Receiving a welcome re-release in a new print, director David Cronenberg’s most provocative and least understood film has stood the test of time and can now be seen as central to his Ïuvre. The disintegration of the individual self through exposure to outside stimuli (here, TV images) or the ingestion of substances (drugs in Naked Lunch) is a recurring theme in his work. The concern is with the way physical changes in the body can alter an individual’s mental perception of reality.
Sleazeball cable station owner Max Renn (James Woods) tunes in to a late-night pirate satellite broadcast showing real acts of torture and violence. Continued exposure to the images loosens his grip on reality, and he drifts imperceptibly into hallucinatory confusion. Is his sadomasochistic relationship with Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) real, or merely the result of a brain tumour generated by an encoded signal on the Videodrome channel? As media evangelist Brian O’Blivion says, Your reality is already half-hallucination . . . you have to learn to live with a strange new reality.
Cronenberg’s refusal to differentiate between what is real and what is hallucination makes it impossible to anchor one’s responses to the extreme images. We therefore share Max’s disorientation and are forced, like him, to embrace a brave new world in which vagina-like slots open up in human stomachs, guns and hands meld into a bio-mechanical whole, and flesh and media image are indivisible. An astonishing and uncompromising film, the power of which has increased rather than diminished with the years.