David Cronenberg Criticism - Essay

Owen Gleiberman (essay date October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cronenberg's Double Meanings,” in American Film, Vol. 14, No. 5, October, 1988, pp. 38–43.

[In the following essay, Gleiberman discusses the themes in Dead Ringers.]

One doesn't expect to see David Cronenberg shooting a love scene, yet that’s what he’s doing—and damned if he doesn’t recall one of those legendary directors from the silent-film days, staring raptly at the set before him and murmuring commands into the air. His two leads, Jeremy Irons and Genevieve Bujold, are kissing in bed, and, as Cronenberg gazes into his video monitor a few feet way, he shapes the action as it happens. “Kiss his neck, Genevieve,” he says. “Move down,...

(The entire section is 2812 words.)

Marcie Frank (essay date May 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Camara and the Speculum: David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers,” in Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 106, No. 3, May, 1991, pp. 459–70.

[In the following essay, Frank discusses the portrayal of male identity and the representation of women inDead Ringers.]

I expected somebody who looked like a combination of Arthur Bremmer and Dwight Frye as Renfield in Dracula, slobbering for juicy flies. The man who showed up in my apartment in New York looked like a gynecologist from Beverly Hills.

Martin Scorcese, describing David Cronenberg

In the...

(The entire section is 7811 words.)

Donald Lyons (review date January 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Lubricating the Muse,” in Film Comment, Vol. 28, No. 1, January, 1992, pp. 14–16.

[In the following review, Lyons examines the typewriter imagery in Naked Lunch.]

The typewriter is a lonely place. The typewriter is also a doorway into a crowded theater of beings from the Id that, if the writer is not very careful, or especially if he is, will destroy him. The typewriter is a major fetish in some recent films. Why? From a materialist view, the typewriter is obsolescent, a talisman of late-bourgeois literariness now increasingly replaced by the instant, disembodied community of the modem. So these meditations on the dying implement are elegiac, like Ford...

(The entire section is 2235 words.)

Mark Kermode with David Cronenberg (interview date March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Interview in Sight and Sound, Vol. 1, No. 11, March, 1992, pp. 11–3.

[In the following interview, Cronenberg discusses the similarities between his and William Burroughs's creative work, his use of visual imagery to reproduce metaphors onscreen, and his creative process.]

“I think that the body of a person living now is substantially different from one which was alive even ten years ago”, says David Cronenberg, master of mutation and champion of viral change. “We’ve altered the earth, the magnetic waves in the air, and we’ve altered ourselves. I think that change itself is fairly neutral, but it contains the potential to be either positive or...

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Amy Taubin (review date March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Wrong Body,” in Sight and Sound, Vol. 1, No. 11, March, 1992, pp. 8–10.

[In the following review, Taubin argues that Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch does not sufficiently recreate the homoerotic elements presented in William Burroughs's novel.]

Naked Lunch is less an adaption of William Burroughs’ novel than David Cronenberg’s fantasy about how it came to be written. The young Cronenberg wanted to be a writer: Burroughs and Nabokov were his models. He claims that he turned to film-making when he realised he’d never write as well as either of them.

Affronts to the ‘I married Joan’ sit-com...

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Karen Jaehne with David Cronenberg (interview date Spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dead Ringers Do Naked Lunch,” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 3, Spring, 1992, pp. 2–6.

[In the following interview, Jaehne talks with Cronenberg about the making of Naked Lunch, particularly how the film tackled the difficult, then-taboo subject matter found in William Burroughs's 1959 novel.]

It is hard to imagine two people more allied by phantasmagoric visions than David Cronenberg and William Burroughs. Both men are attracted to the shiny metallic but mercurial intellectual vein in their subject matter, even though at first blush their imagery is often grotesque, visceral, and unnerving. Plot is always secondary. In Naked Lunch,...

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Anne Billson (review date 24 April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Meal in the Best of Taste,” in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 5, No. 199, April 24, 1992, pp. 34–5.

[In the following review, Billson writes that despite the good acting in Naked Lunch, the film contains “an excess of refinement.”]

David Cronenberg loves gloop. Some critics have interpreted this as evidence that he finds the human body disgusting, but the opposite is true. Cronenberg loves the human body in all its permutations: surgically altered or diseased, insideout, mutated into radical new forms. His films explore the effect physical changes have on the mind, and vice versa. The psychosomatic killer midgets of The Brood, the...

