David Cronenberg's The Brood is a concept so thoroughly Cronenberg that you can almost imagine the idea forming in his head. Since Cronenberg's films often deal with the complex and painful idea of physical transformation/mutation, it's only natural that he could create such a wretchedly provocative image of pregnancy and birth. As a concept, it's my favorite Cronenberg movie behind The Fly, but purely as a film it has too many narrative flaws for it to be in the director's elite company. Seeing it for the first time recently, I enjoyed it immensely but still had to agree with Roger Ebert's 1979 review. Ebert's review notes that up until the last 15 minutes, The Brood is mostly made up of Art Hindle's rants and raves, and "... just a lot of coming and going and musing, as the music on the sound track hints darkly at the terrible things to come." But boy howdy do those terrible things in the last 15 minutes deliver! Goddamn.
And that's what ultimately hurts The Brood the most -- it's heavily back-loaded, and as a result Cronenberg's novel premise is never really expanded upon. Once it's finally revealed just what the movie is about, the credits roll. Cronenberg put all his chips on the fact that suddenly revealing Samantha Eggars' "strange adventure" at the end would provide a shock like other big twists from the likes of Psycho or Les Diaboliques, but those movies both held your interest up until that point.
The Brood focuses on the goings-on at the Institute for Pyscho-Plasmics, a most unconventional treatment center headed by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). At Psycho-Plasmics, patients are encouraged to give physical expression to their pain, with results ranging from harmless welts to ... much more extreme manifestations. Frank Carveth (Hindle) becomes very concerned about his wife Nola's (Eggar) extended stay at the Institute, and spends most of the movie hollering about when he gets to see her again. There's also the matter of a terrifying gang of snow-suited adolescents who are terrorizing family and acquaintances of Nola, and upon closer inspection they appear to be just barely human. Frank suspects the Institute is to blame for the evil tykes and the kidnapping of his daughter -- in the end he will come face to face with the source.
Cronenberg directed The Brood under the premise that you don't know the origin of the titular creatures, but it's never really a secret. If you've never read anything about the movie, then the title itself will give you quite a big clue: the tiny menaces are born from Nola, fueled by her hateful emotions, and do her subconscious bidding. The big reveal to Frank is fantastic disgusting, in a way only Cronenberg can do, with Nola lovingly embracing her newest bloody brood. These final 15 minutes are by far the film's strongest point, but there's still part of it that leaves me wanting more. Frank decides to rid the world of the murderous children by killing his wife, on the premise that her emotions give them life. This is a logical ending to a mostly illogical movie, but it's emotionally hollow: Nola's revelation to Frank is horrifying, but would it really cause him to viciously strangle his wife to death? I think there's one way he could have cured his wife, killed the brood, and kept his family intact. How? Why, some Marvin Gay brand Sexual Healing, of course.
I'm not quite sure how Frank could have accomplished it given the circumstances, but by transforming Nola's thoughts from malicious to carnal, wouldn't it have the same effect on the brood? The visuals would be more powerful as well, with inter cuts of Nola's throes of sexual passion and the destruction of her hateful manifestations. This would not only provide a happy ending by keeping the Carveth family intact, but it would wreck the Institute's radical treatment ideals, showing that modern problems can still be solved in the home.
And yes, I'm aware that the previous paragraphs represent something more disgusting than Cronenberg put together (given Nola's physical state at that point). These are the kinds of things I think about. And yes, I need help.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Filed Under Classic reviews