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IS ANTIVIRAL A PROVIRAL FILM?

on perfection, mutation, sickness & profit

 

David Cronenberg once discussed the role of the virus in an interview; he noted that although their presence could often lead to the death of the host, this occurrence meant that the virus had achieved its ultimate goal in existing; he added that he interpreted his own work by seeing himself as syphilis.  Brandon Cronenberg, the director of this unique, original and unusual film, is indeed his father's son; so many of the themes that are touched upon in the film as well as more practical techniques such as the subtle use of music he shares with his father.  There’s also the almost obligatory presence of a foreboding organization. In this film, however, perhaps a step out of line with his father’s general malign approach to experimental hospitals, companies or research centres, although its impetus is profit, it can ultimately thank its existence to a society that not only requires it, but ultimately demands its presence and the strange products it offers.


The fascinating story of a bizarre world in the not too distant future is at times painfully plausible; at the moment enormous sums of money is made out of companies exploiting patenting and retaining the profit rights to drugs to cure people. Now let's imagine that we live in a world that is basically disease free, but that for another reason people actually are willing to pay enormous amounts of money to get infected with the diseases that bring them closer to the illusions of human beings which are created and perpetuated by society as celebrities. The film goes so far to suggest outright that celebrities are only illusions in the sense that they exist in the minds of the people who worship them and the profit-makers who are responsible for the marketing and merchandise This film makes some problematic and frighteningly possible suggestions about what might happen when extremely socioculturally powerful trends like celebrity-mania and scientific developments like stem cell regeneration meat (and the misspelling is a deliberate pun; harvesting and eating the muscle cells of one of your favorite stars is a common occurrence).


Bizarre ideas like this are suggested within the seedy bars that are hidden away from the company which patents these diseases, because it's in places like this that the black-market can trade in drugs which have been smuggled out of the company and sold on the streets to an ever hungrier public demand.


The two main protagonists appear at the opening of the film together.  Syd March, the film’s anti-hero, looks down at the grey and depressing city; he appears sick and his skin is pallid. Behind him, an enlarged poster board of an ideal female is seen smiling indifferently towards a world the actual character herself sees little of.  Here the ‘illusion of perfection’ is made out of paper and stuck on an enormous advertising board. The character of Syd March may look unhealthy at the beginning and become deathly ill as the film progresses; but the audience is often asked to question whether or not Hannah Geist actually exists at all; although there are a few moments when we hear her speak, she generally becomes a tool of others, lies limply and helplessly in bed or is seen in a recording regretting the fact that she can’t be present in real life (considering she may well actually be dead). She is helpless to save herself from the world which is exploiting her and which will ultimately profit so enormously from her demise.
Our anti-hero March seems to adore Geist; that is made clear from the beginning; he's a victim as much as are any of the characters to the celebrity-obsessed cultural world surrounding them. He understands his clients who want to imagine that they've been kissed by Geist when they are injected with herpes simplex virus and await the cold-sores which will naturally appear as a result of an entirely imagined physical contact. Some of the most uncomfortable moments of the film are when you're not sure whether Geist is dead yet or not; and ultimately who it is that will profit most from her death. Our anti-hero who has infected himself by accident with a disease he had no idea would be fatal, seems to have an active interest in finding a cure.  Surely, if he can cure himself, he can cure her and fight the system? But his attitude towards the system remains ambiguous.  What is his ultimate motive? These are some of the strange questions posed by the film.


It's interesting to note that in the first scene direct reference is made to Geist's imperfection; the fact that she lacks a vulva recalled for me an almost too familiar image of Bujold's character in 'Dead Ringers' who has an extremely mutated cervix, and the set of bizarre surgical instruments designed to handle mutated women which become at first works of art and then the means in which the twin gynecologists both played by Jeremy Irons kill each other at the end. This reminded me of the bizarre packaging of the ‘celebrity diseases’ which seemed to grow their own faces that deviate strongly and quickly from the human face. 
The anti-hero March has links with the black-market and smuggles through his own blood samples out into the seedy dives where strange masses of muscles and nerves could be becoming people and customers come daily to get their supply of the star they wish to cannibalize. Through an unexpected encounter with Hannah Geist after his colleague is caught committing the crimes he himself is also guilty of, he takes her blood – assumedly for the purpose of marketing by the company – but quickly removes it from its secure packaging and injects it into his own bloodstream.  Is it an attempt to get closer to Geist herself or to make his blood available to the black market for the primary purpose of profit? From the beginning his obsession with Hannah Geist seems pretty clear, but whether or not his attempts to find a cure for the disease that was killing them both remained ambiguous to me and I've seen the film a couple of times. There is a bizarre scene that ends the film that is open to interpretation; is he attempting to cure her or simply to feed on her flesh in some way, fulfilling the fantasy of becoming one with her? You'll have to make your own minds up, and that's why this film is worth seeing if you like to be stimulated to think.


