David Paul Cronenberg CC (born March 15, 1943) is a Canadian film director from Toronto.
His most famous works include Scanners, the 1986 remake of The Fly (starring Jeff Goldblum), The Brood, Videodrome, eXistenZ, the film version of The Dead Zone, and the film "adaptation" of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch.
His Signature Style used to focus on Body Horror and Fan Disservice devices, with the occasional Mind Screw (especially making use of Through the Eyes of Madness). For instance, Scanners is the Trope Maker for Psychic Nosebleed, and The Fly the Trope Codifier for visual media depictions of Slow Transformation. His more recent works such as Spider, A History of Violence, and Eastern Promises tend toward less visceral and (relatively) subtler means of disturbing the audience. If anything, most of his works can be described as transgressive, pretty much universally forcing you out of your comfort zone to deal with the topics he puts on film — and it's rare for a Cronenberg film not to use the human body as an artistic canvas for those topics in one way or another.
In the late '70s/early '80s he often ran afoul of Canadian film review boards (in most of Canada, film ratings are assigned by government agencies at the provincial level), as some went so far as to ban his films in their jurisdictions. Cronenberg's animosity towards censorship ("Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion.") and the persecution of artists is a recurring theme in his work (eXistenZ being a prominent example, also inspired by his friend Salman Rushdie).
Actors notably appearing more than once in his filmography include Robert A. Silverman (The Brood, Scanners, Naked Lunch, and eXistenZ), Les Carlson (Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly, and Camera), Jeremy Irons (Dead Ringers and M. Butterfly), Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method), and most recently Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars). All of his films from The Brood onwards were scored by Howard Shore (with the exception of The Dead Zone, which was scored by Michael Kamen). He also tends to use a Production Posse of key crew members for his films, most notably editor Ronald Sanders, production designer Carol Spier, cinematographers Mark Irwin (from Fast Company through The Fly) and Peter Suschitzky (from Dead Ringers onward), and costume designer (and sister) Denise Cronenberg.
He has also done a bit of acting, including a prominent role in the Clive Barker film Nightbreed, a guest-villain role on Alias, a recurring role on Star Trek: Discovery, as well as a cameo in Jason X (directed by his visual effects man, James Isaac) and two cameos for fellow director John Landis in Into the Night and The Stupids.
Cronenberg's first novel, Consumed, was released in September 2014.
- Stereo (1969)
- Crimes of the Future (1970)
- Shivers (1975)
- Rabid (1977)
- Fast Company (1979)
- The Brood (1979)
- Scanners (1981)
- Videodrome (1983)
- The Dead Zone (1983)
- The Fly (1986)
- Dead Ringers (1988)
- Naked Lunch (1991)
- M. Butterfly (1993)
- Crash (1996)
- eXistenZ (1999)
- Spider (2002)
- A History of Violence (2005)
- Eastern Promises (2007)
- A Dangerous Method (2011)
- Cosmopolis (2012)
- Maps to the Stars (2014)
- Crimes of the Future (2022)
This director's work in general provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: He favors some really weird surnames for his characters, often mixed between other, more mundane ones.
- Bio Punk: Most of his work are forays into this genre.
- Shivers, where a scientist accidentally creates a sexually transmitted Puppeteer Parasite, causing in turn a Zombie Apocalypse of rape zombies.
- Rabid, where an experimental skin graft creates a sort of Bio Punk vampire, whose victims all become rabid zombies and attack Montreal.
- The Brood, where a revolutionary psychiatric method results in hideous bodily mutations.
- Scanners, where a pharmacological error creates a Bizarre Baby Boom of socially-maladjusted, creepy psychics.
- Videodrome, where warring ideologies use communications technology to mutate viewers into monstrous pawns.
- Naked Lunch is Bio Punk via The Beat Generation, with sentient typewriters, giant bugs, and monsters who give you tremendous creativity in exchange for blowjobs.
- eXistenZ, where genetically-engined amphibians are used to create Organic Technology video game hardware.
- The Fly (1986), where a failed teleportation experiment fuses Jeff Goldblum and... well, a fly.
- Body Horror: Cronenberg is an acknowledged master of this trope. He specializes in a genre he calls "venereal horror", dealing with infection, diseases, and transformation of the flesh.
- Canada, Eh?: Cronenberg's films are often set and/or filmed in his hometown, Toronto, which he naturally portrays quite realistically. A realistic Montreal crops up occasionally, too. His 1986 remake of The Fly is shot in the downtown core of Toronto, and several prominent stores are visible during some of the scenes (such as Toronto City Hall, and, when Brundle walks down the street eating a chocolate bar, he passes the most random places.)
- Daylight Horror: Cronenberg did this quite a bit in his early days with movies such as Shivers and Rabid which depicted horrific scenes in well-lit buildings or even daytime. For instance, the subway is pretty bright.
- Fan Disservice: The torture/murder channel in Videodrome, the disturbing fetishization of car crashes in Crash, and the borderline violent stairway sex scene in A History of Violence come to mind.
- Genre Adultery: Fast Company is about stock car racing, with humor and action that wouldn't be out of place in a Burt Reynolds vehicle of the era, and is by far Cronenberg's most upbeat movie. He is a huge racing buff. Interestingly, some key members of his Production Posse, editor Ronald Sanders and cinematographer Mark Irwin, first worked with him on this one.
- Gorn: Damn near every Body Horror film made by Cronenberg will contain plenty of blood, guts, and other disturbing imagery.
- Lovecraftian Superpower:
- The Brood. While Psychoplasmics isn't necessarily a superpower, the ability to birth homunculi from your traumatic memories who end up subconsciously doing your bidding might be considered useful, if fucked up.
- Scanners are technically "just" Telepaths. Thing is, most telepaths in fiction can't make Your Head A-Splode. And the Big Bad can overpressurize a man's veins until he fountains blood and bursts into flames!
- Videodrome, where Max (probably) gets mutable flesh and a giant mouth in his stomach, which can apparently create hand grenades.
- Seth Brundle in The Fly (1986) gains the ability to wallcrawl, super strength, and even vomit a corrosive enzyme to dissolve food (or enemies). Unfortunately, he gained these abilities when he accidentally fused his genes with a fly and slowly mutates into a grotesque giant insect/human hybrid. Blessed with Suck indeed.
- Mind Screw: Several films as regards to what is really happening and what isn't.
- Organic Technology: There are fleshy videocasettes and living televisions in Videodrome, talking insectoid typewriters in Naked Lunch, and organic video game consoles and guns in eXistenZ.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His films are clearly set on the cynical end and tend to have Downer Endings if they have them at all, but some do end more bittersweetly.
- Spiritual Antithesis: Dead Ringers to The Fly; the former came right after the latter and they tend to duke it out for the title of Cronenberg's greatest film. Each is a Psychological Thriller Tragedy with a few significant characters in which a man's jealous love for a woman inadvertently sends him into Sanity Slippage and a grisly finale. Both involve extensive special effects and a lead actor who was very seriously committed to their performance on physical and mental levels. But The Fly is science fiction involving a transformation into both a Half-Human Hybrid and Mad Scientist with extreme amounts of onscreen Body Horror; Dead Ringers is a more realistic story of a gynecologist who becomes a Mad Doctor and Body Horror is more suggested than shown. Where The Fly involves two entities (the scientist and a housefly) merging into one, with makeup effects turning Jeff Goldblum into a monster, Dead Ringers involves two entities trying to separate themselves — the doctor and his twin, who have shared the same life if not body, with the special effects allowing Jeremy Irons to play both. The visuals, acting, and tone are icy and chic in Dead Ringers; The Fly is warmer and dowdier. The Dead Ringers trailer actually positioned it as this trope in its narration (and used Recycled Trailer Music from its precursor): "From David Cronenberg, who in The Fly made the fantastic real...Now, David Cronenberg makes reality the ultimate fantasy."
- Spiritual Successor: eXistenZ is regarded as this to Videodrome in its examination of the intersection of humanity and new technology.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: A few films blur the line between reality and imagination with a protagonist who is hallucinating at several or all points.
- Videodrome, in which Max Renn's grasp of reality is tainted by the brain-damaging Videodrome signal.
- Naked Lunch, in which Bill Lee is either insane, tripping on drugs, or is inserting himself into his own story about Interzone.
- Spider is told from the perspective of Spider, a paranoid schizophrenic who is hallucinating half the time.