Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Bruce Wagner
Cinematographer: Peter Suschitzky
Producer: Saïd Ben Saïd, Martin Katz, and Michel Merkt
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Drifting back to Benjie and Agatha, we witness a family that similarly covets fame and fortunes. Christina, Dr. Safford, and Benjie are all hustling to make as much money as possible, with Safford riding his son’s coattails to help fuel his foray into pseudo psychology. Yet it’s Benjie and Evan Bird’s phenomenal performance that steals the entire show; seeing him with his fellow friends of fame, talking about sex as though a bunch of bros in a college fraternity, with periodic commentary about how much they’re earning from their latest role, absent of any discussion of craft or creative satisfaction.
In one of the films greatest scenes involving a gun and a magic bullet, abiding by the same surrealistic style that extends throughout the scene, Benjie nearly shoots one of his friends, thinking - and with us seeing - he emptied the bullets, placing the gun against his head and pulling the trigger, before pointing it toward his friend, about to fire, instead aiming for the dog, firing and killing the animal.
Agatha’s story is even more bizarre, as she returns to LA to meet up with her family that paid for her to stay away. In a morbid scene, as the mother welcomes her back, Dr. Safford comes home and begins beating her in the stomach.
Given that the children are products of an incestuous marriage, we can’t help thinking that rather than more traditional mental consequences, the effects have impacted the children’s sense of right and wrong. Agatha’s attempt to commit arson and kill her brother is never fully explained, other than it was based on schizophrenic tendencies - which soon begin to infect Benjie, causing him to see the ghosts of some of the girl he met in the hospital who died shortly after.
I’m not a big of hallucinatory sequences, though this film mildly improves the exhausted trope. Benjie and Havana's morbid past and increasing hallucinations help with Cronenberg’s commentary on what brings people out to LA. While not everyone is dealing with some extravagant skeletons, it’s safe to say that most people who make the pilgrimage are attempting to escape something - whether from their family, friends (or lack of), or community. Many were the outcasts of their school, struggling to find a place where they belong, until they arrive, meeting other dreamers and artists who were equally passionate enough to leave it all behind.
Having read a bit of Freud and Erich Fromm over the last few months, and their frequent analysis of the Oedipal Complex, it’s easy to see the parallels, especially with how the gross number of Cronenberg’s films explore the profound depths of psychology (eventually making a movie about Freud back in 2011 called A Dangerous Method). While I can grasp the academic interest, I find modern adaptations of these stories really lacking. I’m not sure what else there’s left to explore with these ideas; along with the fact that most don’t adapt well in modern times. Incest has become such an extreme taboo in present times that suspending disbelief is near impossible, distracting us from the ideas expected to be derived.
For a movie I was expecting to be on the lower end of Cronenberg’s filmography, I was blown away. It’s not his best, positioned right in the middle, but leaving you anxious to return to other pieces of his work. Every time I finish one of his better films I seem to find the man more interesting. In terms of mainstream directors, I think he’s one of the most underrated, with people too quickly dismissing his work as bizarre and weird than attempting to unpack the fascinating ideas he’s exploring.
BELOW: Another great scene from Moore
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Thoughts on films, old and new
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