Another notable reference to his father's work is when he is attached to the machine that is designed to test his blood, and in a surreal fantasy sequence he actually becomes the machine and a fantasy image of Geist (which is in fact the German word for 'spirit' or in some senses 'illusion') draws the blood from the machine-like protuberance that has replaced his mouth and that will soon in his everyday existence become the main symptom of the sickness he's infected himself with; the connection between machines and the flesh, and in fact in a way sexual desire as well, seems an almost clear nod of respect to his father who has achieved so much in a field which was initially quite ambivalent toward his work; the direct reference is naturally to Cronenberg's unusual film Videodrome.
Brandon will probably have more success because thanks to his father the world has become more prepared to explore many of the themes introduced in this fascinating film; but I wonder what it's like living in the shadow of such an important figure, especially if you feel the need to reference their work so much and so often.

SHORTER VERSION USED FOR IMDb and ESHCC list :


David Cronenberg once noted that although a virus could lead to the death of its host, this occurrence meant that the virus had achieved its ultimate goal, adding provocatively that he saw himself as syphilis.  Brandon Cronenberg, the director of this unique, original and unusual film, is indeed his father's son; so many of the themes that are touched upon in the film he shares with his father.  There’s also the almost obligatory presence of a foreboding organization. In this film, however, although its impetus is profit, it can ultimately thank its existence to a society that not only requires it, but ultimately demands its presence and the strange products it offers.


The fascinating story of a bizarre world in the not too distant future is at times painfully plausible; at the moment enormous sums of money is made out of companies exploiting patenting and retaining the profit rights to drugs to cure people. Now let's imagine that we live in a world that is basically disease free, but that for another reason people actually are willing to pay enormous amounts of money to get infected with the diseases that bring them closer to the illusions of human beings which are created and perpetuated by society as celebrities. The film goes so far to suggest outright that celebrities are only illusions in the sense that they exist in the minds of the people who worship them and the profit-makers who are responsible for the marketing and merchandise This film makes some problematic and frighteningly possible suggestions about what might happen when extremely socioculturally powerful trends like celebrity-mania and scientific developments like stem cell regeneration collide.


The two main protagonists appear at the opening of the film together.  Syd March, the film’s anti-hero, looks down at the grey and depressing city; he appears sick and his skin is pallid. Behind him, an enlarged poster board of an ideal female, known as Hannah Geist, is seen smiling indifferently towards a world the actual character herself sees little of.  Here the ‘illusion of perfection’ is made out of paper and stuck on an enormous advertising board. The character of March may look unhealthy at the beginning and become deathly ill as the film progresses; but the audience is often asked to question whether or not Geist actually exists at all; although there are a few moments when we hear her speak, she generally becomes a tool of others, lies limply and helplessly in bed or is seen in a recording regretting the fact that she can’t be present in real life (considering she may well actually be dead). She is helpless to save herself from the world which is exploiting her and which will ultimately profit so enormously from her demise. March spends most of his time running into cardboard cut-outs of her and every scene is dominated by her face.
Our anti-hero March seems to adore Geist; that is made clear from the beginning; he's a victim as much as are any of the characters to the celebrity-obsessed cultural world surrounding them. He understands his clients who want to imagine that they've been kissed by Geist when they are injected with herpes simplex virus and await the cold-sores which will naturally appear as a result of an entirely imagined physical contact. Some of the most uncomfortable moments of the film are when you're not sure whether Geist is dead yet or not; and ultimately who it is that will profit most from her death. Our anti-hero who has infected himself by accident with a disease he had no idea would be fatal, seems to have an active interest in finding a cure.  Surely, if he can cure himself, he can cure her and fight the system? But his attitude towards the system remains ambiguous.  What is his ultimate motive? These are some of the provocative questions posed by the film.


The anti-hero March has links with the black-market and smuggles through his own blood samples out into the seedy dives where strange masses of muscles and nerves could be becoming people and customers come daily to get their supply of the star they wish to cannibalize. Through an unexpected encounter with Hannah Geist after his colleague is caught committing the crimes he himself is also guilty of, he takes her blood – assumedly for the purpose of marketing by the company – but quickly removes it from its secure packaging and injects it into his own bloodstream.  From the beginning his obsession with Hannah Geist seems pretty clear, but whether or not his attempts to find a cure for the disease that was killing them both remained ambiguous to me and I've seen the film a couple of times. There is a bizarre scene that ends the film that is open to interpretation; is he attempting to cure her or simply to feed on her flesh in some way, fulfilling the fantasy of becoming one with her? You'll have to make your own minds up, and that's why this film is worth seeing if you like to be stimulated to think.
In the film Brandon seems to be making references or signs of respect to his father; I recall immediately Geist’s mutated genitals which references Bujold’s mutated cervix in ‘Dead Ringers’. Another notable reference to his father's work is the surreal sequence when March is attached to the machine that is designed to test his blood and which seems to become part of his own body; the direct reference is naturally to Cronenberg's unusual film Videodrome. Brandon will probably have more success because thanks to his father the world has become more prepared to explore many of the themes introduced in this fascinating film; but I wonder what it's like living in the shadow of such an important figure, especially if you feel the need to reference their work so much and so often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Nightshades, Ghent (Belgium)
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.


Last modified:
May 30, 2013

 

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