Academic journal article CineAction

Lefties and Hippies and Yuppies, Oh My! David Cronenberg's Scanners Revisited

Academic journal article CineAction

Lefties and Hippies and Yuppies, Oh My! David Cronenberg's Scanners Revisited

Article excerpt

Initial reactions to low budget horror films are often as visceral as the themes and imagery that the genre explores and exploits. By the time David Cronenberg's movie Scanners was released in early 1981, the filmmaker had already received a host of reviews that questioned the purpose, meaning and morality of his three previously released feature length horror films (1): Shivers (1975), Rabid (1976), and The Brood (1979). The criticism was particularly polarizing as it came at a time when the director was also considered Canada's most promising filmmaker. At a budget that was more than three times that of his previous film, (2) Scanners would receive broad U.S. distribution, some favorable notices, and lead to more ambitious projects. For this reason the movie is considered to be a pivotal one in Cronenberg's career, even though many also consider it to be of lesser thematic interest.

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At its surface, Scanners is a comic-bookish, sci-fi, male-centric action/adventure fantasy, featuring predictable themes of world domination and good vs. evil; but like much of Cronenberg's work, the movie uses fantastic imagery and sardonic wit to tell a larger than life tale about the directions thirty-something baby-boomers are about to take as they are handed, or grab, the reins of power from the previous generation. The film accomplishes this through an allegorical representation of iconic imagery that wryly refers directly and indirectly to post 1960s political radicals, counterculture hippies, and the nascent development of the young urban professional. When viewed as an allegorical psychodrama, Scanners can be seen as an oblique reflection on what might happen when the counterculture becomes the dominant culture. Additionally, through the character of Cameron Vale, Cronenberg is also reflecting on his own rapidly developing career as he makes the transition from the "baron of blood" to a filmmaker with an international reputation that holds critical cachet beyond the horror fanzine. The satirical tone of the film and its allegorical mission, whether conscious or not, is often shrouded by an exhibition of technical skill that reflects Cronenberg's desire to be treated as a serious director working in a popular genre.

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The plotline tells the story of a post-World War II"psychopharmacist", Dr. Paul Ruth/Patrick McGoohan, who markets a tranquilizer for pregnant woman called "Ephemerol". The drug has a side effect that causes women to give birth to "scanners"--psychically mutated babies that have telepathic abilities. ConSec, a large corporation with interests in "international security ... weaponry and private armies", tries but fails to control the scanners. Now in their mid-thirties, two scanner camps have evolved. The first, an organized group of underground radicals led by Darryl Revok/Michael Ironside, part revolutionary working to bring the world of "normals to their knees", and part young upwardly mobile entrepreneur who is secretly marketing Ephemerol to a new generation of young mothers. The other camp, led by Kim Obrist/Jennifer O'Neill, is a group of meditating, spiritually connected scanners who are trying to find their place in the world of normals.

This incredibly intricate and somewhat convoluted narrative is populated by people with unlikely names that seem to suggest something about the nature of their character: Keller is a killer, Revok revokes the authority of his father and wreaks havoc in the process, Vale has a metaphoric veil lifted from him that reveals his true identity and purpose, and so on. The convoluted plot and cartoonish characters are given credibility by the weight of Cronenberg's direction, a skill that was evident in his previous and equally fantastic films. Since then, Cronenberg has made a career of contextualizing phantasmagoric narratives featuring surrealistic imagery to tell contemporary stories that resonate with modern audiences. …

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