvre within the oeuvre—often with highly insightful results, as seen in Collins 1996 and Sanjek 1996. Studies of these films that concentrate predominantly on the special effects used to achieve gross-out imagery are grouped under Film Style (especially Lucas 1983). Also see Sammon 1981 (cited under Interviews).

  • Campbell, Mary B. “Biochemical Alchemy and the Films of David Cronenberg.” In Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. Edited by Barry Keith Grant, 307–320. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1984.

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    One of the earliest scholarly overview essays on Cronenberg. Essential introduction to Cronenberg’s core themes of “the new flesh” and body-horror, though it lacks the jargon through which such themes later became known. Appeared in a legendary anthology of horror cinema.

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  • Chute, David. “He Came from Within.” Film Comment 16.2 (March–April 1980): 36–39.

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    Groundbreaking article that introduced Cronenberg to American cinephiles. Focuses on The Brood and Scanners. Early attempt to discuss Cronenberg as a unique auteur outside the fandom of the horror genre. Appears in an issue with an article by Robin Wood that also discusses other horror filmmakers (especially George Romero).

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  • Collins, Michael J. “Medicine, Lust, Surrealism, and Death: Three Early Films by David Cronenberg.” Post Script 15.2 (Winter–Spring 1996): 62–69.

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    Innovative scholarly study of Cronenberg’s early horror. Builds a bridge between Cronenberg’s underground films (Stereo and Crimes of the Future) and his body-horror (especially Shivers and Rabid) by suggesting surrealism as a central motive and inspiration. Part of a special issue devoted to Cronenberg.

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  • Conrich, Ian. “An Aesthetic Sense: Cronenberg and Neo-horror Film Culture.” In The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg. Edited by Michael Grant, 35–49. Throwbridge, UK: Flicks, 2000.

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    Insightful study of the subculture of horror in the early 1980s (labeled “neo-horror”). Essential for understanding the contexts that helped Cronenberg gain prominence with horror fans (especially in tandem with the fanzine Fangoria). Explains significance of special effects. Further considerations on this topic also appear in Mathijs 2010 (cited under Film Style).

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  • Harkness, John. “The Word, the Flesh and the Films of David Cronenberg.” Cinema Canada 97 (June 1983): 23–25.

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    Trendsetting essay that built Cronenberg’s reputation as a horror auteur in Canada. Summarizes prominent themes of body-horror (and suggests a link with AIDS metaphors). Builds on earlier considerations by the same author in a 1981 Cinema Canada article. Expanded edition is included in Handling 1983 (cited under Anthologies).

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  • MacMillan, Robert. “Shivers. . . Makes Your Flesh Creep!.” Cinema Canada 72 (March 1981): 11–15.

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    Reevaluation of Shivers in the light of Rabid, The Brood, and Scanners. One of the first essays to position Shivers as a “lead film” (from which subsequent films borrowed motives and themes). Focuses on aesthetics and largely avoids gender. Partially revisits the Shivers controversy (see Controversy and Censorship).

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  • McCarty, John. Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen. New York: St. Martin’s, 1984.

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    Very popular and influential encyclopedia of the new wave of horror with Cronenberg a prominent feature throughout the book. The author coined the term splatter, and the book cemented the notion of Cronenberg as the Baron of Blood. Concentrates on Shivers, The Brood, and Scanners.

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  • Sanjek, David. “Dr. Hobbes’s Parasites: Victims, Victimization, and Gender in David Cronenberg’s Shivers.” Cinema Journal 36.1 (1996): 55–74.

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    Probably the most in-depth textual analysis of Shivers. Sophisticated study of the kinds of tropes and metaphors in Shivers (discusses Scanners too). Aims to rise above moral considerations of gender representation and reevaluate Shivers in the light of Cronenberg’s subsequent work. For higher-level undergraduate and graduate students.

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Film Style

Relatively speaking, few studies focus on the style of Cronenberg’s films, at least when compared to discussions of his genre contexts, literary antecedents, themes, politics, and narratives. That said, the body of work on this topic is not insignificant. Given the focus of Cronenberg studies on the impact of his films’ imagery, a certain degree of the practice and technics of how this imagery is achieved is desirable, indeed necessary. Almost without exception, analyses of Cronenberg’s film style are descriptive, detailing specific setups and actions and offering valuable insights into the production cultures and crews surrounding Cronenberg’s films. The vast majority of these analyses have been published in professional and trade journals of cinematography and production design (American Cinematographer and Cinefex, in particular) and, to a lesser extent, in fanzines, especially in the earlier years of Cronenberg’s career. A good example is French 1992. The bulk of studies are preoccupied with special effects, with make-up, creature creation, and trick camerawork receiving the most attention (That is the case with Hantke 2004 and Mathijs 2010. Videodrome, The Fly and Naked Lunch are preferred case studies, as is evidenced in Lucas 1983, Lucas and Magid 1986, and French 1992, respectively). Cinematography also gets a fair amount of coverage, and, next to Videodrome and The Fly, Dead Ringers and Crash are the films most often discussed. Daviau and Elmes 1997 is an excellent example of this. Music and sound hardly ever constitute the subject of scholarly discussion, although Théberge 2004 is a welcome exception. In recent years, investigations of the acting of Cronenberg (in his own films and in the films of others) have appeared. Mathijs 2013 and Lowenstein 2004 (cited under Canadian Cinema) are examples.

  • Daviau, Allen, and Peter Elmes. “Auto Erotic: Interview with Peter Suschitzky.” American Cinematographer 78.4 (April 1997): 36–42.

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    Revealing and very insightful. Produces valuable knowledge about Cronenberg’s production culture. Probably one of the best interviews with a core member of Cronenberg’s key creative crew. Focuses on the practicalities and logistics of filming car chases, crashes, and wreckage. Unique illustrations.

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  • French, Lawrence. “Special Effects in Naked Lunch.” Cinéfantastique 22.5 (1992): 15–17.

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    Illuminating example of a combination of fan celebration and detailed analysis of special effects technology and practice. Produces great insight into the creature and make-up effects of Naked Lunch. As his films gradually moved away from the horror genre, this article is one of the last instances in which Cronenberg’s films receive fanzine attention.

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  • Hantke, Steffen. “Spectacular Optics: The Deployment of Special Effects in David Cronenberg’s Films.” Film Criticism 29.2 (2004): 34–52.

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    Rare, and therefore all the more valuable, example of a scholarly interpretation of the use of special effects in Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Covers Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch in some detail. Likely the most in-depth theoretical analysis of Cronenberg’s special effects by an authority on the horror genre.

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  • Lucas, Tim. “The Image as Virus: Filming Videodrome.” In The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg. Edited by Piers Handling, 149–158. Toronto: General Publishing, 1983.

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    Detailed account of production design, art direction, cinematography, and make-up and prop effects based on exclusive set visits. Lucas unveils the aesthetic inspirations of Videodrome to be Renaissance and baroque art (especially Da Vinci). Part of the highly respected Handling 1983 (cited under Anthologies). Expanded in Lucas 2008 (cited under Case Studies).

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  • Lucas, Tim, and Ron Magid. “The Fly: New Buzz on an Old Theme.” American Cinematographer 67.9 (September 1986): 60–67.

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    Revelatory and valuable report on the production values of Cronenberg’s horror films. Mostly focused on The Fly. Largely based on interviews with cinematographer Mark Irwin (The Fly was his sixth, and last, collaboration with Cronenberg) and designer Hoyt Yeatman. First-rate material for film production students.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. “They’re Here! Special Effects in the Horror Cinema of the 1970s and 80s.” In Horror Zone: Cultural Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema. Edited by Ian Conrich, 153–173. London: IB Tauris, 2010.

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    General overview of developments in special effects for the horror genre (called “HFX”), with Cronenberg as a preferential case study (especially Scanners and The Fly). Stresses the importance of fanzines and prozines (professional fanzines) in establishing a fascination for special effects with horror fans. Builds on Conrich 2000 (cited under Early Horror, 1975–1981).

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. “Cronenberg Connected: Cameo Acting, Cult Stardom, and Supertexts.” In Cult Film Stardom: Offbeat Attractions and Processes of Cultification. Edited by Kate Egan and Sarah Thomas, 144–162. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

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    Study of the acting performances by Cronenberg. Proposes that Cronenberg’s roles are a continuation and intensification of themes essential to his oeuvre. Suggests Cronenberg’s acting style employs anaphoric gestures and polysemous expression. Films and shows discussed include The Fly, Into the Night, Nightbreed, Jason X, and Alias.

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  • Théberge, Paul. “‘These Are My Nightmares’: Music and Sound in the Films of David Cronenberg.” In Off the Planet: Music, Sound, and Science Fiction Cinema. Edited by Philip Hayward, 129–148. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey, 2004.

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    Excellent essay on a regrettably undervalued aspect of Cronenberg’s film style: sound. Concentrates on the contributions of composer Howard Shore (who started work with Cronenberg for Videodrome) and sound editor Bryan Day (who has worked for Cronenberg since Fast Company).

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Adaptations and Literature

Agreement is general that much of Cronenberg’s thematic inspiration comes from literature, up to the point that he is seen more as a literary author than a cinematic auteur (Browning 2007, cited under Case Studies). This has led to numerous interpretations of his oeuvre through the lens of comparative literature and adaptation studies methods. Given that most of Cronenberg films after Videodrome are indeed adaptations, this is not surprising (he directed only one original screenplay, eXistenZ, since then, and even that one is said to be influenced by Salman Rushdie). As a consequence, most scholarly studies of the role of literature in Cronenberg’s oeuvre focus on the period beginning with The Dead Zone (his first adaptation). But Lucas 1981 predates that work. With a few exceptions, the bulk of materials analyzing Cronenberg’s literary inspirations are published after Naked Lunch (that film generated a veritable wave of comp-lit essays). A tendency exists in these studies to accentuate inspiration drawn from “high-brow” authors, such as Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, and playwright David Henry Hwang. This is at the expense of more popular references (Stephen King, Clive Barker, Patrick McGrath), who are usually dealt with under the heading of “gothic.” Albertazzi 1995 is an example. Most attention goes to writers whose work has been adapted by Cronenberg. Notable exceptions include Nabokov, Kafka, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho), and Margaret Atwood (a fellow Canadian icon). Burroughs and Kafka are seen as the most consistent literary influence on Cronenberg. Rosenbaum 2000 gives a cursory overview. The figure of the “insect” together with the notion of “insect politics” is the most commonly deployed metaphor throughout comparative interpretations, as can be found in Beard 1996, Herzogenrath 2003, and Hantke 2007a. Browning 2003 regards Nabokov as the deepest influence, with references going back as far as the late 1960s. As Carroll 1993 shows, literary references do not stop at these few core exemplars. Anyone researching Cronenberg’s literary influences should also consult General Overviews, Anthologies, and Postmodernism as well as studies of the specific films adapted by Cronenberg.

  • Albertazzi, Silvia. “Letteratura e cinema: David Cronenberg dagli incubi del gotico inglese ai disagi dell’eta postcoloniale.” Problemi: Periodico quadrimestrale di Cultura 103 (1995): 234–241.

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    Overview of some of Cronenberg’s less frequently mentioned literary influences. Places Cronenberg’s oeuvre on a literary trajectory from gothic fiction to problematics of postcolonialism. Focuses on The Dead Zone, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, and M. Butterfly.

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  • Beard, William. “Insect Poetics: Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 23.3 (1996): 823–852.

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    Offers a detailed interpretation of Naked Lunch based on mapping of common ground between Cronenberg and Burroughs, applied to the “creative topography” of Naked Lunch. Coins the term insect as a key metaphor for Cronenberg’s films. Also considers Burroughs’s other writings as influences on the film. Expanded and revised in Beard 2005 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Browning, Mark. “‘Thou, the Player of the Game, Art God’: Nabokovian Game-Playing in Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies 12.1 (Spring 2003): 57–69.

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    Solid study of the influence of Nabokov on Cronenberg’s oeuvre (an influence often acknowledged by Cronenberg) on a film not explicitly based on a literary source (eXistenZ). Argues that ludic motives and mise-en-abyme are key to understanding Cronenberg’s films. Partially revisited in Browning 2007 (cited under Case Studies).

