September 28, 2011

The shock of that moment


David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone (1983) is better than I remember -- or better than its reputation (I first saw it maybe 20 years ago, on US television or video -- somewhere sub-obtimal). In the Cronenberg take, it's forever winter, there are unexpected similarities to A History of Violence two decades later (a threatened small town/rural setting, a gentle everyman protagonist driven to violence), the psychic aspect is taken as real from the moment it appears, there are two Cronenbergian suicides (a gun, a pair of scissors) following similar in Videodrome, an unexpected relationship with Christianity and a related discussion about assassination ethics (if you could go back in time and kill Hitler ...) and of course a charismatic, young and mostly pre-weird Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith, who senses murder. For Robin Wood, in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan in 1986, only here and in The Deer Hunter could Walken fully display "those properly human qualities which our culture chooses to label feminine: sensitivity, vulnerability, the overt display of emotions, gentleness, grace, a physical beauty divorced from any macho traits". The shock of that moment when he cries behind the door; the equally great shock -- a scene so rare in a Hollywood movie -- when he turns down the opportunity to have sex with his girlfriend. This sexual denial leads to his accident; his accident saves the world.

"Sexuality doesn't surface in The Dead Zone in the same way as it does in my other films, but it's certainly there. It's a very repressed, restrained and frustrated thing. Personally the movie's just like me, but filmically I suppose not ...

"The folks in The Dead Zone tend to be God-fearing characters, whereas in my other films they are not. Because many of the scientists in my early films are absent from the films themselves, although their influence remains, I think you could make a good case for saying that in The Dead Zone, God is the scientist whose experiments are not always working and that the Johnny Smith character is one of his failed experiments." -- David Cronenberg in Cronenberg on Cronenberg, edited by Chris Rodley, Faber, 1992.