“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”
- Brian O’Blivion
As you can guess by the quote that today’s post will be about Videodrome. This is a movie that, after repeated viewings, I finally realize that there is a greater subtext than just the theme of TV appealing to our sadistic tendencies. There is a more profound theme in the film that I cannot fully grasp until I watch it a few more times and maybe do some research on it. I have always thought of Videdrome as great commentary on the media and their influence they have on our minds, much like the film The Live. However, I want to briefly scratch the surface of the sexual perversion that is Videodrome and talk about its imagery.
The imagery in Videodrome, obviously, reflects the sexuality that is in the film and this is one of the main reasons why I love David Cronenberg as a director. His gore, his violence, his bizarre distortion of the body has a method behind it. Much like Videodrome, it has philosophy. As we already can tell by the quote above, there is a distinct connection that the television screen has with the viewer’s eyes and it’s implying that the TV has become a part of our bodies. Considering the theory that we are attracted to violence in a somewhat sexual way, we can see why these images (below) are important to the film.
Here is one of the less obvious examples of sexual imagery. If we look at the dynamics of how a VCR works we know that by putting a Beta tape into the VCR will make it play… however in this scenes the VCR ‘player’ is Max’s chest. The opening for the tape to go into bares a striking resemblance to the vagina and I think it’s intentional. In the same scene, Max pokes his gun into his chest opening causing him to squirm in a somewhat pleasurable pain. Guns, even in other genres of film, are almost always seen as phallic symbols so it makes sense that Max would use a gun. The theme that violence causes sexual stimulation is not going unnoticed since the gun causes violence.
In this scene, Max became seduced by Nicki just after she killed Brian O’Blivion (of course this is all a hallucination) and she proceeded to tell him to “come to her.” Then television then became a living, breathing thing that became sexually aroused by Max’s presence. I think showing Max burying his face in the TV’s protruding screen shows, further, that the television is becoming a living thing that is sexual appealing. The way I see it, the TV is representing a woman and that Max has become attracted to this ‘woman,’ and the screen is like the woman’s chest. If you look at the detail and the texture of the TV screen it’s soft and squishy, which arguably could be the woman’s breasts. This would also explain why Max puts his face into the screen.
Much like the distinct similarities between Max’s chest VCR and a vagina, here there is a distinct resemblance between the TV’s gun and a penis. Yes, in this scene the TV screen becomes more flesh like and a hand holding a gun extends out from it and aims it at Max. The tip of the TV gun resembles that of the meatus or the head of the penis and it proves my argument that the gun in Videodrom doubles as a phallic symbol. The gun is flesh covered and has veins circulating through it. It’s ridged, almost as though it’s becoming slowly infected. I also find it interesting that a gun has to be fired at Max for him to be re-brainwashed against Videodrome.
When I first saw this scene I was actually pretty grossed out by it, not to say that the entire movie had some gross scenes, but than I realized that Cronenberg almost always incorporates some kind of object or person that is a metaphor for a venereal disease. I say venereal because in his films like Shivers, The Brood and The Fly, there is always some subtle theme of sexuality and it’s consequences of unprotected sex. In a later scene, Barry takes a Beta tape that is alive (it was breathing) and inserted it into Max’s chest and this caused him to kill somebody. Here, Harlan is about to insert another tap. I love the look of this particular tape because we can tell that it is a complete twisted, distortion of blood and human skin yet it’s still sexual in the sense that it’s breathing and moaning. This particular tape is badly infected by a venereal disease and the disease is Videodrome. The first sexual experience with Videodrome wasn’t nearly as bad as this one would have been and I think it’s the juxtaposition between the two tapes that I love. The deeper you get involved with Videodrome’s agenda, the more you plague your body with its sickness.
A major part of Videodrome that I really enjoyed was the progression of the television becoming a living thing. At first the TV, or when Max beings to hallucinate, just breaths and has veins coursing throughout its structure. The screen resembles that of a chest but its still a TV screen with static and everything. However, as the story progresses the design of the TV becomes more flesh colored and veiny and at the end the movie the screen becomes an actual human chest. It’s a brilliant way to show that the TV is literally becoming a character in the film.
As you can see, Cronenberg’s Videodrome is probably one of his masterpiece movies in terms of metaphors and personifying the sexual attraction we have towards violence. Aside from The Fly and The Brood, Videodrome has some of the most grotesque sexual imagery that I had ever seen and there is a reason for it and just thrown in there at random. Personally, I think it’s safe to say that I am a huge Cronenberg fan because of this: his movies are so heavily seeded with subtext and theme that he is like the North American version any Japanese horror director. Videodrome, much like the Videodrome in the movie, is raw experience for anybody who watches it.