David Paul Cronenberg, OC, FRSC (born March 15, 1943) is a Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter and actor. He is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the body horror genre. This style of filmmaking explores people’s fears of bodily transformation and infection. In his films, the psychological is typically intertwined with the physical. In the first half of his career, he explored these themes mostly through horror and science fiction, although his work has since expanded beyond these genres. He has been called “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.”
Born in Toronto, Canada, Cronenberg was the son of Esther, a musician, and Milton Cronenberg, a writer and editor. He began writing as a child and wrote constantly. He attended high school at Harbord Collegiate Institute. A keen interest in science, especially botany and lepidopterology, led him to enter the Honours Science program the University of Toronto in 1963, but he switched to Honors English Language and Literature later in his first year. Cronenberg’s fascination with the film Winter Kept Us Warm (1966) by classmate David Secter sparked his interest in film. He began frequenting film camera rental houses, learning art of filmmaking and made two 16mm films (Transfer and From the Drain). Inspired by the New York underground film scene, he founded the Toronto Film Co-op with Iain Ewing and Ivan Reitman. After taking a year off to travel in Europe, he returned to Canada in 1967, graduating from University College at the top of his class.
After two short sketch films and two short art-house features (the black and white Stereo and the colour Crimes of the Future) Cronenberg went into partnership with Ivan Reitman. The Canadian government provided financing for his films through the 1970s. He alternated his signature “body horror” films such as Shivers (They Came From Within) with projects reflecting his interest in car racing and bike gangs (Fast Company). Rabid exploited the unexpected acting talents of pornographic actress Marilyn Chambers (Cronenberg’s first choice was a young, then-unknown Sissy Spacek). Rabid was a breakthrough with international distributors and his next two horror features gained stronger support.
Over the arc of his career, Cronenberg’s films follow a definite progression, a movement from the social world to the inner life. In his early films, scientists modify human bodies, which results in the breakdown of social order (e.g. Shivers, Rabid). In his middle period, the chaos wrought by the scientist is more personal, (e.g. The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). In the later period, the scientist himself is altered by his experiment (e.g. his remake of The Fly). This trajectory culminates in Dead Ringers in which a twin pair of gynacologists spiral into codependency and drug addiction. His later films tend more to the psychological, often contrasting subjective and objective realities (eXistenZ, M. Butterfly, Spider).
Cronenberg has cited William S. Burroughs and Vladimir Nabokov as influences. Perhaps the best example of a film that straddles the line between his works of personal chaos and psychological confusion is Cronenberg’s “adaptation” of his literary hero William S. Burroughs’ most controversial book, Naked Lunch. The book was considered “unfilmable” and Cronenberg acknowledged that a straight translation into film would “cost 100 million dollars and be banned in every country in the world”. Instead, much like in his earlier film, Videodrome—he consistently blurred the lines between what appeared to be reality and what appeared to be hallucinations brought on by the main character’s drug addiction. Some of the book’s “moments” (as well as incidents loosely based upon Burroughs’ life) are presented in this manner within the film. Cronenberg stated that while writing the screenplay for Naked Lunch, he felt a moment of synergy with the writing style of Burroughs. He felt the connection between his screenwriting style and Burroughs’ prose style was so strong, that he jokingly remarked that should Burroughs pass on, “I’ll just write his next book.”
Cronenberg has said that his films should be seen “from the point of view of the disease”, and that, for example, he identifies with the characters in Shivers after they become infected with the anarchic parasites. Disease and disaster, in Cronenberg’s work, are less problems to be overcome than agents of personal transformation. Of his characters’ transformations, Cronenberg said, “But because of our necessity to impose our own structure of perception on things we look on ourselves as being relatively stable. But, in fact, when I look at a person I see this maelstrom of organic, chemical and electron chaos; volatility and instability, shimmering; and the ability to change and transform and transmute.” Similarly, in Crash (1996), people who have been injured in car crashes attempt to view their ordeal as “a fertilizing rather than a destructive event”.
Check out the Guardian interview.