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  • Carroll, Michael Thomas. “The Bloody Spectacle: Mishima, The Sacred Heart, Hogarth, Cronenberg, and the Entrails of Culture.” Studies in Popular Culture 15.2 (1993): 43–56.

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    Ambitious and unique comparison among Cronenberg, William Hogarth, and Yukio Mishima, largely predicated on the “cult of the body” (both moralistic and narcissistic). Offers a provocative view of Cronenberg’s films, and their literary influences, as “symptomatic” of a body-obsessed popular culture.

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  • Hantke, Steffen. “Genre and Authorship in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.” In Twentieth-Century American Fiction on Screen. Edited by R. Barton Palmer, 170–185. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007a.

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    Examines Naked Lunch as an exercise in self-conscious adaptation, not only because the film is about the writing of the novel, but also because the film is a knowing effort in self-positioning. Likely one of the best essays on Cronenberg and self-reflexivity.

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  • Herzogenrath, Bernd. “Brundlefly for President: Cronenberg, Kafka, and the Fiction of Insect Politics.” In [Mis]understanding Postmodernism & Fiction of Politics, Politics of Fiction. Edited by Matthew Sweeney and Michal Peprník, 273–290. Olomouc, Czech Republic: Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci, 2003.

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    Illuminating study of the importance of Franz Kafka for understanding Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Considers Cronenberg’s place in modern and postmodern literary culture. Arguably the best discussion of the “insect” motive, which is key to Shivers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, and Spider (though the latter is too recent to be discussed here).

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  • Lucas, Tim. “David Cronenberg: A Postscript.” The Vladimir Nabokov Research Newsletter 7 (Fall 1981): 10–15.

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    One of the very first attempts to discuss Cronenberg’s films through the lens of Nabokov’s writings and place them within a Nabokovian universe. Published in a hard-to-track journal but worth the effort for graduate students and Cronenberg scholars. Prelude to Lucas 1983 (cited under Film Style) and Lucas 2008 (cited under Case Studies).

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  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “Two Forms of Adaptation: Housekeeping and Naked Lunch.” In Adaptation. Edited by James Naremore, 206–220. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

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    Cursory, useful overview of the literary importance of Naked Lunch as an adaptation. Comparative essay from one of film culture’s top critics. Significant for its insistence on the filmic aspects of adaptation and, therefore, a welcome change from most other comparative treatments of Cronenberg. For lower-level undergraduate students.

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Studies of Specific Films

With the exception of his two underground films (Stereo and Crimes of the Future), the undervalued The Dead Zone and Spider, and those films too recent to have yet generated academic publications (especially Cosmopolis), all of Cronenberg’s films have received extensive scholarly attention. Shivers, Rabid, and Scanners are usually treated together and, therefore, they have been grouped under Early Horror, 1975–1981. Scholarly work on companion crime thrillers A History of Violence and Eastern Promises is grouped together as well. The films listed separately in the subsections here are the ones that have not only received the most abundant scholarly attention, but also more or less commanded their own approach. Whenever one methodology or theoretical framework has become very dominating, reference to that is made. For one film, The Brood, this exclusive approach has become so paradigmatic that it has overshadowed any treatment of the film on its own merits (if that is indeed desirable). That approach, and studies of The Brood as its exemplar, have been collected under Sexual Politics and Feminism. For discussions of individual films in relation to the rest of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, General Overviews, Anthologies, and Interviews offer excellent material. For book-length studies of specific films, see, in particular, Grant 1997, Sinclair 2008, Lucas 2008, and Beaty 2008 (all cited under Case Studies). Beard 2002 and Campbell 1984 (cited under Early Horror, 1975–1981) address each film in cursory overview fashion. Excellent sources on films that do not have their own section are Papenburg 2011b on Crimes of the Future; Beard 1993 and Magistrale 1996 on The Dead Zone; Lahde 2006 on Spider; and James 2012, Lowenstein 2012, and Ratner 2012 on A Dangerous Method.

  • Beard, William. “An Anatomy of Melancholy: Cronenberg’s Dead Zone.” Journal of Canadian Studies 27.4 (Winter 1993): 169–178.

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    Likely the most in-depth assessment of The Dead Zone. Discusses the film’s major motives and themes with respect to its status as a Canadian-American production and an expression of Canadian gothic (especially its moodiness). Partially reprised and revised for Beard 2005 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Beard, William. “Thirty-two Paragraphs about David Cronenberg.” In North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema since 1980. Edited by William Beard and Jerry White, 144–159. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2002.

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    Cursory and fragmented yet highly insightful and occasionally provocative overview of most of Cronenberg’s films (title is borrowed from a film in honor of Glenn Gould). Composed by an undisputed authority on Cronenberg. Ideal discussion-soliciting material for undergraduate tutorial and seminar sessions.

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  • James, Nick. “Analyze This: Interview with David Cronenberg.” Sight and Sound 22.3 (March 2012): 16–21.

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    Informative interview about A Dangerous Method. Detailed account of the film’s production history. Zooms in on the figures of Sigmund Freud and Carl-Gustav Jung and speculates on issues of “scientific evidence,” “Jewishness,” and “hysteria as horror.” Sight and Sound has become somewhat of a home for celebrations of Cronenberg.

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  • Lahde, Maurice. “Den Wahn erlebbar machen: Zur Inszenierung von Halluzinationen in Ron Howards A Beautiful Mind und David Cronenbergs Spider.” In Camera Doesn´t Lie. Edited by Jörg Helbig, 43–47. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2006.

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    Brief, insightful comparison between two contemporary films (one extremely successful, the other less so) that present the unreliable, pathological narrator as main character (similar to Naked Lunch). Borrows for its approach from narrative theory and even a little from reception studies.

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  • Lowenstein, Adam. “A Dangerous Method: Sight Unseen.” Film Quarterly 65.3 (Spring 2012): 24–32.

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    First scholarly essay on A Dangerous Method. Exploratory in tone (with plot summary and production history), Lowenstein aims to frame A Dangerous Method as a Cronenberg film (fitting with his core themes) while noting how such themes have become “unseen” (hidden in averted gazes, dialogue, frame composition, and set design).

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  • Magistrale, Tony. “Cronenberg’s Only Really Human Movie.” Post Script 15.2 (1996): 40–45.

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    Short study of The Dead Zone as a film in which characters are allowed depth of emotion (compassion, loneliness, pity) in the absence of gross-out gore. Appeared in special issue devoted to Cronenberg. Author is an expert on Stephen King adaptations. Partially reprised in his popular book Hollywood’s Stephen King (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

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  • Papenburg, Bettina. “Crimes of the Future: Ausweitungen des grotesken Körpers.” In Das neue Fleisch: Der groteske Körper im Kino David Cronenberg. By Bettina Papenburg, 59–84. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2011b.

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    Unique scholarly interpretation of Crimes of the Future. Balances philosophical observations, discussion of Cronenberg’s core themes, and textual analysis. Part of Papenburg 2011a (cited under Case Studies), but worth mentioning in separation because Crimes of the Future gets so little attention otherwise.

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  • Ratner, Megan. “Dangerous Methodology: Interview with David Cronenberg.” Film Quarterly 65.3 (Spring 2012): 19–23.

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    Valuable insight into links between A Dangerous Method and Cronenberg’s wider oeuvre. Symptomatic of current interviews with Cronenberg in that it combines coverage of most recent films with explorations of larger themes and philosophical musings on humanity and contemporary society. Also considers Dead Ringers, Marshall McLuhan, and Stefan Zweig.

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Videodrome

For many scholars, Videodrome is the ultimate Cronenberg film. It is not perhaps the smoothest achievement, and decidedly not the film with the widest popularity, but it is certainly the one that is regarded as the most profound and prophetic (depending on the critic or academic it is paired with Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, or Crash). Videodrome is also highly regarded as Cronenberg’s most personal film: it is the last original screenplay Cronenberg wrote (with the exception of eXistenZ). Videodrome has drawn a plethora of scholarly analyses. The most authoritative book-length study is Lucas 2008. Papenburg 2011a is also noteworthy. They are both cited under Case Studies. Videodrome gets lengthy treatments in several book-length overviews of Cronenberg’s work (see Beard 2005, Grünberg 1992, Mathijs 2008, and Pompon and Véronneau 2003, all cited under General Overviews). Among works cited under Anthologies, Stiglegger 2011 has good materials on Videodrome. And among those cited under Interviews, Grünberg 2000 and Rodley 1997 are invaluable. Its canonical status with scholars of Cronenberg coincides with (and some would say is augmented by) a rarely seen detailed body of scholarship on the production of Videodrome—one that does not shy away from making bold interpretive claims, especially Testa 1989 and Lucas 2004. Because of its groundbreaking special effects (by a crew led by Rick Baker), Videodrome is also a preferred case study for analyses of Cronenberg’s film style (see Film Style). Next to that, Videodrome’s unique, messy structure and style has also received wide attention. Good examples are Hampton 1993 and Shaw 2002. Theoretical studies of postmodernism also offer in-depth interpretations of Videodrome especially Jameson 1992 (cited under Postmodernism). Young 2002 and Ham 2004 show how Jean Baudrillard and Marshall McLuhan are the two most cited philosophical thinkers mentioned in regard to Videodrome. Redfern 2004 and Hantke 2007b argue that the most privileged postmodern tropes in studies of Videodrome are entropy, self-reflexivity, irony, and intertextuality.

  • Ham, Martin. “Excess and Resistance in Feminised Bodies: David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Jean Baudrillard’s Seduction.” Senses of Cinema 30 (2004).

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    Specialized discussion of the writings of Jean Baudrillard on sexuality (especially in Seduction) in connection to Videodrome. Argues that sexuality’s “commonness” (no longer prohibition, transcendence, or transgressive) is perfectly reflected in Videodrome’s characters (especially its women figures). Illustrative of the depth of Videodrome debates.

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  • Hampton, Howard. “When in Videodrome: Travels in the New Flesh.” Artforum 31.6 (February 1993): 70–73.

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    Sweeping but very insightful article about the importance of Videodrome for understanding the political climate of the 1980s (and beyond). Treats Videodrome as a “social metaphor” for “managed alienation” and a parable of power in the media age. Publication itself is evidence of Cronenberg’s recognition by the art world community.

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  • Hantke, Steffen. “Out from the Realist Underground; or, the Baron of Blood Visits Cannes: Recursive and Self-Reflexive Patterns in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and eXistenZ.” In Monstrous Adaptations: Generic and Thematic Mutations in Horror Film. Edited by Richard J. Hand and Jay McRoy, 67–81. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2007b.

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    Innovative essay that treats Videodrome as an adaptation of an amalgamation of sources. Builds a comparison with eXistenZ (which it sees as a remake of Videodrome). Emphasis is on the intertextuality and self-reflexivity of both films. For sophomore undergraduates and up.

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  • Lucas, Tim. Medium Cruel: Reflections on Videodrome. Criterion DVD Booklet. 2004.

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    Summary of Lucas’s exclusive and unique insights into the filming of Videodrome. Unparalleled peek into Cronenberg’s production methods (and those of his key crew, especially set design, special effects, cinematography, and acting). Some of this material was published in fanzine Cinefantastique, in Lucas 1983 (cited under Film Style), and excerpted in Lucas 2008 (cited under Case Studies).

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  • Redfern, Nick. “Information and Entropy: The Disintegration of Narrative in Cronenberg’s Videodrome.” EnterText 4.3 (2004): 6–24.

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    Interesting discussion of the ways in which Videodrome challenges neo-formalist assumptions about structure and format. Links Videodrome’s style to the thoughts of Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, and Michel Serres. Also builds a comparison with the writings of William S. Burroughs.

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  • Shaw, D. B. “‘The Video Word Made Flesh’: Spectacular Transgressions in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.” Foundation 84 (2002): 22–35.

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    Very good overview, in detail, of the excess and transgressiveness of Videodrome, even within the context of Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Excellent for scholars who wish to align Cronenberg with cult and exploitation cinema. For higher-level undergraduates and graduate students.

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  • Testa, Bart. “Panic Pornography: Videodrome from Production to Seduction.” Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory 13.1–2 (1989): 56–72.

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    One of the earliest scholarly articles on Videodrome. Focuses on the question whether the “iconographic excess” (p. 56) of Videodrome, which the author treats as a parody, can best be unveiled by a refusal to see it in terms of genre theory (thereby countering Robin Wood’s ideas). Isolates the “O’Blivion scene” as a case study.

