Review: Videodrome (Unrated, 1983)


TV is bad for you, very bad for you, but then again so is a giant vagina that appears out of nowhere on your stomach!

Written By: David Cronenberg
Directed By: David Cronenberg

Where does one begin with Videdrome, it’s hard to say. I can start off by letting you know that the plot in Videodrome is serviceable, but it isn’t all that deep and is secondary to the themes and idea being presented. There are times when this approach had disastrous effects, but in the hands of a good director and with plenty of themes explored story can take a back seat to other elements. Videodrome explores a lot of area in regards to themes and with David Cronenberg behind the wheel it isn’t in the hands of a good director, but rather a great director.

I don’t see any way that any discussion of Videodrome can begin without getting the gory effects out of the way. They do look great and add texture to the film. Cronenberg has a knack of adding gore in the right places, that is what separates his gore from the gore of other directors. Any director can add gore to his films, but only a truly great director knows where to place the gore and how to build up to it. Cronenberg loves lulling his audience into a false sense of security and then assaulting you with something gory. If you are going to attack the audience with gore and are using it right all that leaves is the look of the gore. Rick Baker layers the gory effects, making sure they are deep and aren’t lame but are actually really good looking.

I’d also like to quickly touch on the acting in Videodrome. For the most part it is inconsequential, that is outside of the lead, James Woods. Because the rest of the cast is never developed beyond the ideas necessary to represent the themes, it falls on Woods to carry any and all emotional wight in the film. He manages to do this, and that is why Videodrome is such a superior film to Scanners, another Cronenberg work. Max Renn is a real person, he has emotions, he is bewildered and we can identify with him or at the very least associate with his humanity.

That brings us to the themes present in Videodrome, and this movie covers so much area that critics and film historians have written entire essays about the various themes. I won’t be doing that, but I will touch on what I was able to pick up and what I felt were the strongest of the themes presented.

The most obvious theme in Videodrome is that of TV being bad and our descent into a TV dominated world. In this case you can substitute TV for media and it remains a universal message. In Videodrome the TV dominates everything, it dominates us so much that we lose track of reality and the fiction of TV. Our perception is taken to task, our inability to differentiate the real world and how it operates from how the TV world tells us things should be. With Max finally being taken over by the TV and his hallucinations the final message about TV domination is hammered home. We no longer think for ourselves, we merely act as the TV tells us to act.

Another obvious theme in Videodrome is that of feminism. You have the allegorical image of a vagina appearing in Max’s stomach and the fact that once he has a vagina Max is all of a sudden powerless to take care of himself. He is ruled by the metaphorical penis of the videotape being inserted into his vagina. It is only once Max goes to another woman and she is able to show him how he can control his vagina that he is able to regain power. He realizes the power that comes from his vagina and takes control of his life once again (or does he? That part doesn’t have so much to do with the feminist critique as it does with Cronenberg’s desire for an open interpretation of the events that have unfolded before our eyes). Notice how once Max has learned his vagina has power the videotape/penis about to be inserted into said vagina is no longer sleek and pulsing with alluring life, but now it is ugly and pulsating with disgusting vileness.

To go along with the feminist critique, Cronenberg uses Videodrome to go to a favorite topic of his, violence and sex. Cronenberg has always been interested in using violence as message device in all his films. Videodrome is no different, Cronenberg goes to the TV well this time. Are we violent because of what TV blasts into our minds? Or, is it rather that we place our own violent tendencies on TV and that satisfies us? This leads into violence as it relates to sexuality. I have yet to find many other directors who are as willing to be honest about how violence relates to sexuality. Videodrome presents once again the idea of people getting off on violence, Max initially wants Videodrome because the violence it presents will titillate his audience and get good ratings. It’s funny that someone who is frank and honest about violence and sexuality like Cronenberg is viewed as a shock first type of director. I can only conclude that people who take this stance don’t want to realize the truth about our sexuality and how it relates to violence.

As you can see, Videodrome isn’t a movie that is afraid to explore the dark and dank areas of the human mind. That shouldn’t be surprising when the director is someone with an open mind like David Cronenberg. Videodrome is regarded by some as his greatest work, and while I wouldn’t go that far, it is an excellent film. Videodrome makes you think while at the same time providing some cool gore effects and a well balanced presentation of theme and science fiction/horror elements. The ending is even ambiguous, leaving everything you have seen up to your own interpretation. Videodrome is a great experience, even if it is associated with that giant penis known as TV/media!




5 responses to “Review: Videodrome (Unrated, 1983)

  1. Excellent review. I agree with almost everything you said. I hadn’t really read any feminism philosophy into the film when I watched it however, but I think I can agree with your arguments. Probably because I’ve only seen it 1 and 1/2 times, so everything hasn’t sunk in just yet. On first viewing the ‘tv domination’ theme is easier to detect I find. I also thought it was intriguing how Woods’ character ‘downloads’ information, this a couple decades before downloading media instantaneously was so popular.

    Still, you’ve given me reason to watch it again, which I really should since I own the Criterion DVD. One more viewing for fun and then a 3rd with Cronenberg’s commentary.

  2. Bill Thompson

    The reason I love Cronenberg so much, and Videodrome in particular, is that you can read his material in a lot of different ways. I think the feminist approach is obvious, but his work is so open to interpretation that if you pick up on a different cue something else becomes obvious and you can end up seeing a different side to the film than I did, or any other people.

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