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Analysis / Scanners

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The Hero's Journey Deconstructed

Many of the works of David Cronenberg tend to have deeper subtexts and/or analysis in them. Videodrome was an analysis of the dangers and mysteries of technology and its rapid growth, and The Fly (1986) was pretty much a big fat warning sign on the nature of science and its limits.

Scanners is unique in that it subverts what is arguably the most widely used story tool in the shed; The Hero's Journey. To sum up this trope very quickly, the journey usually involves a Protagonist, who under the guidance of a Mentor, is given some sort of special tool or power, and is set off on a journey to become someone greater. While sometimes reluctant at first, they eventually embark, usually thanks to some sort of push. They usually gain the help of several allies, one is which is probably a Love Interest, whom the hero becomes romantically involved with as the story progresses, with the mentor either leaving or passing away in order to further develop the hero. At the end, the hero is forced to face the Big Bad at the end as the final step towards his goal of maturity. Famous movies that employ this include Star Wars, Bambi, and Spirited Away.


With that knowledge, Scanners at first seems to follow this narrative technique to a point. The Hero, Cameron Vale, who has psychic powers given to him by The Mentor, who is also his father, Paul Ruth, is sent on a journey to become a better person. He befriends the Love Interest, Kim Obrist, Ruth eventually dies, and at the end, Vale faces off against the Big Bad, Daryl Revok.

However, it is at this point that the movie begins to take a serious look at the nature of these stories.

For one, Paul Ruth, had made both Vale and Revok psychic via experimenting with a new drug on his own pregnant wife, fully knowing that it might be dangerous. Once they were born, they were basically left to rot on the street while Ruth went on with his experiments. It was only when Revok went rogue that Ruth made contact with his younger son again.


With this knowledge, one has to wonder as to why mentors even choose to send these heroes on their journeys in the first place. After all, what is in it for them? Ruth simply wanted to take out Revok, not make Vale better, and considering that his dream of a utopia for scanners is eerily similar to the villain's goal, who is right here?

Add onto the fact that here, the psychic powers are essentially a horrifying disorder with the scanners suffering from mental disorders and the scanned being severly harmed or even killed in a gruesome manner, and is it any wonder as to why Revok would rebel against his father?

As for Vale, he never really develops over the course of the film, as he is constantly at the whims of Ruth, only doing what is necessary for the mentor, not himself. How is he supposed to change as a character when he can't even take his own actions? Ironically, it is when he stops listening to Ruth, which is when Ruth is killed, that he progresses, but by then, it might be too late. The ambiguous ending even implies that he may not have even beat the villain. His journey ended in nothing, a far cry from the classics. He doesn't even fall in love with Kim. After all, when you are on the run for your life, what good is romance for?


With all of this, Scanners forces viewers to reconsider the typical tropes and cliches of many stories. The simple journey is not enough anymore when placed under scrutiny. In this regard, Scanners is just as much of an iconoclast as Videodrome and The Fly (1986).


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