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  • Young, Suzie Sau-Fong. “Forget Baudrillard: The Horrors of ‘Pleasure’ and the Pleasures of ‘Horror’ in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.” In Canada’s Best Features: Critical Essays on 15 Canadian Films. Edited by Eugene Waltz, 147–174. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.

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    Generalist but very useful introductory essay on Videodrome as a Canadian film, as a representation of issues of gender, and as a horror genre film. Ideal for introductory classes on Cronenberg. Concentrates on whether a film such as Videodrome can offer “pleasure,” a term it frames philosophically, via Jean Baudrillard.

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The Fly

The Fly was, until A History of Violence, the most commercially successful Cronenberg film, part of the horror genre’s move into the mainstream around the middle of the 1980s. The film is a remake of The Fly (dir. Kurt Neumann [1958]), itself based on a short story (by George Langelaan) and a film followed by two sequels. The Fly had a relatively successful sequel, The Fly II (directed by The Fly’s special effects supervisor, Chris Walas). It has also had an adaptation in 2008 as an opera (directed by Cronenberg). The Fly started attracting scholarly investigation nearly immediately after its release. Doherty 1987 is a good example. Most studies of The Fly investigate the film’s aesthetics, structure, and themes, and scholars connect those to theoretical and philosophical concepts. Those often concern issues of mutation and metamorphosis, as is observed in Knee 1992. They also include disease and abjection as well as identity politics. A perfect example is Beard 1994 (also see Sexual Politics and Feminism). Although generally regarded as a horror film, some scholars also discuss it as an example of science fiction. Littau 1999 and Roth 2000, which devote special attention to its representation of “alien” life-forms, are good examples of works by such authors. Furthermore, a good deal of attention has been paid to the aesthetics and style of The Fly, in particular its special effects. Lucas 1986 is an ideal representative, and it can be read in tandem with Lucas and Magid 1986 (cited under Film Style). Relatively few studies of The Fly examine its socioeconomic context, and those that have been done struggle to balance the film’s critical reception with its perceived function as a metaphor for AIDS, a disease very much on the world’s agenda at the time. Guerrero 1990 and Mathijs 2003a make valuable attempts to overcome that difficulty. The Fly gets lengthy treatments in several book-length overviews of Cronenberg’s work (Beard 2005, Grünberg 1992, Mathijs 2008, and Pompon and Véronneau 2003, all cited under General Overviews) Among the works cited under Anthologies, Riches 2012 has good material on The Fly. And among those cited under Interviews, Grünberg 2000 and Rodley 1997 are invaluable.

  • Beard, William. “Cronenberg, Flyness and the Other-self.” Cinémas 4.2 (Winter 1994): 153–173.

    DOI: 10.7202/1001028arSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Solid interpretation of The Fly as part of the Cronenberg oeuvre. Focuses on the same motives and themes found in other films: loss of identity, the relationship between body and mind and flesh and rationality. Notes the increased complexity of Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Partially reprised in Beard 2005 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Doherty, Thomas. “The Fly.” Film Quarterly 40.3 (Spring 1987): 38–41.

    DOI: 10.2307/1212462Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the earliest scholarly investigations of The Fly. Excellent introduction to the film. Emphasizes its consistency with Cronenberg’s other films (the cost to flesh of fantasy) and singles out the special effects, dramatic rhythm, and sexual politics (including its allegorical treatment of AIDS).

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  • Guerrero, Edward. “AIDS as Monster in Science Fiction and Horror Films.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 18.3 (1990): 86–93.

    DOI: 10.1080/01956051.1990.10662021Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Innovative study that proposes the monsters The Fly and The Thing (dir. Carpenter [1982]) as metaphors for the AIDS disease, equipping both films with topical immediacy. Thorough analysis of the role of stylistic and thematic cues and their comparative relevance to cultural concerns.

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  • Knee, Adam. “The Metamorphosis of The Fly.” Wide Angle 14.1 (1992): 20–34.

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    Interesting comparison between the 1958 and 1986 versions of The Fly. Aims to move beyond the generic sci-fi frameworks of the films with the intent to chart, through opposition, discourses about gender, race, science, labor, and class. Perfect for various undergraduate and graduate levels.

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  • Littau, Karin. “Adaptation, Teleportation and Mutation from Langelaan’s to Cronenberg’s The Fly.” In Alien Identities: Exploring Differences in Film and Fiction. Edited by Deborah Cartmell, I. Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan, 141–155. London: Pluto, 1999.

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    In-depth comparison with the 1958 version (and literary antecedents) of The Fly. Stresses the representation of alien and alienation, and the changes in function, mobility, and sensitivity such representations have undergone over the decades. Ideal for comparative genre courses across undergraduate programs.

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  • Lucas, Tim. “The Fly Papers.” Cinefex 28 (November 1986): 4–29.

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    Detailed account of the special effects, set design, and cinematography of The Fly. Relies heavily on first-person accounts of the crew. Relatively heavy technical jargon. Because of its determined attention to the production’s intricacies it is of high value for students of film production. Lucas and Magid1986 (cited under Film Style) is an accompanying piece of higher accessibility to more generalist readers.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. “AIDS References in the Critical Reception of David Cronenberg: It May Not Be Such a Bad Disease after All.” Cinema Journal 42.4 (Summer 2003a): 29–45.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2003.0019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the short-term and long-term critical reception of The Fly. Argues that the film’s status as a metaphor for AIDS is the result of critics’ acute awareness of topical and rhetorical references to the disease in cultural discourse at the time. A more general account is included in Mathijs 2008 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Roth, Marty. “Twice Two: The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Discourse 22.1 (Winter 2000): 103–116.

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    Useful comparative study of The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as films “without original” (films of which the remakes have garnered such attention they are no longer subservient to the originals). Focuses less on the remake of the text and more on the “horror paradigms” that inform either version.

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Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers marks Cronenberg’s departure from the horror genre, though not, as many scholars note, from horrific imagery, of which there is a substantial amount in the film. Audience reception of the film gave Cronenberg wide recognition and respect, including awards (at the Toronto Festival) and nominations (the Academy Awards). Scholarly interest in Dead Ringers followed remarkably soon—symptomatic of the rising academic interest in Cronenberg in the early 1990s. Frank 1991 is an indicative example. Many scholars of Dead Ringers note its open-ended thematic—its ability to sustain a variety of approaches and interpretations. Good examples are Beard 1996 and Oster 1999. Another recurrent point of attention in studies of Dead Ringers (and indeed in much of Cronenberg scholarship) is the representation of gender and freakery, not surprising for a film dealing with gynecology and twins, as Nguyen 1990 and Russo 1994 observe (so does Creed 1990, cited under Sexual Politics and Feminism). The voice of Cronenberg himself is uncharacteristically overlooked in these analyses, though Jaehne 1988 is a good example of the opposite. This work marks one of the first in which acting performances in a Cronenberg film were lauded explicitly. Klevan 2000 offers a thorough overview of the critical reception of the film. Dead Ringers is also the first collaboration with director of photography Peter Suschitzky (who has since shot all of Cronenberg’s feature films). Suschitzky’s contribution has generated a fair amount of scholarly and critical interest, most of it centered around the innovative motion control camerawork, as discussed in Shay 1988. For other detailed studies of Dead Ringers, see General Overviews and Interviews as well as also Grant 1997 (cited under Case Studies).

  • Beard, William. “Lost and Gone Forever: Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.” Post Script 15.2 (Winter–Spring 1996): 11–28.

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    Excellent, likely definitive textual analysis of how, despite its generic differences with earlier work, Dead Ringers continues a range of themes and concerns pivotal to the Cronenberg oeuvre (in particular its affect and its dramatization of conflict). Part of a special issue on Cronenberg.

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  • Frank, Marcie. “The Camera and the Speculum: David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 106.3 (May 1991): 459–470.

    DOI: 10.2307/462779Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Textual analysis of key themes in Dead Ringers, especially around the metaphor of the camera as a medical tool (speculum, mirror, gynecological instrument). The platform of the Modern Language Association publication is itself an indication of the increasing respect and recognition accorded Cronenberg. Part of a special issue on the “cinema topic.”

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  • Jaehne, Karen. “Double Trouble: Dead Ringers.” Film Comment 24.5 (September–October 1988): 20–27.

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    Combination of interview and review. Excellent contribution to studies of Dead Ringers because of how it incorporates Cronenberg’s own voice into critical commentary. Film Comment had been showcasing Cronenberg’s career since Chute 1980 (cited under Early Horror, 1975–1981), but this marks a step up the ladder of recognition.

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  • Klevan, Andrew. “The Mysterious Disappearance of Style: Some Critical Notes about the Writing on Dead Ringers.” In The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg. Edited by Michael Grant, 148–167. Trowbridge, UK: Flicks, 2000.

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    Unique study of themes and tropes used by commentators of Dead Ringers through a reception aesthetics lens. Important because of its self-reflexive look at the routines and practices of interpreting Cronenberg’s films. Essential part of Grant 2000 (cited under Anthologies).

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  • Nguyen, Dan Thu. “The ‘Projectile’ Movie Revisited: The Female Body in Track 29 and Dead Ringers.” Film Criticism 14.3 (1990): 39–54.

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    Highly recommended comparison between several films’ representations of gender, with Dead Ringers as a focus. Argues that representations of the female body offer clues to the displacement of male desire from the image of the woman to the body of the woman. Part of a special issue on psychoanalysis and cinema.

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  • Oster, Corinne. “Dead Ringers: A Case of Psychosis in Twins.” American Imago 56.2 (Summer 1999): 181–202.

    DOI: 10.1353/aim.1999.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent, highly theoretical essay on representations (and psycho-pathologies) of the deviant human body in Dead Ringers. Uses a psychoanalytic methodology. Main argument holds that (against Creed 1990, cited under Sexual Politics and Feminism) the main characters do not suffer from male hysteria but from psychosis, especially “twin anxiety as a loss of identity.”

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  • Russo, Mary. “Twins and Mutant Women: David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.” In The Female Grotesque. By Mary Russo, 107–127. New York: Routledge, 1994.

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    Excellent discussion of the representation of the human body in Dead Ringers. Employs theories of semiotics (Kristeva) and anthropology (freakery) to draw a comparison among deviance, gender representation, and kinship. Recommended for higher-level undergraduates.

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  • Shay, Don. “Double Vision.” Cinefex 36 (November 1988): 33–49.

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    Elaborate account of the set design, cinematography, and special effects of Dead Ringers. Focus is on the innovative “motion control” camera technique capturing Jeremy Irons’s double performance (as twins) without slowing the pace of the film. Excellent introduction to the work of Peter Suschitzky for Cronenberg.

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Naked Lunch

If Dead Ringers gave Cronenberg wide recognition and respect outside the horror genre, Naked Lunch firmly entrenched him within art house culture. Much of that is owed to the legendary reputation of William Burroughs, the author of the novel who gave his formal collaboration to the film. It was the first film of Cronenberg to premiere at a major film festival (not counting Toronto), namely Berlin. There are, overall, four kinds of approaches to Naked Lunch. The first concerns the status of Naked Lunch as an adaptation, especially its effort to interweave the rendition of the book with other elements from the oeuvre of its author. Good examples are Zurbrugg 1999 and Downing and Kebris 1998 (also see Beard 1996, Hantke 2007a, and Rosenbaum 2000, all cited under Adaptations and Literature). The second approach addresses the intention and structure of Naked Lunch as a film about writing and storytelling and, by extension, about film storytelling and the vagaries of artistic creativity. Linked to such an approach are often issues of self-reflexivity and intertextuality, which, in turn, has led scholars, in works such as Privet 1992 and Grünberg and Strauss 1992, to comment on the film’s “postmodern” nature (see also Postmodernism). The third approach concerns biography. Given Cronenberg’s consistent referencing of Burroughs as a core source of inspiration, and given the long production history of the film (going back almost a decade), and added to that the life details of Burroughs in the film (including the suspicious accidental shooting of his wife), many scholarly interpretations of Naked Lunch use biography as a tool of analysis. Jaehne 1992 is an excellent example. A fourth approach concentrates on the style of Naked Lunch. Such studies often highlight the first-person perspective, an unreliable narrator, effects-heavy imagery, sets designs, colors and hues, music (especially the trippy jazz soundtrack), and a meandering storyline. Good examples are Duncan 1992 and Vice 1993 (see also French 1992, cited under Film Style). For further studies of Naked Lunch, also see General Overviews, Anthologies, and Interviews.

