Title: Videodrome (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry
Videodrome is a film that I’ve re-watched many times over and honestly, every time I see it I see a whole other level of it opening up before me like some giant, pulsating vagina of the mind! What? You don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, after you see this Cronenberg masterpiece, you’ll understand. At first glance, Videodrome might come off as a movie that’s simply out to shock you with its gory, slimy body horror (and does do that exceedingly well) but if we peel back the layers of shock and titillation, we discover that this film has a whole lot to offer us. It speaks, above all things about the over saturation of sensory input we live in. As Debbie Harry’s character ‘Nicky Brand’ puts it “I think we live in over stimulated times, we crave stimulation for its own sake, we gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether its tactile, emotional or sexual, and I think that’s bad” Problem is, she’s a complete hypocrite because she herself is a sensory addict! And at the end of the day, aren’t we all? I see many of Cronenberg’s films as essays on any given subject, he’s films are always so psychological, so Freudian, that I find myself searching for themes and symbolisms as soon as I push that play button. Let’s see what Cronenberg was dissecting this time around shall we?
With Videodrome Cronenberg aims his scalpel at the media and how its constant hammering of our psyches allows it to program us and make us see things in a certain way, ultimately serving as a tool for our manipulation. Television is a truly powerful tool that is used to send out ideas to the masses, to program them. To quote the film “the television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye”. On Videodrome this is represented by a living, breathing video cassette that the bad guys insert into Maxx Renn’s stomach! The video cassette tells him what he must do, like a program, then, like some robot, Maxx goes and does what he’s been programmed to do. Maxx is a tool of the system, he is a product of Videodrome, addicted to television, and he will do what it tells it to. This is why at one point in the film, Maxx says “I am the Video Word made Flesh”. We don’t realize it, but little by little the media can mold our thoughts, this is the main reason why I can’t watch television. I am a self proclaimed television hater; I can’t stand the endless barrage of commercials! Of course, there are selected shows that I’ll watch, but I don’t watch them on television, I get them on dvd and watch them without the commercials, because commercials are my bane! I hate those things with a passion! I hate the brain branding! I hate their manipulative nature! I hate the fact that everywhere I look, every moment of my life, someone is trying to sell me something, so in order to cut down on the amount of commercials I see per day, I avoid television like the plague. Habitual television viewers submit themselves to an obscene amount of commercials, that, same as the living breathing video cassette in Videodrome end up programming them into buying things they don’t need. This is what Cronenberg speaks of, how television can choke you, create a “tumor in your brain” that can change your thoughts or make you do things you don’t have to.
But Cronenberg's Videodrome offers us the way out of all of this. The answer is simple, de-program yourself and get yourself reborn into “the new flesh”! The idea behind this film is not so different from what the Wachowskis were trying to say with The Matrix (1999). It’s about disconnecting from The Matrix and living in the real world. Videodrome plays with the idea that society as we know it exists under a veil of illusions and lies, and that we need to wake up to the truth, to the way things really are. This is why James Wood’s ‘Maxx Renn’ ends up saying “Death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh”, with this action taken by Maxx Renn, Cronenberg is saying that we need to cut with the programming and become a new person, reborn to a world where the media manipulating our actions or our way of thinking or seeing things. The New Flesh refers to the rebirth of the self, that moment when we disconnect with all the lies, and the illusions that exist in our world and wake up into the real world; no matter how ugly, corrupted or sad it can be, whatever it is, it’s real. The film of course puts its point across in an extremely violent fashion, but the point is made, kill your old self, disconnect from Videodrome, from the Cathode Ray, from the proverbial “system” and become a new, self thinking, inquisitive person. The films grand finale is not made to be taken literally; it’s a symbolism for what needs to be done to become psychologically free.
In many ways, Videodrome was prophetic of many things that were to come in the future. How so? Well, for example, even though this film was made in 1983, it was already talking about “virtual reality” which would eventually become what we now know as “the internet” that cybernetic world that exists somewhere out there in cyberspace, wherever that may be. The place we all connect to on a daily basis, the new religion of the world. Videodrome predicted that “in the future, everyone will have special names” same as you, my dear reader, probably have a pseudonym you use when online. My most recent watch of Videodrome made me realize that it also predicted another invention, albeit a more modern one. You see, there’s a new technology in diapers called ‘Google Glass’ that will apparently put the power of a smart phone on a pair of glasses. The idea being that instead of fiddling with your phone, swiping things with your fingers, you can simply speak commands at your glasses and they will send a message, make a call, take a picture or film a video. All you have to do is start a sentence by saying “Ok, Glass” and the glasses will do what you ask them to, even do a search on Google! In Cronenberg’s film, when Maxx Renn wants to meet the makers of Videodrome, he has to walk in through an optical shop because the creators of Videodrome are getting ready to launch their latest invention that resembles Google Glass! Glasses for the public that will allow the powers that be to control people easier! So according to this film, Google Glass is the devil! Ha ha! Well, you have to admit, this new invention has its advantages as well as disadvantages. Wearing these babies will be like carrying around a spy camera everywhere you go. And I don’t even want to think how commercials will fit into these little eye glasses…the commercials will not be even closer to your brain! The film speaks about how “the eyes are the windows of the soul” and I agree, you can tell a lot from looking a person in the eyes, but what goes in through those eyes matters a lot too.
If you end up enjoying Videodrome, which I think you will, then I highly recommend checking out Cronenberg’s spiritual sequel to Videodrome called eXistenz (1999), which plays with a lot of the same themes, but from the standpoint of video game technology. On that film people reject reality by connecting themselves into this video game world that mimics, almost to perfection, the real world. But the world of eXistenz isn’t the real world, and so, people live in a lie, a fake world. Which is true, take for example how kids today will play more sports on their Playstation’s then in the real world, with their real friends and you’ll see just how prophetic eXistenz also was. These two films would actually make a great double feature, so if you’re in the mood for that, I highly recommend it! Now if only Cronenberg would do a film like Videodrome or eXistenz, but about the internet! I’d love to see what sort of things he could prophesize about that! Geez, now that I think about it, Cronenberg is a prophet for our times! Videodrome is probably his masterpiece, it sends out a strong resonant message that is even more relevant today than it was back in 1983 when this film was made. Highly recommend it, let Professor Brian O’Blivion show you the way!
Rating: 5 out of 5