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"Cronenberg left emotional gaps in Rabid to amplify the chilly ambivalence of a plague state, but in The Brood (1979) he opts for an all-encompassing approach to the personal upheaval of a couple in the midst of a divorce. Cronenberg was going through his own personal separation at the time, and The Brood feels like the first movie he made where he let go of the philosophical underpinnings and went for something almost painfully real. At its heart this is a movie about children and what it does to a young person to witness the dissolving of those who made you, and Cronenberg renders this fully with the close-ups he uses for child actor Cindy Hinds. Cronenberg still introduces a scientific slant to the intensely personal with the casting of the great Oliver Reed as the psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan, whose theory of “Psychoplasmics” induces a physical response of trauma in the patient through boils or growths on the skin. One of Raglan’s patients is Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), who is the wife of our lead character Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), and he becomes increasingly worried that Raglan’s process is changing his ex into something monstrous. He’s right. Nola is producing a horde of children born out of her own traumatic response, but the metaphor isn’t as heavy as that implies, because Cronenberg smartly positions the horror of the scenario above the potential emotional meaning, which in turns makes it all the more effective.
The Brood is David Cronenberg’s best film up to this point, because he has evolved with each picture and become more comfortable using dense metaphors, philosophy and science he has become synonymous with as a visual tool of exploding, lonely bodies. The human condition is never at rest in the cinema of David Cronenberg and the spasming rupture of pain, loss, and livelihood are so very naturally relatable that the intellectualism never becomes impenetrable. He’s the rare director who successfully gets audiences to think and feel at the same time. In The Brood Nola licks the blood off of her fetal children as if she were a cat cleaning her young. She loves these things that have come from her body, but they are vile, because of the pain they’ve been born into, but isn’t that all of us? The human body is never untouched, clean, innocent, because it’s so very easy to take in all the vices and pain we call nourishment. In Cronenberg’s cinema he shines a light on those things we feel, but can’t see, In The Brood the psychoplasmics only reveal the cancer that was already there, and it is with that idea that Cronenberg finally announces himself as a director who is fully developed. All of his films are great, because they’re imperfect, messy, like us, but The Brood is the greatest of these earlier efforts, because the art imitates life. Cronenberg’s frustration, anxiety, and disappointment that followed his own divorce resulted in an honest upheaval of very real pain, and very real pain always finds a way of reaching across the aisles and becoming the art that people gravitate to the most."
Wrote a big essay on the early works of David Cronenberg over on the patreon
www.patreon.com/posts/david-cronenberg-48786184 ($4 patrons)