Scanners isn't your typical Cronenberg outing. The common themes and ideas are there, but they're not as overt as they are in many of his other titles. Instead, Scanners is a film that finds Cronenberg branching out a bit, looking at things he's always examined (mutation, for example) in new and slightly different ways. There are countless things to talk about when it comes to the film, but I've focused on the physicality of psychological concepts and the ways in which Cronenberg contradicts this, the modernism that colors the movie as a whole, and ideas about sexuality, masculinity and control. Don't worry, though -- there will still be plenty of opportunities to talk about exploding heads, the amazing computer technology of 1981, and what a badass Michael Ironside is. That's the beauty of Scanners -- it works on a lot of different levels.
Hit the jump and share your thoughts on this week's Movie Club pick.
One of These Things is Not Like the Other
Scanners is a departure from Cronenberg's earlier works and yet at the same time, bears his undeniable mark. In many ways, the film has a very conventional plot, with an adventure-driven narrative containing sensational plot twists and other strategic constructions. I've always been fascinated by the way Cronenberg doesn't obsessively rely on body horror as the vehicle in Scanners, yet he turns something that is entirely mental into something physical -- telepathy. We are warned early on in the film that scanning is painful -- "sometimes resulting in nose bleeds, earaches, stomach cramps, nausea [and] sometimes other symptoms of a similar nature." Dr. Ruth drives this point home further when he says, "Telepathy is not mind reading, it is the direct linking of two nervous systems separated by space." While this may be a more poetic definition of the way telepathy works, the emphasis on the physical aspect is pretty clear. Merriam-Webster defines telepathy as the "communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means," but there is actually very little mind reading going on in Scanners via telepathy. The scanners hear the rumbling of another's thoughts and manage to place suggestions into the minds of others, but throughout the film they still rely on physical means to gather the information necessary to solve the puzzle. Their outward physical reactions to the process of scanning encompasses twisted bodily expressions and scanning is used more as a weapon to inflict bodily harm than a tool for communication. The film is also crowned by two extreme, more typically Cronenbergian scenes -- the head explosion, and the final battle between Revok and Vale, where the mutation and exchange of bodies happens. And yet, even though the physical is present, it's almost paradoxical for Cronenberg because it's so deeply embedded into the action of the film. We get this very antiseptic version of the body, sex and epidemic -- a modernist take on his beloved theme of abjection, most dominant in the visual style of the film. This is something Cronenberg returns to and refines in Dead Ringers.
Masculinity, Control, Desire
Ultimately, Scanners is about the fear of losing oneself -- the loss of control and the quest for domination. The lack of overt sexuality, emotional suffering and visible bodily anxieties in Scanners, doesn't preclude Cronenberg from exploring these themes -- and masculinity is the channel he funnels them through. It's surprising that the director known for depicting blatant, transgressive sexuality made a film about (essentially) mental rape and created something so devoid of sexual imagery. We get hints of Cronenbergian bodily orifices in Revok's third eye "wound", but the majority of Scanners avoids these physical manifestations of "disease" and sexual mutation. Another thing missing -- women. Sexual desires are repressed by all the male key players for the sake of power, which translates to violence. This is interesting because Vale, for example, starts out as a hobo (does anyone else love that word as much as I do?) who has nothing and finally gains all the power. Another example would be Dr. Ruth -- the inventor of the scanner-causing drug Ephemerol -- who usurps his pregnant wife as the creator of life when he subjects her to the drug and creates two scanners -- his sons Vale and Revok. The only woman really present in the film, Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill), remains for the most part a passive character. She is not as violent as her male scanner counterparts and the effects she suffers from being "penetrated" (by an unborn child even) cause her to bleed -- something inherently female. Also, Cronenberg explores male duality in a fascinating way. In this case, the concept of brothers (one the monster, the other the savior)--much like he would again in Dead Ringers. There's also the synthesizing of males in the final scene, where Vale takes over his brother's body -- in effect, accepting the monster with control and care.
Who Are You?
Scanners is a film that straddles two genres narratively. The idea of psychic supermen running around in a quest for world domination seems inherently sci-fi on the surface, but Cronenberg manages to make it horrific through not only his use of gruesome gore FX (exploding head FTW!), but in the way he presents his themes and ideas. Science may be at the core of Scanners, but it's surrounded by the disturbing subtext and imagery the filmmaker's name is synonymous with. How do you see it--as horror, sci-fi, or both?
Now it's your turn. Chime in below and share your thoughts. There is a lot of ground to cover (as with any Cronenberg film) and I'm really curious to see which elements fascinated you guys the most.