  • Downing, David, and Lim Kebris. “Exterminate All Rational Thought: David Cronenberg’s Filmic Version of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.” Psychoanalytic Review 85.5 (1998): 775–792.

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    Thoughtful adaptation analysis, through a methodology of psychoanalysis. Touches on issues of addiction, hallucination, psychosis, and gender representation (including misogyny). Not often cited, but very useful for graduate students and scholars of Cronenberg. Indicative of Cronenberg’s acceptance as a valid subject of scholarly research outside film studies.

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  • Duncan, Jody. “Borrowed Flesh: Special Effects in Naked Lunch.” Cinefex 49 (February 1992): 24–40.

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    Extensive account of cinematography, design, and special effects of Naked Lunch. Based on interviews with crewmembers Chris Walas, Jim Isaac, and Stephan Dupuis; has not only scholarly but also promotional value (published to coincide with the film’s release). Partially reprised in a coffee table book of the film edited by Ira Silverberg.

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  • Grünberg, Serge, and Frédéric Strauss. “La machine Cronenberg.” Cahiers du cinéma 453 (March 1992): 10–27.

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    Detailed, sophisticated dossier on Naked Lunch in relation to Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Special attention to structure and themes in the film (in particular self-doubt and self-reflexivity). Sign of the entrenchment into art house and cinephile culture of Cronenberg, especially in France. Close affinity with reflections rehearsed in Grünberg 1992 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Jaehne, Karen. “David Cronenberg on William Burroughs: Dead Ringers do Naked Lunch.” Film Quarterly 45.3 (Spring 1992): 2–6.

    DOI: 10.2307/1213218Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Undoubtedly the best interview on Naked Lunch. Evidence of the heartfelt fandom of Cronenberg for Burroughs. Most key themes are covered, especially the creative process, the portrayal of the writer as unreliable addict, homosexuality (and its absence in the film), and visual representation of monstrosity. Briefly touches on censorship and obscenity.

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  • Privet, Georges. “Dossier David Cronenberg.” 24 images 59 (Winter 1992): 16–31.

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    Informative overview of the major themes and concerns at the heart of Naked Lunch, including issues of self-reflexivity, postmodernism, biography, and authorship. Perfect material in tandem with Grünberg and Strauss 1992.

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  • Vice, Sue. “Hallucinatory Reality in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.” Dionysos: The Literature and Addiction TriQuarterly 4.3 (1993): 43–47.

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    Discusses the importance of the unreliable narrator for the style of Naked Lunch and its implications for the film’s most overt theme, namely stimulation of the creative process through substances. Essay treads carefully on the subject of drugs and refuses to take a moral viewpoint. Not an easily accessible source.

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  • Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “Will Hollywood Never Learn? David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.” In Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text. Edited by Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan, 98–112. London: Routledge, 1999.

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    Elaborate discussion of the challenges in adapting “unfilmable” novels for the screen and the inevitable compromises involved. Critical look at the “disneyfication” of literary imagery through special effects (the mugwumps), and the omission of “harsh humor.” Rehearses much of adaptation theory (therefore, a good source for students of comparative literature).

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M. Butterfly

If one Cronenberg film is regarded as an oddity in his oeuvre, it is M. Butterfly. In spite of its many similarities (which, as scholars in works such as Suner 1998 point out, ensures it is still very much part of his ultra-consistent body of work), it is a step removed from the routines, practices, styles, and themes for which Cronenberg is generally known. It is Cronenberg’s first film shot outside Canada; it is the film farthest away from the horror genre (and it almost completely avoids horrific imagery); it is exceptionally light in special effects and trickery (especially compared to the half dozen films Cronenberg had previously directed); it is set in the historical past instead of in an imaginary contemporary (sub)urban landscape; and it has an epic tone (landmarks, big cast, lush design, wide open spaces). Yet, many motives and concerns remain the same: Above all, the obsession with (problematics of) gender representation remains, and, in Jeremy Irons, it has the first returning starring role in a Cronenberg film (later to be followed by Viggo Mortensen). This has made acting, representation, and characterization decidedly a point of attention for studies of M. Butterfly. A good example is Grist 2003. It is also a continuation of Cronenberg’s choice to adapt existing material (in this case, the entire legacy of the Madame Butterfly story, worked into the play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang). As Chow 1996 and Testa 2006 demonstrate, it also pushed to the forefront hitherto hidden themes of postcolonialism and orientalism, which require little effort to be connected with well-rehearsed interpretations of metaphors of mutation and transgression. This, in turn, has led to considerations of fetishist and fantastic imagery and design, as seen in Marchetti 2004 and Lauretis 1999. All in all, the diversity of academic attention that M. Butterfly has attracted may well be as much a sign of the acceleration of academic writing on Cronenberg (especially in the wider areas of cultural studies) as of its availability and volatility as an object of interpretation. It is perhaps also a symptom of the desire of those engaged in Cronenberg studies to connect to wider areas of scholarship in the humanities (such as opera, theater, and art history). For more detailed analyses of M. Butterfly, see General Overviews, Grant 2000 and Stiglegger 2011 (both cited under Anthologies), and Rodley 1997 (cited under Interviews). For a wider understanding of the perspectives most commonly employed in M. Butterfly, see Sexual Politics and Feminism and Cyborgs and Posthumanism.

  • Chow, Rey. “The Dream of a Butterfly.” In Human, All Too Human. Edited by Diana Fuss, 61–92. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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    Sophisticated reading that presents M. Butterfly as a much needed alternative approach to orientalism (in the sense Edward Said gave to it). Published in an anthology on (post)humanism (also see Cyborgs and Posthumanism). Excellent for students wishing to link Cronenberg to wider areas of thought and inquiry.

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  • de Lauretis, Teresa. “Popular Culture, Public and Private Fantasies: Femininity and Fetishism in David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 24.2 (Winter 1999): 303–334.

    DOI: 10.1086/495342Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highly theoretical essay that aims to “reflect on the re-use and mixing of popular forms and narratives in the cinematic construction of public fantasies.” Attempts to reframe the notion of fantasy (as either public or private, determined by degrees of fetishism) in order to understand M. Butterfly. Revisits theories of Antonio Gramsci.

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  • Grist, Leighton. “It’s Only a Piece of Meat’: Gender Ambiguity, Sexuality, and Politics in The Crying Game and M. Butterfly.” Cinema Journal 42.4 (Summer 2003): 3–28.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2003.0016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Solid comparative interpretation of acting, embodiment, representation, and characterization in two contemporary films (released within weeks of each other). Focuses on the techniques of veiling and revelation of the gendered and sexualized body, concerns that it links to Cronenberg’s wider oeuvre.

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  • Marchetti, Gina. “From Fu Manchu to M. Butterfly and Irma Vep.” In Bad: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen. Edited by Murray Pomerance, 187–199. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

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    Interesting comparative essay on representations of villainy in M. Butterfly. Acknowledges the rift between M. Butterfly and the rest of Cronenberg’s oeuvre but sees a continuation in the figure of the “white male devil.” Zooms in on uses of masks and screens.

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  • Suner, Asuman. “Postmodern Double Cross: Reading David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly as a Horror Story.” Cinema Journal 37.2 (Winter 1998): 49–64.

    DOI: 10.2307/1225642Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated and theoretical essay that argues for seeing M. Butterfly’s consistency with the rest of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, especially in the light of developments in feminist and postcolonial theory. Proposes that the idea of “double articulation of subjectivity” is not posthuman but grounded in gender (it is male). For advanced students.

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  • Testa, Bart. “Late Mutations of Cinema’s Butterfly.” In A Vision of the Orient: Texts, Intertexts and Contexts of Madame Butterfly. Edited by Jonathan Wisenthal, Sheryll Grace, Melinda Boyd, Brian McIlroy, and Vera Micznik, 91–122. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

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    Illuminating essay that outlines the similarities and differences between Cronenberg’s Butterfly, Hwang’s version, and earlier cinematic adaptations. Holds that Cronenberg’s version owes more to the bourgeois imaginary subjectivity of the 20th century than to the gender “deconstructionism” that characterized Hwang’s stage version.

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Crash

Crash is Cronenberg’s most controversial film. It generated heated cultural debate in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and several other countries (see Controversy and Censorship and Sexual Politics and Feminism as well as Barker, et al. 2001, cited under Case Studies). That means something, given the fact that various other Cronenberg films also engendered vigorous comments from among critics and moral guardians. Because of its contentious reputation Crash has generated scholarly output from the start. The attention given the film in the leading journal Screen in 1998 exemplifies that fact. In the issue, Creed 1998, Grant 1998, and Wilson and Botting 1998 conduct a thorough debate on the film. Smith 1999 revisits the film for Screen but from yet another angle (and for an in-depth look at the controversy itself, see Kuhn 1999, cited under Controversy and Censorship). Overall, there are three perspectives on Crash. The first concerns the morals and politics of the film, in particular attempts to uncover its ethics and philosophies. Major concerns include cynicism and irony, apocalypticism, fetishism, medical culture, and existentialism (Albert Camus, who is referenced in the film, is a crucial point of reference). Good examples of such approaches are Creed 1998 and Smith 1999. A second perspective is concerned more with the aesthetics and style of the film, which are often centered around the then pivotal term cool and frequently extend to considerations of desire and fetishism. Good examples here are Grant 1998 and Krips 1999. Major issues for both the first and second perspective include cinematography, nudity on screen, reflexivity, reflections on celebrity (James Dean, Jayne Mansfield), and the relationships between characters. A third point of attention concerns comparisons between the source novel and the film adaptation. Often, such comparisons are organized around discussions of concepts such as futurism, science fiction, genre, representability, narration, and voice. Alvarez 2000, Forman 2001, and Brottman and Sharrett 2002 are excellent examples of this. For additional studies on Crash, see Sinclair 2008 and Barker, et al. 2001 (both cited under Case Studies) as well as works cited under General Overviews, Interviews, and Politics and Philosophy.

  • Alvarez, Marisol. “Flesh That Matters: David Cronenberg’s Crash.” European Journal for Semiotic Studies 12.4 (2000): 617–630.

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    Specialist attempt to reconcile issues of representation challenged by Crash’s “out of control bodies” with semiotic methods. Relies on Julia Kristeva’s notion of abjection and Charles Sanders Peirce’s modes of feeling to discuss diegesis of Crash. For graduate students and peers.

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  • Brottman, Mikita, and Christopher Sharrett. “The End of the Road: David Cronenberg’s Crash and the Fading of the West.” Literature/Film Quarterly 30.2 (2002): 126–132.

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    Excellent essay that presents Crash as a road movie (in fact, as the terminal form of that genre). Addresses the accusation of nihilism (which it partially rejects), notes the cult-like character relations, and frames Crash’s representations of violence through the writings of Rene Girard and Brooks Adams.

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  • Creed, Barbara. “Anal Wounds, Metallic Kisses: Crash.” Screen 39.2 (Summer 1998): 175–179.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/39.2.175Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent short introduction to Crash’s main themes. Emphasizes the contrast between the film’s bleak story world and its “perverse” subject matter, which it links to Mark Seltzer’s concept of “wound culture.” Creed has also written powerfully on gender in The Brood and Dead Ringers (see Creed 1990 and Creed 1993, both cited under Sexual Politics and Feminism).

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  • Forman, Murray. “Boys Will Be Boys: David Cronenberg’s Crash Course in Heavy Mettle.” In Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Gender in Film at the End of the 20th Century. Edited by Murray Pomerance, 109–128. New York: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Insightful analysis of the role of the car in Crash as a symbol of masculinity in excess. Contextualizes this claim via the cultural history of the car in North America and the behavioral conditioning with which it is associated. Also touches on issues of class in Crash.

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  • Grant, Michael. “Crimes of the Future: On Crash.” Screen 39.2 (Summer 1998): 180–185.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/39.2.180Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fascinating look at Crash as a film concerned with the processes of creativity (part of an imaginary life of the film that Grant argues lies in the future). Stresses the importance of style as ritualized events (the car crashes). Builds on writings on the novel by Walter Benjamin and by novelist J. G. Ballard.

