Please refer to The Science of Cronenberg by Noah Cowan, found in David Cronenberg: Virtual Exhibition at www.cronenbergmuseum.tiff.net/science-eng.html
Please refer to The Science of Cronenberg by Noah Cowan, found in David Cronenberg: Virtual Exhibition at www.cronenbergmuseum.tiff.net/science-eng.html
The footnotes below are all referenced in the essay The Science of David Cronenberg, and provide further context for and examination of the ideas raised by its author, Noah Cowan.

1
Chris Rodley, Cronenberg on Cronenberg (London: Faber and Faber, 1997) 58, 5.
2The best example comes much earlier, in the Faustian, proto–science fiction classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The novel essentially presents an ethical quandary: will the doctor help his repugnant creation live a good life, or will he extinguish it for society’s benefit?
3Interview with Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, Journal for the Protection of All Beings vol. 1 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1961) 79–83.
4In a 1962 article entitled “Which Way to Inner Space?” Ballard stated that "science fiction should turn its back on space, on interstellar travel, extraterrestrial life forms [and] galactic wars,” a sentiment fully in line with Cronenberg’s rigorous approach. In his 1974 introduction to Crash, Ballard also tossed off this juicy quote: “Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the twentieth century—sex and paranoia.” It’s as influential a statement on the world of David Cronenberg as one could imagine.
5And there are others: Wilhelm Reich, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Kuhn, plus a whole host of existentialists.
6Cronenberg relates, “It was about a kind of a dwarf who lives in a cellar. He has a painting and he fantasizes about living in that painting. He would be more than what he was. He finds out later that the painting was painted by a guy just like him, a dwarf who lived in a cellar."
7Rodley, 27.
8Rodley, 41.
9These rules are based on Robin Wood’s contribution to The American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film (1979). Wood was a harsh detractor of Cronenberg but several critics, among them the late John Harkness, have since suggested that Wood misread Cronenberg as a horror, rather than a science-fiction, filmmaker.
10And now there is no longer the generic question; these films and their effects are decisively situated in science fiction, not horror.
11With Piers Handling and myself in preparation for the exhibition, “David Cronenberg: Evolution,” at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 2013.
12Erwin Schrödinger, What Is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 69.
13
With Piers Handling and myself in preparation for the exhibition, “David Cronenberg: Evolution,” at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 2013.
14Rodley, 158.

© 2014, Toronto International Film Festival Inc. All Rights Reserved.

David Cronenberg discusses the impossibility of a perfect human.

Piers Handling: The other thing that I feel you’re so conscious of is this whole notion of man trying to perfect man, or scientist trying to perfect man. Maybe we can explore that idea just a little bit more. Obviously, you don’t believe in the perfectability of man, at all.

David Cronenberg: No, and I think that it’s a chimera. But often, it’s not so much perfecting, saying that we’re going to create the perfect human being, but it’s improving. The more modest of my crazy people. I think more in terms of improvements. We can go back as far as Scanners or even Shivers. It’s to improve. Sometimes it’s to improve in a very specific way, not to create a superhero. I’ve never really been attracted to superheroes although as a kid I loved Captain Marvel. I think he’s been much neglected. Shazam, you know, [---]. Haven’t seen that.

TIFF
David Cronenberg, Piers Handling, Noah Cowan

© 2014, Toronto International Film Festival Inc. All Rights Reserved.


David Cronenberg discusses entropy and the impossibility of control

I think it’s sort of semi-conscious. In the sense that a beautiful architectural space is a kind of an ideal. It’s a conceptual thing, an abstract thing, almost a philosophical thing. And then reality happens. Which is chaotic and messy. And it’s the conflict of the two, or the decay of one into the other. And it’s like what we were talking about before with Audis and entropy and all that. The human body is not architecturally very straightforward. It’s really, really messy. And yet from the outside it can seem quite - architecturally quite nice. But the interior – and this once again the exterior and the interior. The interior of the body is really chaotic and messy. And as we study – get down to the quantum level of examination of the human cell, we see how even more like that it is that we thought before. It’s not schematic. It’s not like those nice schematic drawings of the cell that you saw in high school. So it’s kind of interesting. It’s really, basically, intellect vs. the world. The desire for some kind of abstract purity and clarity.