(The entire section is 835 words.)

William Beard (essay date Winter 1992–93)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Anatomy of Melancholy: Cronenberg’s Dead Zone,” in Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4, Winter, 1992–93, pp. 169–79.

[In the following essay, Beard provides an in-depth analysis of The Dead Zone, placing it within the context of Cronenberg's other works.]

With the exception of some discomfort experienced by those speaking for high culture, scarcely anyone disputes any longer that David Cronenberg is an artistic presence in this country. Still, between the continuing reluctance of traditionalists to make a place in the pantheon for anyone whose principal identifying feature is the habit of depicting gooey inner body parts, and...

(The entire section is 6001 words.)

Andrew Parker (essay date Winter 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Grafting David Cronenberg: Monstrosity, AIDS Media, National/Sexual Difference,” in Stanford Humanities Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 7–21.

[In the following essay, Parker explores sexuality, AIDS, and national identity in Rabid. He theorizes that the horror genre and other “narrative systems” contributed to a popular conception about the nature of AIDS and about how it is transmitted. In addition he compares the struggle for male identity to Canada’s struggle for national identity.]

Q: What is the symbolism of the lesbian agents with penises grafted onto their faces, drinking spinal fluid?


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William Beard (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Canadianness of David Cronenberg,” in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol. 27, No. 2, 1994, pp. 113–33.

[In the following essay, Beard discusses Cronenberg’s work in the context of the debate on what English-Canadian culture is and means. He asserts that Cronenberg’s male protagonists mostly resemble “the long line of Canadian cinematic and literary unheroes and their pattern of failure, powerlessness and hopeless waste.”]

It is becoming more difficult, in a postmodern environment, to speak with any confidence of “national character” or to define nationality in broad cultural (as opposed to sociopolitical)...

(The entire section is 7555 words.)

William Beard (essay date Winter/Spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Lost and Gone Forever: Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers,” in Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter/Spring, 1996, pp. 11–28.

[In the following essay Beard examines several themes found in Dead Ringers, such as sexual otherness, the struggle for a male identity, emotional paralysis, rationality versus nature, and science and sexuality.]

I’ve had a response to the movie that I’ve never gotten from any of the other films. I went to one of the first public screenings in Toronto and one guy, a doctor, said, “Can you tell me why I feel so fucking sad having seen this film?” I said,...

(The entire section is 10664 words.)

Michael J. Collins (essay date Winter/Spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Medicine, Surrealism, Lust, Anger, and Death: Three Early Films by David Cronenberg,” in Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter/Spring, 1996, pp. 62–9.

[In the following essay, Collins examines the films They Came from Within, Rabid, and The Brood, comparing each with the work of surrealist artists, and also treats Cronenberg's use of medical procedures as a way of addressing the fear of the body.]

All Right, nurse, bring the next patient in.
Get up on this table, pull off that gown
Raise up that right leg, let that left one down
Pull off them stockings, that silk underwear
Doctor’s got to cut you, mama, lord...

(The entire section is 4067 words.)

Robert Haas (essay date Winter/Spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction: The Cronenberg Monster: Literature, Science, and Psychology in the Cinema of Horror,” in Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter/Spring, 1996, pp. 3–10.

[In the following essay, Haas places Cronenberg within the tradition of the gothic narrative, and compares his “monsters” with those found in films of the 1930s.]

Over the past twenty years, the films of David Cronenberg have remained remarkably consistent in subject matter and theme. Exploring his own conception of the nature of horror (often with bloody excess), his initial films were at first dismissed as grade “z” horror films, relegated to second...

(The entire section is 4249 words.)

Jennifer Wicke (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Fin de Siècle and the Technological Sublime,” in Centuries’ Ends, Narrative Means, Stanford University Press, 1996, pp. 302–15.

[In the following essay, Wicke analyzes The Fly as a “fin de siecle narrative” that addresses technology, specifically genetic science, and its relationship to the body, or the human subject.]

As a bridge to the longer analysis of David Cronenberg’s film The Fly (1986) that I will make in this essay on fin de siècle narrative and the technological sublime, I interpolate a short piece of text that meditates on the technologization of narrative’s body. A Mr. James Stephenson, writing in 1907 for Star...