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  • Krips, Henry. “Crash and Subversion.” In Fetish: An Erotics of Culture. By Henry Krips, 171–184. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

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    Solid analysis of the look of Crash as a cross between modern and postmodern styles of expressing desire and obsession, with particular attention given to the concept of the “scopic drive.” Contains a comparison with Rear Window. Concluding chapter of a monograph on the cultural functions of fetishism.

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  • Smith, Marq. “Wound Envy: Touching Cronenberg’s Crash.” Screen 40.2 (Summer 1999): 193–202.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/40.2.193Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on Crash’s “beautiful” look. Uses the writings of Georges Bataille to argue that beauty derives its power from trauma (including neurosis and shell shock), which it contextualizes via histories of medical culture of which Crash is apparently a part. Continues the debate in Creed 1998, Grant 1998, and Wilson and Botting 1998.

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  • Wilson, Scott, and Fred Botting. “Automatic Lover: Crash.” Screen 39.2 (Summer 1998): 186–192.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/39.2.186Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Powerful short essay on the quality of “boredom” in Crash, which the authors see evidenced in instances of repetition (not only the crashes, but also the characters and bodily damage) and automated actions (like driving). Contains a brief discussion of the importance of the car crash in Hollywood culture.

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eXistenZ

The only film since Videodrome that Cronenberg developed from an original idea is eXistenZ. It was triggered by an interview with Salman Rushdie (see Rushdie and Cronenberg 1995, cited under Interviews). Like Videodrome, it is a first-person perspective science-fiction paranoia thriller with philosophical ambitions and set against the background of popular culture (video games). One effect of these similarities is a steady stream of comparisons between eXistenZ and Videodrome—mostly to the benefit of both films—from auteurist and genre-studies perspectives (see Hantke 2007b, cited under Videodrome). Because of its release amidst a mini-wave of high-profile sci-fi thrillers (especially The Matrix), eXistenZ has served as a privileged point of attention for scholars attempting to chart contemporary cinema, as evidenced in works such as Lavery 2001 and Pomerance 2003. In interviews on eXistenZ, Cronenberg has insisted on the importance of philosophy as an inspiration. Wise 1999 is a good example of using that insistence as a point of departure. Traditions of thought most commonly associated with eXistenZ are existentialism, truth, and posthumanism, both of which have been used frequently as lenses through which to study the film. Good examples are Stevens 2012 and Pritchard 2012 (see also Cyborgs and Posthumanism and Browning 2003, cited under Adaptations and Literature, which adds an adaptation angle to its approach). Also worth mentioning are perspectives that focus on the film’s narrative construction as philosophy, such as found in Calvin 2004 and Badiou 2008. Many studies, such as Keane 2002, also consider the film’s game-like structure of “levels” and “platforms.” For further reading on eXistenZ, see Beard 2005, Ricci 2011, and Mathijs 2008 (all cited under General Overviews) and Stiglegger 2011 (cited under Anthologies).

  • Badiou, Alain. “Dialectics of the Fable.” Science Fiction Film & Television 1.1 (2008): 15–23.

    DOI: 10.1353/sff.0.0027Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interesting analysis of the contrasting philosophical inquiries made by eXistenZ, Cube, and The Matrix. Positions each film as a fable and maintains that eXistenZ is a Husserlian fable (suspending the world and interrogating the subject). Originally appeared in French (in 2004). Translated by Alberto Toscano.

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  • Calvin, Ritch. “The Real eXistenZ TransCendz the Irreal.” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 45.3 (Fall 2004): 262–279.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2004.45.3.07Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Profound criticism of eXistenZ against the background of two frameworks of understanding reality: a Platonic one and a “phildickian” one (based on Philip K. Dick’s writings). Argues that, in spite of its claims to the contrary, eXistenZ does present belief in an absolute reality, relying on a two-tiered reality structure.

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  • Keane, Steve. “From Hardware to Fleshware: Plugging into David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.” In Screenplay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. Edited by Geoff King and Tania Krzywinska, 145–156. London: Wallflower, 2002.

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    One of the best efforts to study the connection between eXistenZ and video game culture. Focuses on the hardware used for video games (consoles, cords, plugs, pods) and analyzes how these link to Cronenberg’s overall themes (the “new flesh” that is born out of mutation).

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  • Lavery, David. “From Cinespace to Cyberspace: Zionists and Agents, Realists and Gamers in The Matrix and eXistenZ.” Journal of Popular Film & Television 28.4 (Winter 2001): 150–157.

    DOI: 10.1080/01956050109602836Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Early, insightful essay explores Andre Bazin’s belief in film’s centrifugality, directing the human imagination outward. Applies this to virtual reality and compares The Matrix and eXistenZ. Suggests that The Matrix preferences “total cinema” while eXistenZ imagines heroic realists battling against illusion without relief from threats against it. Part of a special issue on technology.

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  • Pomerance, Murray. “Neither Here nor There: eXistenZ as ‘Elevator Film.’” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 20.1 (2003): 1–14.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509208.2003.10540504Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Insightful study of eXistenZ as a kind of narrative construction. Zooms in on the levels of narration, characterizations, and representation offered as challenges to viewers and characters alike (very much like in a video game). Ideal for students of contemporary genre cinema.

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  • Pritchard, Duncan. “ExistenZial Angst.” In The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Edited by Simon Riches, 69–76. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2012.

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    Excellent analysis of the presence of existentialism in eXistenZ (where it is a widely acknowledged source of influence) and other films of Cronenberg. Takes theories of “radical skepticism” as its point of departure. Refers only slightly to Wittgenstein or Heidegger and, therefore, also suitable for undergraduate students.

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  • Stevens, Graham. “The Fiction of Truth in Fiction: Some Reflections on Semantics and eXistenZ.” In The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Edited by Simon Riches, 143–154. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2012.

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    Examination of the function of eXistenZ as a challenge to philosophies of language. Focuses on the semantic processes through which fiction can be interpreted as distinct from reality and argues that eXistenZ deconstructs that effort. Relies heavily on the work of David Lewis (“Truth in Fiction”).

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  • Wise, Wyndham. “David Cronenberg Talks about eXistenZ and Reality.” Take One 7.23 (Spring 1999): 6–10.

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    In-depth interview in Canada’s major film magazine in which Cronenberg outlines the influence of existentialism on eXistenZ (in particular Heidegger and Wittgenstein). Also reflects on the interview Cronenberg conducted with Salman Rushdie (centered around the term fatwa) and on video game culture.

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A History of Violence and Eastern Promises

According to Mathijs 2008 (cited under General Overviews), Cronenberg’s two crime films of the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are companion films. The two movies differ in numerous ways. But the two also harbor remarkable similarities. Not the least of these is actor Viggo Mortensen (the first time since Jeremy Irons that Cronenberg cast the same actor in a lead role and the first time it happens in consecutive films—Mortensen later also stars in A Dangerous Method (see Studies of Specific Films). Dunlap and Delpech-Ramey 2010 reflects on this fact. Both films also share a plot structure (that of the “undercover” person in a criminal environment) as well as provoking profound reflections on family and kinship. Furthermore, both films are viewed as a move by Cronenberg toward more mainstream cinema, backed by reasonably well-funded budgets and production companies. Thus, as a result, the tendency has been to discuss both films in tandem. Two anthologies—Stiglegger 2011 and Riches 2012 (both cited under Anthologies)—have generated several innovative and in-depth considerations. In the former, Worschech 2011 and Bronfen 2011 offer short but insightful interpretations of each individual film aimed at a general readership, while, in the latter, Freeland 2012 and Mosely 2012 present in-depth examinations of the continued influence of philosophy on these two films. The general trend in these interpretations is to focus on character relationships, to place the films in relation to the rest of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, to downplay the importance of the source material (the graphic novel for A History of Violence and Steven Knight’s screenplay for Eastern Promises), and to affirm Cronenberg’s mastery of style while acknowledging he can still “pack a punch” (see Hughes 2009). For more analyses of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, also see Mathijs 2008, Wilson 2011, and Ricci 2011 (all cited under General Overviews) as well as Lowenstein 2009 (cited under Politics and Philosophy) and Beaty 2008 (cited under Case Studies), a case study of A History of Violence.

  • Bronfen, Elisabeth. “Eastern Promises.” In David Cronenberg. Edited by Marcus Stiglegger, 245–250. Berlin: Bertz+Fischer, 2011.

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    Thorough yet accessible short textual analysis of Eastern Promises. Presents the film as a parable about new forms of capitalism (influenced by the ideas of Richard Sennett). Also analyzes the film’s display of body culture (the sauna fight, the tattoos).

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  • Dunlap, Aron, and Joshua Delpech-Ramey. “Grotesque Normals: Cronenberg’s Recent Men and Women.” Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 32.3 (Fall 2010): 321–337.

    DOI: 10.1353/dis.2010.0030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fascinating study of the representation of men and women in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Holds that the “grotesque” has shifted from what violates the mundane to what informs the mundane at its core, and that Cronenberg’s characters no longer seek to satisfy obsessions but to avoid them.

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  • Freeland, Cynthia. “Tragedy and Terrible Beauty in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.” In The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Edited by Simon Riches, 24–35. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

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    Excellent study of the elements of tragedy in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, especially “reversal,” “recognition,” and “hamartia.” Also offers a highly useful analysis of the kinds of violence in the films (“natural,” “choreographed,” “sexual,” “gore,” and “violence to identity”).

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  • Hughes, Jessica. “In the Bathhouse: Collective Violence and Eastern Promises.” Cinephile 5.2 (Summer 2009): 35–39.

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    Solid interrogation of a key scene in Eastern Promises, namely the naked knife fight in a men’s sauna. Employs theories of violence by Alain Badiou. Part of a special issue on the “scene.” Cinephile is a Canadian graduate film journal.

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  • Mosely, Daniel. “Self-creation, Identity, and Authenticity: A Study of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.” In The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Edited by Simon Riches, 125–141. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

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    Distinguishes between metaphysical and practical problems of personal identity to argue that Eastern Promises and A History of Violence expand the range of philosophical reflections in Cronenberg’s oeuvre (to which it connects both films). Relies on Stanley Cavell’s theories of stardom and Charles Taylor’s ideas on authenticity.

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  • Worschech, Rudolf. “A History of Violence.” In David Cronenberg. Edited by Marcus Stiglegger, 236–240. Berlin: Bertz+Fischer, 2011.

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    Introductory essay on A History of Violence. Emphasizes the occurrence of “doubling” throughout the film (not merely in the character of Viggo Mortensen). Also stresses the importance of representations of “family.”

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Cultural Contexts

The study of the oeuvre of Cronenberg in the contexts in which it was created and received is, quantitatively speaking, not a particularly dominant perspective. Overall, there are few studies of the concerns that govern the conditions of production and reception of Cronenberg’s films (two examples are Morris 1994 and Mathijs 2008, both cited under General Overviews). Studies of the special effects that make Cronenberg’s films so noteworthy, for instance, are limited mostly to debates of aesthetics and technics, separate from the conditions of labor within which they occur (see Film Style). However, two exceptions can be cited: studies of Cronenberg in the context of Canadian national identity and Canadian national cinema and studies of the various controversies and censorship that Cronenberg’s films have encountered. Although these two areas of interest overlap potentially, hardly any studies consider them in tandem (an exception is Mathijs 2003b, cited under Controversy and Censorship, which analyzes the reception of Shivers).

