Barry Convex, Brian O'Blivion, City, City-TV, CIVIC-TV, Criterion Collection, David Cronenberg, Debbie Harry, Deborah Harry, James Woods, Les Carlson, Leslie Carlson, Long Live the New Flesh, Marshall McLuhan, Masha, Moses, Moses Znaimer, Nicki Brand, Peter Dvorsky, Pierre David, Sonja Smits, Stomach Vagina, The Cathode Ray Mission, Universal, Universal Pictures
This is the link to a YouTube video, also embedded above, of the final scene from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983). In it, Max Renn (James Woods) speaks with the televised image of Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry of Blondie fame), who implores him to finally “go all the way…to the next phase” in what will be “a total transformation”, over to what she calls “the new flesh”. To get there, he must do away with the old in what would look pretty much unambiguously like a suicide if reality itself had not already become so distorted by this point in the film. Max appears to be hallucinating quite severely, most plainly signalled here by the appearance of the exact same television set from his apartment in the hold of a derelict ship as well as the flesh gun that may or may not really be adorning his arm.
This scene is not a million miles away from the endings of In the Mouth of Madness and The Forest for the Trees discussed in my other posts, in that Max’s tenuous hold on reality gives way here in a pretty thoroughgoing manner. Max is, like John Trent and Melanie Pröschle from Madness and Trees respectively, pretty much at the end of his rope here, in a way which leads him to what is most likely just a suicide. We see enough evidence in the rest of the film that he may be journeying on to some new realm in the video arena, but we also know that he has been hallucinating pretty hard, whether as the result of brain tumours or whatever else. This applies as well to the way in which Major Collins’ decision to kill himself in Body Snatchers could be construed as the expression of some kind of mass paranoia, though I think that Videodrome does a better job of leaving multiple interpretations open on this particular front.
The film carefully builds up a reasonably convincing narrative of espionage and counter-espionage to suggest that the events depicted might actually be happening, but we never know this for sure, not really, and that is what makes it such a useful tool for sharing with others who may lack first-hand experience of what it feels like to be psychotic. The perception that there is some kind of a conspiracy against the psychotic individual was certainly the way my experience of the disorder panned out, to the point that I was pretty actively suicidal for longer than I would like to admit. Like Max, I even ended up by Toronto’s waterfront (the film makes no effort to disguise the identity of the city it was shot in), though thankfully my story has a happier ending, in that I was fished from the water shortly after my attempt to kill myself.
I know that not everyone is this lucky, and I am particularly glad that I did not do anything, as Max does, to physically injure anyone else during my psychosis. This film is not the best example of a positive portrayal of mental illness, but I think it is important to consider the ease with which conditions like psychosis can, gone unchecked, result in harm to oneself or others. When you are as desperate as Max is throughout Videodrome or I was during my psychotic episode, relief of any kind is the number one priority. This lead me to some places I now regret, including the floor of a hospital bathroom with a bag around my head and a belt around my neck, but at the time I truly could not see any other way out. These may be unpleasant conversations to have, but the more openly mental illness can be discussed in everyday environments the less likely individuals are to reach these kinds of extremes, it seems to me.
Héroux, C., David, P., & Solnicki, V. (Producers), & Cronenberg, D. (Director). (1983). Videodrome [Motion picture]. Canada: Universal Pictures.
Sabet, S. (2016, February 2). Videodrome: Long live the new flesh. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS9R-eC_D44&app=desktop