Videodrome is a psychological thriller of its own world. Special effects whiz and gore enthusiast David Cronenberg creates a film that is both absurdly distancing and bizarrely familiar, using the problems of television and the decay of his society as a medium for a much more profound study of human existence and meaning. At no point in Videodrome does the viewer feel certain of the filmic reality, often assuming dreams for reality and vice versa. What makes Cronenberg different from his horror contemporaries is his unrestrained focus on narrative structure and the believability of his images. Sure, the film is inherently fantastic in its existence, but somehow the director manages to make the act of a man's chest opening and receive a video tape like a VCR oddly believable. Cronenberg's intent is to create a film that is as much a documentation of his society, as it is a manifesto to a world void of mind-numbing television, which can literally kill those addicted to its dangerous aura.
Videodrome's dystopic narrative begins with television executive Max Renn (James Woods) awaking to his own personal television station, the psuedopirated station Civic TV. Viewers quickly discover that Renn's station is far from politically correct and often shows violent images and profane sexual acts. Surprisingly, Max is fed up with his material and openly demands a new show that is both raw and realistic depicting the degradation of humanity at its lowest level. After a series of flops, Max's co-worker and television pirate Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) introduces Max to a feed he has received which depicts a woman being viciously tortured. Max becomes obsessed with the show fantasizing about discovering its source and obtaining it for his own use on his television station. However, as Max finds out the show titled Videodrome is far more complex than a series of images. According to the shows creator, Videodrome represents something far greater than television in that it represents the next evolution him humankind, a form that is inextricably attached from the television and becomes a pawn to its every demand. Without divulging the entirety of the plot, it is safe to say that this attachment to Videodrome leads Max into a surreal world of repetition, madness and simulation that ends in a poetically tragic point that is as uncertain to the viewer as the film has been up to this point. It posits the possibility that the viewer has now become the next extension of Videodrome, whether they care to accept it or not.
Videodrome is full of points of social criticism and I have chosen to touch upon two of the rather blatant commentaries. The first being the unprecedented influence that television based media has proven to possess over society. David Cronenberg made this film well before the existence of Fox News, CNN or any other bias heavy news station, yet the film seems to be directly attacking these propaganda laden organizations that focus on slanderous ideology over researched fact. This is most evident in the character of Dr. Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley) who spouts illogical prophetic statements about the place of television as a mind of the people, the sole source for their ideals, television to O'Blivion, as it is to many news media stations, is the source of infiltration to a feeble minded society that is literally attached to the television, awaiting the penetration of their next set of beliefs and actions. Secondly, Videodrome serves as a study on what is considered obscene. The entirety of Max's network is predicated on displaying imagery that shocks and disturbs its viewers, because as Max claims, viewers want to be desensitized whether they admit to it or not. Like the previous commentary, Cronenberg is as prophetic as O'Blivion. Our culture seems preoccupied with seeing degradation, whether it be through viral videos or the disturbing, yet undeniable spike in desire for abuse related media, most of which is of a sexual nature. It is a contemporary problem that Cronenberg realized quite early, and one that the director assumes can only happen with complete annihilation of the retina that is Videodrome.
Regardless of your opinions on David Cronenberg, this movie will blow your mind and is yet another gem offered buy the crew over at Criterion. Thank them by purchasing a copy, if only for the awesome DVD art.