Canadian Cinema

The body of scholarly work based on research of Cronenberg’s films in their national context is scattered. Much of it comes from Canada and some from the United States. Cronenberg’s films are, to an overwhelming extent, Canadian. They are set and filmed in the country (usually in or around his home town of Toronto, with some exceptions). Since 1993, when M. Butterfly became his first film shot abroad, Cronenberg’s filming has become more international—Spider and Eastern Promises were shot in London and A Dangerous Method in Switzerland and Austria. But Canada and Toronto remain a central base of operation. Cronenberg’s career is also intrinsically linked to Canadian cinema (and, indeed, often supported by Canadian public funds). It blossomed as Canadian cinema went through a tempestuous time of change in the late 1960s, the middle of the 1970s, and certainly also during the “tax-shelter” years of the early 1980s. Cronenberg’s position at the center of developments has made him a Canadian icon. Interest in Cronenberg and Canada has grown only gradually. It first emerged during the Shivers controversy (see Delaney 1975 and Mathijs 2003b, both cited under Controversy and Censorship) and in early Anthologies (especially Handling 1983, cited under Anthologies). It is, of course, also discussed in Cronenberg’s biography (Morris 1994, cited under General Overviews). A spike in interest occurred during the 1990s, when, in works including McGregor 1992, Beard 1994, and Testa 1995, several scholars tried to place Cronenberg’s films more firmly in national cinema contexts—a move that coincided with efforts by Canadian universities to reposition themselves toward “Canadian Studies.” Valuable efforts have also been made to discuss Cronenberg’s films within the context of Canadian horror film. The work of Adam Lowenstein has, in this regard, been crucial, especially Lowenstein 1999 and Lowenstein 2005. Vatnsdal 2004 also offers a highly valuable view on Cronenberg as a maker of horror films. Recent years have seen little change in the sporadic attention given to Cronenberg’s Canadian context, which usually occurs only on the margins of wider discussions of all of Canadian film (a good example is Melnyk 2004). Together with Adam Lowenstein (who has also written with great insight on Cronenberg’s acting performances in the context of Canadian culture, see Lowenstein 2004), Bart Testa is generally regarded as the most authoritative specialist in Cronenberg as a Canadian, as evidenced in Testa 1995.

  • Beard, William. “The Canadianness of David Cronenberg.” Mosaic 27.2 (June 1994): 113–133.

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    Thoughtful and persuasive consideration of the films of Cronenberg against Northrop Frye’s and Margaret Atwood’s models of Canadianism in the arts. Argues that the difficulty of thinking about Cronenberg as Canadian reflects postmodern thought on identity.

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  • Lowenstein, Adam. “Canadian Horror Made Flesh: Contextualizing David Cronenberg.” Post Script 18.2 (1999): 37–51.

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    Balanced overview of the various contexts influencing Cronenberg’s filmmaking practices and the meaning of his films. Reflects on the complications of reconciling entrenched perspectives on his films (as genre cinema, as auteur cinema). One of the first studies from outside Canada to consider Cronenberg’s Canadianness. Prelude to Lowenstein 2005.

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  • Lowenstein, Adam. “David Cronenberg and the Face of National Authorship.” Kinokultura 6 (October 2004).

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    Unique perspective on Cronenberg’s oeuvre and Canadian identity: This short article uses his acting performances (in particular in Last Night, dir. Don McKellar [1998]) to argue that the combination of “murderous embodiment and bureaucratic disembodiment” his roles display are connected to perceptions of Canada itself.

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  • Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

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    Fascinating study of the importance of Cronenberg’s films for understanding Canada (especially pp. 145–177). Advances the notion of the “allegorical moment” in which spectators, films, and national history collide to generate “cultural meaning.” For Lowenstein, in horror films (and in Cronenberg’s films) this moment is essentially traumatic. Builds on Lowenstein 1999.

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  • McGregor, Gaile. “Grounding the Countertext: David Cronenberg and the Ethnospecificity of Horror.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies 2.1 (1992): 43–62.

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    Powerful argument in favor of Cronenberg’s Canadian identity. One of the first attempts to “ground” Cronenberg as a “national” filmmaker. Surveys critics’ and scholars’ refusal to consider Cronenberg’s Canadian identity. Suggests a link between “horror as other” and “Canadian other” to mainstream culture. Strong influence on studies of Canadian national cinema.

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  • Melnyk, George. One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

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    Excellent chapter on Cronenberg as English-Canadian auteur (considered in comparison with Atom Egoyan, see pp. 146–166). Insightful negotiation of the “Cronenberg legacy” for Canada and the relationships and tensions between auteur, genre, and national cinema perspectives on Cronenberg.

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  • Testa, Bart. “Technology’s Body: Cronenberg, Genre, and the Canadian Ethos.” Post Script 15.1 (Fall 1995): 38–56.

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    Extensive discussion of the problems involved in framing Cronenberg’s oeuvre as “Canadian.” Notes how auteurism, genre study (especially horror film) and “contemporary theoretical paradigms” obfuscate a view on Cronenberg’s oeuvre as part of national cinema. Specifically focuses on narration.

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  • Vatnsdal, Caelum. They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema. Winnipeg, MB: Arbeiter Ring, 2004.

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    Essential study of Canadian horror film since the 1960s. Largely descriptive, but excellent in its attention to completeness. Cronenberg is the core thread of attention throughout the book (especially the period 1975 to 1986). Case studies of Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly. Contains comprehensive filmography and detailed index.

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Controversy and Censorship

Cronenberg’s films have a reputation for being upsetting, bad, radical, distasteful, misogynist, reactionary, and depraved (all terms actually used by opponents of his films). They have elicited strong reactions from critics, policymakers, and moral guardians. This has led to numerous controversies and several moves to censor his works. Most book-length studies of Cronenberg, the introductions to virtually all anthologies surveying his films, and all notable interviews with Cronenberg note and discuss this fact of cultural unsettlement (see General Overviews, Anthologies, and Interviews as well as Barker, et al. 2001 and Sinclair 2008, both cited under Case Studies). Overall, scholarly studies of the controversies and censorship of Cronenberg films fall into three categories, each associated with a particular “scandal.” The first concerns the release and reception of Shivers. The controversy surrounding the film is covered in Delaney 1975 and Mathijs 2003b. Some of the longer-term reactions to Shivers can be found in Handling 1983 (cited under Anthologies) and Wood 1979 (cited under Sexual Politics and Feminism). The main issue that propelled this controversy was that of “moral badness” and the film’s public funding. The second category has The Brood as its focus. Because commentators assume a specific political and philosophical perspective on Cronenberg’s films, discussions of this film’s release and reception are included under Sexual Politics and Feminism (Ayscough 1983 and Breskin 1997, both cited under Interviews also cover similar terrain). The main issue that launched this controversy was that of misogyny and gender representation. The third, and the major controversy, concerns the release and reception of Crash. The central issue here was the outrage that was spawned over how this “depraved” film reflected a moral bankruptcy typical of the end of the 20th century, combined with (fabricated) fears expressed about copy-cat behavior (this issue is also at the center of Barker, et al. 2001, cited under Case Studies). Kermode and Petley 1997 and Kuhn 1999 offer a British perspective on the Crash controversy; Klein 1996 takes an American point of view; Testa, et al. 1996 offers a perspective from Canada; and Ballard 1997 approaches the topic from the angle of literary scandals. Almost all of these works were written close to the actual date of the film’s release, which is why their language reflects the urgency of the case, and they were often published in nonscholarly outlets.

  • Ballard, J. G. “Set for Collision.” Index on Censorship 26.3 (May 1997): 90–98.

    DOI: 10.1177/030642209702600316Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential essay by the writer of Crash (the novel on which the film was based). Argues for the removal of any bans on, and cuts to, Cronenberg’s film. Published in a prominent magazine opposing censorship. Useful for assessing the intensity of the controversy around Crash.

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  • Delaney, Marshall. “You Should Know How Bad This Film Is: After All, You Paid for It.” Saturday Night 90 (August 1975): 83–85.

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    Generally regarded as the first article to address Cronenberg as a subject of controversy. Campaigns against government subsidies for genre cinema (in particular horror film). Delaney (real name: Robert Fulford) received numerous rebuttals (especially in the journal Cinema Canada), and to this day it remains widely cited.

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  • Kermode, Mark, and Julian Petley. “Road Rage: Cronenberg’s Crash and Its Would-be Censors.” Sight and Sound 7.6 (June 1997): 16–18.

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    Excellent overview of the origins of the Crash controversy, not only in the United Kingdom, but also at the Cannes film festival and elsewhere. Polemic in tone but highly detailed in its presentation of facts and backgrounds. Source of inspiration for Barker, et al. 2001 (cited under Case Studies).

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  • Klein, Naomi. “Let’s Stop Tolerating Corporate Censorship,” Toronto Star, 25 November 1996: A17.

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    Short, insightful opinion piece detailing the troubles encountered in finding a release for Crash in the United States, mostly because of the opposition of media-mogul Ted Turner (CNN, Time Warner). Ideal for a view on the Crash controversy beyond state-regulated censorship. Excellent material for seminar sessions.

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  • Kuhn, Annette. “Crash and Film Censorship in the UK.” Screen 40.4 (Winter 1999): 446–450.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/40.4.446Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Concise chronicle of the Crash controversy in the United Kingdom, framed as part of a decade-long tension between censors and film culture in that country and set within the struggle between the British Board of Censors (BBFC) and local authorities as well as the fact of national elections of 1997.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. “The Making of a Cult Reputation: Topicality and Controversy in the Critical Reception of Shivers.” In Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Edited by Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro-Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andy Willis, 109–126. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003b.

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    Study of the release and reception of Shivers in Canada and abroad. Focuses on the use of rhetoric in taking up positions with respect to the controversy engendered by the film. Also covers longer-term reception of the film as well as Robin Wood’s opposition to Shivers (see Wood 1979, cited under Sexual Politics and Feminism).

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  • Testa, Bart, Brian McIlroy, Barry Grant, William Wees, Gene Walz, and Murray Pomerance. “Crash (and Burn?): FSAC Members Collide with Cronenberg.” FSAC/ACEC Newsletter 21.1 (1996): 15–20.

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    Collection of short opinions (of varied tenor) by prominent Canadian film scholars on the developing controversy around Crash, published by the Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC), the national association of film scholars. Demonstrates the sense of urgency and immediacy felt by film critics with respect to the release of Crash.

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Politics and Philosophy

The films of Cronenberg are said to be ultra-serious about the world. This is all the more evident if one considers the dedication with which they are frequently explored (indeed mined) in terms of the political and philosophical issues of the contemporary age, as allegories, symptoms, or critiques of the times we live in, as tractates of the human condition, or as prophesies of times to come. Some efforts have been made to discuss Cronenberg’s philosophical and political themes according to ideas from before the 20th century, but most discussions of Cronenberg’s films place them in the context of how they explore, and are reflective of, ideas and philosophical issues that circulate in the Western world of the 20th and 21st centuries. Topics such as postmodernism, existentialism, feminism, media theory, or theories of the relationship of human beings to violence are among the most prevalent subjects considered in these studies. The method most often used in this perspective is that of post-structuralist analysis. The four main points of attention within this arena are sexual politics and feminism, postmodern philosophy, and the philosophies of cyber technology and posthumanism. They will be explored in the subsections that follow. A number of significant studies of Cronenberg’s films that belong to streams that are not separately listed in subsections are cited below. One such stream concerns debates about religion and morality. Examples include Royer and Royer 2005, Smith 2000, and Siegler 2012. Another stream approaches Cronenberg’s work in comparing it to Greek mythology (and, thus, also discusses its ethics). Good examples are Sharrett 1986 and Heldreth 1996. A final stream includes studies of Cronenberg’s films through a loosely connected array of philosophical lenses in which are bound together ideas about representations of the human body in terms of time and memory, often linked to concerns of geopolitics. Representative examples include Varga 2003, which employs Gilles Deleuze as a key point of entry; Trigg 2011, which uses Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the predecessor of Deleuze; and Lowenstein 2009, which focuses on globalization.

  • Heldreth, Leonard G. “Festering in Thebes: Elements of Tragedy and Myth in Cronenberg’s Films.” Post Script 15.2 (Winter–Spring 1996): 46–61.

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    Analysis of Cronenberg’s films in comparison with Greek mythology. Largely confined to interpretations of The Fly and Dead Ringers. Extends the analysis in Sharrett 1986.

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  • Lowenstein, Adam. “Promises of Violence: David Cronenberg on Globalized Geopolitics.” boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture 36.2 (Summer 2009): 199–208.

    DOI: 10.1215/01903659-2009-011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unique interpretation of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises as comments on the conjuncture of violence and globalized geopolitics. Stresses the “shared violence” of its components (good and bad) and Cronenberg’s view of geopolitics as governed by intimacy (of the body).

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  • Royer, Carl, and Diana Royer. “The Darkness Is Not the Devil: Atheism and ‘the Death of Affect’ in the Films of David Cronenberg.” In The Spectacle of Isolation in Horror Films: Dark Parades. By Carl Royer and Diana Royer, 53–76. New York: Haworth, 2005.