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Asuman Suner (essay date Winter 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Postmodern Double Cross: Reading David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly as a Horror Story,” in Cinema Journal, Vol. 37, No. 2, Winter, 1998, pp. 49–64.

[In the following essay, Suner writes that the foundation of Cronenberg's film M. Butterfly is based upon the conflict between the colonizer and the colonized, between West and East, between male and female. Suner also argues that the film addresses the male search for identity through the use of an inwardly fragile male protagonist.]

David Cronenberg’s cinema has received considerable critical attention in recent years not only from film scholars but also from scholars working on contemporary...

(The entire section is 8445 words.)

Kevin Jackson (review date May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of eXistenZ, in Sight and Sound, Vol. 9, No. 5, May, 1999, p. 46.

[In the following review of eXistenZ, Jackson writes that the film is unthreatening and unsatisfying. Despite its unconventionality and its creation of an alternate-reality games world, the film fails to provoke an adequate response.]

North America, the near future.

A group of players gather to try out eXistenZ, the latest brainchild of the games world’s most notorious genius, Allegra Geller. eXistenz is an elaborate game in which the players wire themselves up via a bioport—a plug inserted in the spinal column—to a semi-organic game pod, to induce...

(The entire section is 1079 words.)

Adam Lowenstein (essay date Winter 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Canadian Horror Made Flesh: Contextualizing David Cronenberg,” in Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter, 1999, pp. 37–51.

[In the following essay, Lowenstein defines Gothic films, shock horror films, science fiction films, and art films. He compares and contrasts Cronenberg’s Shivers and Crash, and also situates them into the horror genre.]

David Cronenberg has playfully suggested that the characters who inhabit Crash (1996) might actually be the parasite-infected condominium dwellers from Shivers (1975), his first commercial feature (Smith 17). Despite an interval of over twenty years...

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Chris Rodley (review date April 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Game Boy,” in Sight and Sound, Vol. 9, No. 3, April, 1999, pp. 8–10.

[In the following review, Rodley discusses the comedy, the double meanings, and the various levels of reality in the film eXistenZ.]

eXistenZ. It’s new. And it’s here. It’s a virtual-reality game that’s almost indistinguishable from lived experience and it’s also the new movie from David Cronenberg. What’s more, it’s the first wholly original creation from the director since Videodrome (1982)—the film his fans regard as his quintessential work because it most effectively captures the alarming nature of the cinema’s invasion of the passive self....

(The entire section is 2665 words.)

Marq Smith (essay date Summer 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Wound Envy: Touching Cronenberg’s Crash,” in Screen, Vol. 40, No. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 193–202.

[In the following essay, Smith discusses the auto accidents that occur in the film Crash in the context of Freud’s thought on male and female hysteria, trauma, and the connection between sex and death.]

The frantic use of automobiles is not … for the purpose of going somewhere in particular; here it is not a priori a question of distances to cross, which creates inevitably new travel conditions. To go nowhere, even to ride around in a deserted quarter or on a crowded freeway, now seems natural for the voyeur-voyager in...

(The entire section is 5496 words.)

Don McKellar (essay date July 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Children of Canada,” in Sight and Sound, Vol. 9, No. 7, July, 1999, pp. 58–60.

[In the following essay, McKellar writes of his first impressions and his later impressions of The Brood.]

I saw David Cronenberg’s The Brood in Toronto in 1979 at the world’s first Cineplex. I went with a friend to see The Silent Partner, another good Canadian film, and afterwards we walked around the complex and looked in through the doors of all the other theatres—the doors had little windows, like in an operating theatre. You could only just see what was playing inside because in those days the screens were very small and the image was very grainy...

(The entire section is 1039 words.)

Richard Porton with David Cronenberg (interview date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Film Director as Philosopher,” in Cineaste, Vol. 24, No. 4, 1999, pp. 4–9.

[In the following interview, Porton talks with Cronenberg about the censorship Crash faced in the U.S. and also about the film eXistenZ—including the movie's exploration of technology and the body and the self-reflexive humor that serves as a commentary on Hollywood films.]

Ever since David Cronenberg began directing films over thirty years ago, his career has been distinguished by a string of intriguing paradoxes. A brilliant student and the son of book-loving parents who scorned movies, Cronenberg soon abandoned the avant-gardist aspirations of his early...

(The entire section is 7017 words.)