Canada, 2012, 108 minutes, Colour.
Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm Mc Dowell, Sheila Mc Carthy, Wendy Crewson.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.
Weird. And that is a compliment.
This is a very striking film, the atmosphere of science-fiction, with touches of horror, in a world of the future not unlike the present.
This soon becomes apparent as we stare at huge billhoard advertising a clinic with a glamorous face endorsing the expertise of the clinic. But, below right, is a scrawny-looking man with a thermometer in his mouth. This framing of advertisement and a man is done with the framing-style of a stills photographer – and this continues through the film enhancing the themes with a strange formality and beauty. Many of the sets, waiting rooms, laboratories are filmed in this way. As are the frequent sinister sets of dingy apartments, piracy centres for stealing patents as well as abbatoir-like labs for cultivating the tissues for viruses.
That’s the tone. But, almost immediately we learn that the clinic is in the business of making money from the macabre desires of fans of celebrities. They so want to be one with their idols that, even when the celebrity is ill or dying (and, by the end, when they are dead), that the fans want to be injected with the virus of their illness.
Macabre is the appropriate word for this kind of ugly hero-worship, but we might be thinking that the role of plastic surgery, botox, breast implants and other procedures we are familiar with are really in the same vein.
The gaunt young man of the opening is Syd March, an employee and adviser at the clinic. However, a loner, he smuggles viruses out of the clinic, despite strict security checks, and develops them at home to sell to piracy bidders and rival companies. Needless to say, this will involve him in some violence (towards him) and his being subject to experimentation.
Caleb Landry Jones gives a seemingly effortless performance that requires him to range from normal, or what he thinks is normal, to being ill, crippled, hobbling with a stick. He is pallid, very freckled, with sometimes stringy hair and a ponytail. As the film progresses, as he hobbles with his stick, he resembles characters like Igor in the Dracula stories.
The mention of Dracula reminds us that, while the film is not horror in the gory sense, its implications are horrifying. The laboratories are the 21st century equivalent of Frankenstein’s with viral blood making monsters instead of electricity. The blood suggests vampires, more than suggested by the final image of the film.
Of course, this is not a film one is going to recommend indiscriminately. Its implications are frightening. There are some repulsive moments illustrating the themes. But, one of the roles of a film-maker is to offer frightening allegories. Writer-director, Brandon Cronenburg is only in his mid-20s. This is his first film. It has a stylish weirdness that is impressive. In fact, he is the son of David Cronenberg who, in the 1970s, was making similar (but even more macabre) films like Shivers , Rabid, The Brood and, in the 1980s, The Fly. Judging from this effort, Brandenberg might well emulate his father in his most significant career.
1. The impact of the film? The effect? Physical, emotional, psychological?
2. The title, expectations? Illness, disease, cures?
3. Toronto, the city, the streets, apartments, the ordinary? And the sinister within this? Context for the characters and plot?
4. Themes of marketing, the opening advertisement, Syd standing in front? The promotions in the waiting rooms? The television commercials? The models? Hannah and her central role? Finance and contracts?
5. A film of the future, or the present? The role of celebrities, fans, extremes and fanaticism, what it is to be a celebrity? The clients at the clinics, their motivations, to become one with their idol? Patents and marketing?
6. The visual style of the film, framing and composition like a still’s photo?
7. The film’s comment on society, on celebrities, on personal identities, especially of fans? The preparation for the injections, sharing the pain of the celebrity? Wanting their virus? Even their afterlife?
8. Syd March, the performance of Caleb Landry Jones? drama, mime? Pallid, freckles, stringy hair? The introduction, the thermometer, inside the clinic, his work as a consultant, his client and advice, the injection? The visuals of the injection within the mouth? The security check out? The role and his employer, the fellow workers and their conversations?
9. Syd at home, injecting the virus, take it home, his boss, the betrayal? His commission from the boss? Discussions with Derek, his work? With Levine?
10. His physical condition, getting weaker? Visiting Arvid, his associates, their plant? The black market, piracy?
11. Arvid and his setup? The flesh, the tissues, the muscle at the development? Like an abattoir?
12. Sid and his double game, the café, his being taken? His body samples, his being mutilated?
13. The doctor, his assistant, the civilized discussions, the truth about Hannah, her being in the room, seriously ill? Syd and his visits, communication with her? Collaboration with the doctor? His staying and recovery?
14. Hannah, her beauty, glamour, the advertisements, her fans? The television treatment? Her death, funeral, the media fake? Syd with her, her blood, talking, death?
15. Competitiveness, the companies, industrial espionage, stealing, reproducing viruses, process is? Deaths? Syd and his discussion with the rival company, legal loopholes?
16. Syd and his stoop, his walking stick, witness, need for blood, like an Igor in a Dracula Castle? Interactions with Derek? His own infection, in the room, the assistants with masks? His escape? Going into the waiting room, taking hostages, the pursuit?
17. His deal with Tesser, his getting better, with her at the demonstration, the international clients, explanations about Hannah and her tissue and flesh? His recovery?
18. At the end, going to the preserved limb, cutting it, the blood? The vampire overtones?
19. The Frankenstein parallels, the 21st century laboratories, using blood instead of electricity to create contemporary monstrous growths?
20. The Dracula parallels, the blood sequences, the laboratories a castle? The parallel between Syd and Igor?
21. Drummer, horror? An allegory for society? Or a part of society in an ordinary world?