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    Introductory chapter on the motives of (critique of) religion in the films of Cronenberg. Particular focus on the spectacle (overkill) of affect that Cronenberg’s imagery creates. Part of a cursory overview of horror cinema of the last fifty years. Useful for introductory courses about Cronenberg.

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  • Sharrett, Christopher. “Myth and Ritual in the Post-industrial Landscape: The Horror Films of David Cronenberg.” Persistence of Vision 3.4 (Summer 1986): 111–130.

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    Innovative study of Cronenberg’s politics and philosophy as embedded in a “mythic dimension,” which is linked to postmodern thought (Jean Baudrillard and Jean-François Lyotard) as well as philosophies of “epiphany” (Northrop Frye). Based on a 1986 PhD (probably the first to discuss Cronenberg in detail). Trendsetting for studies of myth in Cronenberg (see Heldreth 1996).

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  • Siegler, Elijah. “David Cronenberg: The Secular Auteur as Critic of Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80.4 (2012): 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/lfs060Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent interrogation of the value of Cronenberg’s films as critiques of religious thought and spirituality (and religiously inspired censorship). Partly carries a personal, confessional tone borne from the personal relationship the author has had with Cronenberg (and it works to the benefit of the essay).

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  • Smith, Murray. “(A)moral Monstrosity.” In The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg. Edited by Michael Grant, 69–73. Trowbridge, UK: Flicks, 2000.

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    Short, accessible chapter that puts Cronenberg’s films in the context of their moral value. Argues that the films either prevent or destroy the sympathy of viewers for victims and heroes alike. Contains a short critique of psychoanalytical readings of Cronenberg’s work.

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  • Trigg, Dylan. “The Return of the New Flesh: Body Memory in David Cronenberg and Merleau-Ponty.” Film-Philosophy 15.1 (2011): 82–99.

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    Highly philosophical essay that argues that Cronenberg’s films offer a rigorous example of how human bodies can exists independently of the mind. Employs theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (his account of the phantom limb) and John Locke (his notion of identity in change of substance).

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  • Varga, Darrell. “The Deleuzean Experience of Cronenberg’s Crash and Wenders’ The End of Violence.” In Screening the City. Edited by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice, 262–283. London: Verso, 2003.

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    Part of a collection on cinema and urbanism, this study presents Crash as a post-industrial inverted road movie that queries notions of space and geography (and, therefore, meaning and utopia) in modern society. Relies heavily on the theories of Deleuze and Guattari.

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Sexual Politics and Feminism

Likely the most prolific segment of scholarly studies of Cronenberg concerns the analysis of representations of gender in his oeuvre, especially in regard to the scholarly frameworks of sexual politics and feminism. According to most studies that use this approach, Cronenberg’s films occupy a peculiar position, partly complicit of misogyny and partly a critique of misogynist representations. Wood 1979, Creed 1990, Creed 1993, and Ayscough 1983 (cited under Interviews) have strongly suggested that Cronenberg’s films are misogynist. Authors of several others, including Handling 1983 (cited under Anthologies) have staunchly defended them against such allegations. Pharr and Haas 1996 offers a view of both positions within one publication. Applying Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic methodologies, and propelled by burgeoning feminist approaches (which rose to prominence in film studies at the same time Cronenberg achieved wider visibility), many of these studies, including Robbins 1993, see Cronenberg’s films as examples of “womb envy.” As scholarship on Cronenberg’s representations of gender accumulated and as it led to a more calibrated scholarship that invited nuanced position-taking, most polarized views disappeared, orat least retreated. Instead, since the mid- to late 1990s, Cronenberg’s films have been seen not only as reflections of certain gender ideologies, but equally, and even more, as interrogations of moralities and normalities of gender—throwing the accusation back at ideology and society as it were. Examples of this are Freeland 1996 and Humm 1997. Part of this widening of perspective has involved looking at representations of masculinity in Cronenberg’s films. A good example is Ramsay 1999, which adds to such studies a view on homophobia. Not by accident perhaps, this move occurred simultaneously with Cronenberg’s departure from the horror genre. Regardless of this shift, however, the key exemplary film for studying Cronenberg through the lens of sexual politics and feminism has remained the same: The Brood. Whether viewed as a personal statement about family breakups (Cronenberg famously called it his version of Kramer versus Kramer), a reflection on radical changes in notions of the nuclear family in the 1970s, or a symptom of the horror genre’s innate misogyny (the woman as monster), there seems to be no way to study this film outside the framework of sexual politics and feminism, as Wood 1979 and Creed 1993 testify. Other films often singled out include The Fly (examined in Robbins 1993 and Freeland 1996) and Dead Ringers (studied in Creed 1990 and Robbins 1993). Studies of Cronenberg in relation to sexual politics and feminism are also abundantly present in most books on Cronenberg (see Creed 1998, cited under Crash; Nguyen 1990, cited under Dead Ringers; and de Lauretis 1999, cited under M. Butterfly).

  • Creed, Barbara. “Phallic Panic: Male Hysteria and Dead Ringers.” Screen 31.2 (Summer 1990): 125–146.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/31.2.125Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential essay on the representation of gender (and human “normality” in general) in Dead Ringers. Argues that the Mantle twin characters suffer from male hysteria, based on a Freudian analysis of the film. Companion essay to Creed 1993. Ideal for in-class debates at the higher undergraduate level.

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  • Creed, Barbara. “Woman as Monstrous Womb: The Brood.” In The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. By Barbara Creed, 43–58. London: Routledge, 1993.

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    Probably the definitive interpretation of The Brood from a feminist perspective, highlighting the film’s obsession with (and revulsion of) the female body. Creed first addressed this issue in an essay in Screen in 1986, but this is the fullest version. Widely cited by both opponents and proponents.

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  • Freeland, Cynthia A. “Feminist Frameworks for Horror Film.” In Post-theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. Edited by David Bordwell and Noel Carroll, 195–218. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996.

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    Unique paradigmatic proposal for feminist theory from a perspective critical of “psychodynamic” theories (especially psychoanalysis). Excellent survey of feminist horror theory. Terrific case study of The Fly. Offers a critique of the views in Creed 1993 on The Brood. Also discusses Jurassic Park and Repulsion.

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  • Humm, Maggie. “Cronenberg’s Films and Feminist Theories of Mothering.” In Feminism and Film. By Maggie Humm, 58–89. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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    Intelligent chapter that presents Cronenberg’s films as addressing a “web of theories” rather than subscribing to one viewpoint (either male desire or womb envy). Relies on the theories of Melanie Klein, Mary Douglas, and Julia Kristeva. Focuses on Rabid, The Brood, and Dead Ringers.

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  • Pharr, Mary, and Lynda Haas. “Somatic Ideas: Cronenberg and the Feminine.” Post Script 15.2 (Winter–Spring 1996): 29–39.

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    Excellent overview, composed as a conversation, of representations of gender in Cronenberg’s oeuvre. The authors consider whether David Cronenberg’s treatment of women could be considered feminist or misogynist, focusing on four films: Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch. Part of a special issue on Cronenberg.

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  • Ramsay, Christine. “Dead Queers: One Legacy of the Trope of ‘Mind over Matter’ in the Films of David Cronenberg.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies 8.1 (1999): 45–62.

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    Provocative attempt to “queer” the oeuvre of Cronenberg by analyzing the sexual politics regarding (covert) representations of gay and lesbian characters. Observes how many “queer” characters in Cronenberg’s films suffer or die in order to debate Cronenberg’s status as “progressive.”

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  • Robbins, Helen W. “More Human Than I Am Alone: Womb Envy in David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Dead Ringers.” In Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. Edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, 134–147. London: Routledge, 1993.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203142219Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Solid interrogation of the role of Cronenberg’s male scientists (especially in The Fly and Dead Ringers) as agents of phallic power and sufferers of womb envy (jealousy of women’s reproductive powers). Employs a Lacanian approach.

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  • Wood, Robin. “An Introduction to the American Horror Film.” In The American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film. Edited by Andrew Britton, Robin Wood, Richard Lippe, and Tony Williams, 1–24. Toronto: Festival of Festivals, 1979.

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    Extremely influential essay that set the tone for feminist interpretations of the horror genre. Singles out Cronenberg as a “reactionary” filmmaker obsessed with sexual disgust (especially The Brood and Shivers). Preempted by Wood’s writings in Film Comment in the 1970s and revisited in a monograph in 1986. Wood also addresses the issue in Handling 1983 (cited under Anthologies).

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Postmodernism

Of all the philosophical perspectives applied to (or interrogated by) the films of Cronenberg, the admittedly amorphous collection of thought known as postmodernism has been, by far, the most widely called upon. No doubt this is due partially to the parallel rise to prominence of Cronenberg and postmodern thought (indeed both were sometimes equally thought of as vogues). A first group of postmodern philosophies singles out the media as a point of attention. One of the most frequently recurring philosophers in regard to Cronenberg is fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan, whose ideas about “cool” media and spectacle are, for many, given a perfect visualization in Videodrome. Another philosopher interested in the media, Jean Baudrillard, is also a recurrent point of reference, especially through his concept of the “simulacrum” (the reference without reference), which is employed particularly in relation to studies of Videodrome and Naked Lunch (see also Grünberg 1992, cited under General Overviews; Frank 1991, cited under Dead Ringers; Young 2002 and Ham 2004, both cited under Videodrome). Excellent examples of this perspective are Jameson 1992 and Sanchez-Biosca 1996. Craven 2000 is a demonstration of the application of the same perspective to Crash. A second approach is centered around postmodern philosophies of the body (or, sometimes, the cinematic body). Such studies often take the Cartesian distinction between body and mind as a point of contention to argue that, in the late 20th century, such compartmentalization no longer holds and that Cronenberg’s films are a perfect demonstration of its flawed premises. Many studies of this kind employ the thoughts of Michel Foucault. Good examples are Shaviro 1993 and Pospisil 2004. A third perspective addresses Cronenberg’s affinity with postmodern thought through the horror genre’s development in the 1980s, a decade in which it gained notoriety for its ultra-explicit depictions of terror, pain, and panic (also see the Horror Genre, Film Style, and Disease and Disability). Worth mentioning are Modleski 1986 and Kellner 1989, both of which take Marxist philosophy as their points of departure, as does Jameson 1992. Although currently outnumbered by other perspectives, these considerations were actually among the first to approach Cronenberg through a philosophical lens.

  • Craven, Roberta Jill. “Ironic Empathy in Cronenberg’s Crash: The Psychodynamics of Postmodern Displacement from a Tenuous Reality.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 17.3 (2000): 187–209.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509200009361491Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dense study of how Cronenberg’s cinema, like much of postmodern thought, questions the techno-dependency of the contemporary world. Takes Crash as a case study. Employs the philosophies of Jean Baudrillard and Hannah Arendt. Also relies on literary references to J. G. Ballard, Franz Kafka, and Samuel Beckett.

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  • Jameson, Fredric. “Totality as Conspiracy.” In The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System. By Fredric Jameson, 11–35. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

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    Influential chapter by a prominent scholar of postmodernity. Posits Cronenberg’s films as key in understanding the “political unconscious” (a way of reading social history and economic analysis). Focuses on Videodrome as a “conspiracy” film and, therefore, a political fantasy, that challenges capitalist systems. Also discusses Blow-Up and Thomas Pynchon.

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  • Kellner, Douglas. “David Cronenberg: Panic Horror and the Postmodern Body.” Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory 13.3 (1989): 89–101.

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    Pioneering article that reads Cronenberg’s films as groundbreaking in exploring postmodern sensibilities (especially related to North American social theory). Focuses on what Kellner calls Cronenberg’s “early” (Shivers and Rabid) and “middle” films (The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome) and singles out instances of disaster, conspiracy, and dystopia.

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  • Modleski, Tania. “The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory.” In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. Edited by Tania Modleski, 155–166. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

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    One of the earliest attempts to discuss Cronenberg’s horror films philosophically (his oeuvre is only tangentially involved but fully implicated). Builds on theories by Jean-François Lyotard, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Ellul. Addresses issues of technology versus humanity and the transgression of modernity.