TIFF
David Cronenberg, Piers Handling, Noah Cowan

© 2014, Toronto International Film Festival Inc. All Rights Reserved.


David Cronenberg discusses the theory of microbiology, and how it supports his idea of shifting evolution

What’s that membrane? This semi-permeable membrane of an identity that allows things to come in and out. It’s very much like cell biology. A cell really does have to control its integrity. It has a membrane. There’s some wonderful books, I just read one called The Machinery of Life. It’s an old book, but it’s been revamped and it’s quite a beautiful book. I think I was very interested in cell biology as a junior scientist. And maybe that’s where I would’ve ended up if I had gone seriously into science. And it’s a very hot place to be right now. I think about how primitive our understanding of a cell was 40 or 50 years ago, when I was thinking about it compared to now: DNA - not just DNA, but molecular cell biology. Fantastic. But it’s almost a model for a human being and society. I think of yourself as a cell unit in the multicellular organ that is society. It is your membrane that keeps the outside from overwhelming the inside and keeps the integrity of what is inside from flowing out of all those pores.

TIFF
David Cronenberg, Piers Handling, Noah Cowan

© 2014, Toronto International Film Festival Inc. All Rights Reserved.


David Cronenberg discusses science and control

David Cronenberg: In a way, despite the sci-fi experiments, it’s more realistic in terms of what scientists are doing. I don’t think any scientist wants to admit, or probably doesn’t even really literally think that he’s moving towards creating perfection. Honestly, that’s more like a religious project rather than a scientific project.

Piers Handling: But they’re trying to improve at the very least.

David Cronenberg: Yes, it does come from my feeling that part of this being thrown into existence is that we can’t - it is so overwhelming that we can’t accept anything as a given. We think. That’s where control comes from. I think its existential fear that induces control, the desire for control. Part of the control is to defeat death. All religions have some version of that. To me that’s delusional and it’s a fantasy. Religion to me is a fantasy. But I understand it because it comes from the inability to face the inevitability of death. So, that’s part of where the desire of control comes from. You don’t find that in animals. They’re controlling something else, their environment perhaps, but they’re not really worrying about death because they really don’t think that it’s going to happen to them. Whereas we know it is, and we feel the desperate need to do something about it. A lot of the desires for improving humans has to do with the body and health and extending life and so on.

TIFF
David Cronenberg, Piers Handling, Noah Cowan

© 2014, Toronto International Film Festival Inc. All Rights Reserved.


David Cronenberg discusses the inherently positive nature of the creative act.

…You put your fears in a movie so they won’t be in your own life. I believe I’ve said that. But it is simplistic; it’s not as easy as that, as simple as that. Because there is always, for me, a huge playfulness about movie making and the creative act, even when you are doing terrible, horrible, depressive, dangerous, or scary stuff. There is a lot of child-like play involved, trying stuff out basically as kids do as they learn how to live a life, playing with the dolls and the sandbox and stuff.

So it’s not simple... The basic bad thing in your life, which is your mortality and the mortality of the people you love around you, that’s not going away. You’re not going to encapsulate it and make it safe by building this cinematic membrane around it. I’m completely aware of that, so I don’t think that it’s the process really. It’s a strange, I think of it as, you know, if you make a movie, that in itself is a positive act, if you write a book, that’s a positive act. The fact that you did it in itself, no matter what it is, is definitely positive.

TIFF
David Cronenberg, Piers Handling, Noah Cowan

© 2014, Toronto International Film Festival Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Students will be able to connect Cronenberg to writers and theorists concerned with science and biology. The evolution of Cronenberg’s own scientific thinking can be traced through the evolution of the science represented onscreen.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans