Feeling Chilly?

David Cronenberg perhaps defies the tame image we tend to have of Canadians.  I know that’s a parochial thing to say, perhaps reflecting my lifelong admiration of those north of the border.  I even have Canadian family members, from back when it was possible to cross over without a passport.  In any case, David Cronenberg has always been a controversial director.  As the progenitor of “body horror,” his films are often not for the squeamish.  I nevertheless find him one of the more intellectual auteurs, and his movies leave me thoughtful.  One of his early films, Shivers, has long been on my syllabus of “must see movies.”  If you read my pieces regularly you also know that living on an Ed Wood budget, I can’t afford to pay for frequent films and have to wait for a free venue.  Thank you, Tubi, for obliging.

By the way, the poster here shows one of several alternative titles for the movie: “They Came from Within” (aka “The Parasite Murders”).  The film is pretty graphic body horror, but as scholars now focus on embodiment, it seems like this should be explored.  Set in an almost utopian island community, Starliner Towers, the movie opens by touting its perks.  Intercut with that is a graphic murder-suicide taking place within the paradisiacal apartment tower.  A parasite, as one of the alternative titles suggest, has been unleashed by what might be called a mad scientist.  And that parasite has two main effects—prompting orgies and violence.  (Hey, the official title of this blog is Sects and Violence in the Ancient World, after all.)

Religions, Christianity in particular, in the west, are often uncomfortable with the body.  In religious studies approaches to embodiment, it’s stressed that everyone has to reconcile themselves with what it means to be a physical being.  So much so that the mad scientist developed this parasite because he believed people thought too much.  They’d forgotten the mindless reality of bodies.  We’re sometimes uncomfortable being reminded of our bodily existence—at least those who perhaps think too much are—and that comes with both good and bad.  The interesting thing about the film is that it refuses to condemn the results of this experiment gone awry.  Everyone eventually falls victim to it (sorry if that’s a spoiler, but the film was released nearly half-a-century years ago).   Cronenberg is difficult to pin down, but his films, perhaps despite the message, always give me things to think about.

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