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  • Pospisil, Tomáš. “Films by David Cronenberg and the Fantastic Postmodern Body.” In The Human Figure in (Post-) Modern Fantastic Literature and Film. Edited by Sabine Coelsh-Foisner and Milada Franková, 99–107. Brno, Czech Republic: Masarykova Univerzita, 2004.

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    Comprehensive overview of how Cronenberg’s films address the postmodern human condition (including the emphasis on the body’s interaction with technology). Brilliant example of Cronenberg scholarship outside the confines of Anglo-Saxon understandings of postmodernity. Not easy to find but worth the search.

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  • Sanchez-Biosca, Vicente. “Entre le corps évanescent et le corps supplicié: Videodrome et les fantaisies postmodernes.” Cinémas 7.1–2 (Fall 1996): 73–88.

    DOI: 10.7202/1000933arSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interesting essay that draws a distinction between “decorporalized” and “carnal” representations of the body (both anchored in the 1980s). Uses Videodrome as a case study. Builds on the work of Michel Foucault and Fredric Jameson. Part of a special issue on bodily representations in cinema.

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  • Shaviro, Steven. “Bodies of Fear.” In The Cinematic Body. By Steven Shaviro, 126–155. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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    Innovative, trendsetting, thorough, and elaborate study of the postmodern visceralness of the films of Cronenberg, partially built on the thoughts of Michel Foucault. Case studies of Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, and Dead Ringers. Of profound influence on Yates 1995 (cited under Case Studies). Widely cited.

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Disease and Disability

Cronenberg’s films are obsessed with disease. Cronenberg’s aim to reveal the “new flesh” has also led him to look at depictions of illness in his films beyond the bravura of special effects. Among the first works to examine his doing so is Boss 1986 (also see Handling 1983, cited under Anthologies). His socio-philosophical perspective, employing the works of Michel Foucault, has become paradigmatic for these studies (Livingston 1993). A noticeable stream within the scholarship attending to Cronenberg’s depictions and allegories of disease is concerned with representations of invasive illnesses that lead to extreme body alterations. The key exemplar here is AIDS. One reason for this disease’s prominence in Cronenberg studies is the parallel between the rise of the body-horror subgenre (and Cronenberg’s prominent place in that) and the visibility and increased media coverage of the AIDS disease. Harkness 1983 (cited under Early Horror, 1975–1981) was the first to notice this parallel, and studies of The Fly have remarked on it with some frequency (see Guerrero 1990 and Mathijs 2003a, both cited under The Fly). It has become a recurrent trope in Cronenberg studies, evidenced in Parker 1993 and Mackinnon 2005. However, AIDS does not hold the monopoly for bodily sicknesses in Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Cronenberg himself has often brought up cancer (see Rodley 1997, cited under Interviews). In addition, all sorts of other little critters such as parasites, viruses, and physical abnormality have been considered anchor points for understanding Cronenberg’s films (see Livingston 1993 for a study of leeches). All of these representations are grouped together in the concept of the abject, which is well rehearsed in studies of Cronenberg’s gender representations (see Sexual Politics and Feminism) and frequently linked to depictions of illness (a good example is Kauffman 1998). A second important stream concerns the analysis of the unreliable human mind. Good examples are Bronfen 1998 (which focuses on hysteria) and Levin 2003 and Levin 2004 (also see Lahde 2006, cited under Studies of Specific Films). For further studies of Cronenberg’s representations of bodily illness, also see General Overviews, Interviews, Early Horror, 1975–1981, The Fly, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch.

  • Boss, Pete. “Vile Bodies and Bad Medicine.” Screen 27.1 (January–February 1986): 14–24.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/27.1.14Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paradigmatic essay on the increased detailing of bodily illness in cinema. Uses Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone and The Brood as case studies (among many others). Argues that Cronenberg’s films are about the detailed ruination of the human body. Relies heavily on theories of medicine by Michel Foucault.

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  • Bronfen, Elisabeth. “A Womb of One’s Own, or the Strange Case of David Cronenberg.” In The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and Its Discontents. By Elisabeth Bronfen, 381–408. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

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    Case history of Cronenberg’s films (especially Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch) as a form of postmodern, performative hysteria. Part of an ambitious project offering a sexual etiology of hysteria, via a Freudian perspective. Also contains readings of Psycho and Zelig and music, literature and philosophy.

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  • Kauffman, Linda. “David Cronenberg’s Surreal Abjection.” In Bad Girls and Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Art and Culture. By Linda Kauffman, 115–145. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

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    Thorough study of how Cronenberg’s films challenge depictions of “normality” in their anatomical depictions of “yukkie” animals (slugs, bugs, etc.) Places Cronenberg alongside performance artists such as Bob Flanagan and Orlan and literary figures such as J. G. Ballard. Concentrates on Cronenberg’s early films.

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  • Levin, Charles. “The Body of the Imagination in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.” Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis 11.2 (Fall 2003): 523–536.

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    Solid case study of Cronenberg’s version of Naked Lunch, interpreted through a psychoanalytic frame, with the Orpheus myth and the self-interrogation of “writing” as focus. Concentrates on the issues of loss, grief, and homosexuality (that of Burroughs). Concludes that Cronenberg’s solution to “exteriorize self-destruction” is a step toward healing. Also see Levin 2004.

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  • Levin, Charles. “Sexuality as Masquerade: Reflections on David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly.” Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis 12.1 (Spring 2004): 115–127.

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    Follow up to Levin 2003. Case study of M. Butterfly. Hovers between review and analysis, but a good study of mental illness symptoms in Cronenberg’s oeuvre nonetheless. Employs psychoanalytic methodology. Focuses on sadomasochism and cruelty, with reference to Sophocles figure of the “Sphinx.”

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  • Livingston, Ira. “The Traffic in Leeches: David Cronenberg’s Rabid and the Semiotics of Parasitism.” American Imago: Studies in Psychoanalysis and Culture 50.4 (Winter 1993): 515–533.

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    Discursive study of the connection between disease and cure using the metaphor of the parasite (in casu the leech). Uses Rabid as a case study. Offers excellent insight into representations of parasitism (barn squatting, pickups, hitch hikes). Employs theories of Michel Foucault. Part of a special issue on psychoanalysis and film.

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  • Mackinnon, Kenneth. “The Mainstream AIDS Movie Prior to the 1990s.” In Signs of Life: Medicine and Cinema. Edited by Graeme Harper and Andrew Moor, 33–44. London: Wallflower, 2005.

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    This chapter places some of Cronenberg’s films in a lineup of AIDS movies (films addressing the disease both literally and as allegory). Focuses on The Fly. Particularly useful for its contextualization of AIDS metaphors and its addressing the momentum of the wave of AIDS movies in the 1980s.

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  • Parker, Andrew. “Grafting David Cronenberg: Monstrosity, AIDS Media, National/Sexual Difference.” In Media Spectacles. Edited by Marjorie Garber, Jann Mattlock, and Rebecca Walkowitz, 209–231. New York: Routledge, 1993.

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    Provocative article on AIDS allegories in the films of Cronenberg. Frames AIDS as a media spectacle. Argues that metaphors of AIDS-like diseases have been found in his oeuvre since the very beginning (starting with Shivers). Links AIDS metaphors to rhetoric in media outlets in North America.

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Cyborgs and Posthumanism

The most recent strand of philosophical and political perspectives in the study of Cronenberg involves theories and concepts of cyborgs and posthumanism. Lacking a well-defined label, this strand is characterized by an interest in representations of life, life-forms, and conditions of life (material, technological, spiritual) that extend beyond the “human” (they often involve “virtual,” “viral,” and “artificial” life). A large influence is Donna Haraway’s idea of the cyborg. Other influences include science (especially the intersection of science and technology), fluid and ephemeral identity, futurology, Utopian thought, and techno-determinism (in casu electronic and digital culture and cyber technology). A consequence of these influences is that this strand regards Cronenberg as a science-fiction filmmaker instead of a horror auteur. Unlike many other oeuvres seen as expressions of this perspective, Cronenberg’s films are equally regarded as celebrations and rejections of its core components. The study that set the tone is Bukatman 1990, which also introduced the thought of Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard to the perspective. Most studies in this perspective use Videodrome as an example. Next to Videodrome, Hotchkiss 2003, Borras Castanyer 2003, and Fisher 2012 also present eXistenZ as a recurrent case study, as well as Crash, of which Cornea 2003 is a good example. It is worth noting that a majority of these studies, including Hurley 1995, Latham 1997, and de Lauretis 2003 (also see Lavery 2001, cited under eXistenZ), discuss Cronenberg’s films in tandem with other (often contemporary) films (Alien, The Matrix, Total Recall, Blade Runner, and others). An evident overlap exists with Postmodernism, but only marginally because this perspective is much more invested in the “future” and concentrates on embodiments and “game-like” situations (characters, devices, objects, tools, spectacle) more than purely abstract conceptualizations.

  • Borras Castanyer, Laura. “eXistenZ, de David Cronenberg: Ciberficciones para la posthumanidad.” Digithum 5 (2003).

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    Largely self-confined analysis of eXistenZ as an example of “cyberfiction” for posthumanity. Focuses on the “electronic intertextuality” of the film (which it sees as part of a new subgenre). Includes comparison with The Matrix.

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  • Bukatman, Scott. “Who Programs You? The Science Fiction of the Spectacle.” In Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. Edited by Annette Kuhn, 196–213. London: Verso, 1990.

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    Paradigmatic essay on the importance of the films of Cronenberg in the Information Age. Builds on theories by Alvin Toffler, Guy Debord, Marshall McLuhan, and Jean Baudrillard to sketch an “ephemeral, electronically processed human subject.” Case study of Videodrome (contains misspelled character name: Wren should be Renn).

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  • Cornea, Christine. “David Cronenberg’s Crash and Performing Cyborgs.” Velvet Light Trap 52 (Fall 2003): 4–14.

    DOI: 10.1353/vlt.2003.0014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed study of the figure of the cyborg, with Crash as a case study (also touches on Terminator). Builds on Bukatman 1990. Pleads persuasively for a reconsideration of analyses of the “acting” of cyborgs by calling into question the validity of performance theory for this kind of character delivery.

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  • de Lauretis, Teresa. “Becoming Inorganic.” Critical Inquiry 29.4 (Summer 2003): 547–570.

    DOI: 10.1086/377720Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In-depth, theoretical analysis of eXistenZ and its reflections on technologies of postmodernity and cyber humanity through the lens of Sigmund Freud’s theories of the “drive.” Argues that eXistenZ produces human reality as virtual. Aims to recover Freud’s doubt (not disbelief) that a real reality exists.

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  • Fisher, Mark. “Work and Play in existenZ.” Film Quarterly 65.3 (Spring 2012): 70–73.

    DOI: 10.1525/FQ.2012.65.3.70Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent short essay on the role of eXistenZ as a late-cyberpunk film, especially its portrayal of labor as an “ambient theme.” Brilliant contextualization of development in the interactive economy of “digital Taylorism” in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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  • Hotchkiss, Lia M. “‘Still in the Game’: Cybertransformations of the ‘New Flesh’ in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.” Velvet Light Trap 52 (Fall 2003): 15–32.

    DOI: 10.1353/vlt.2003.0018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of eXistenZ as a cyberpunk film (a genre it firmly contextualizes). Contains extensive comparison with Videodrome (and also The Matrix). Builds on theories of Claudia Springer. References Bukatman 1990 and Latham 1997.

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  • Hurley, Kelly. “Reading like an Alien: Posthuman Identity in Ridley Scott’s Alien and David Cronenberg’s Rabid.” In Posthuman Bodies. Edited by Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston, 203–224. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

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    Comprehensive study of the similarities between Rabid and Alien and their respective representations of (scientifically generated and commercially endorsed) creatures of “posthuman” quality. Rare in-depth case study of Rabid and worth the look just for that.

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  • Latham, Rob. “Screening Desire: Posthuman Couplings in Atom Egoyan’s Speaking Parts and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.” In Trajectories of the Fantastic. Edited by Michael A. Morrison, 171–182. New York: Greenwood, 1997.

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    Unique comparative essay that brings together two of Canada’s most provocative directors around the theme of posthumanism. Firm grounding in science-fiction literature. Appeared in a collection of conference proceedings of the highly regarded International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.

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