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๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ


Scanners


๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ


๐ŸŽ™️ EPISODE 386: 11.12.2021

๐ŸŽ™️ EPISODE 18: 04.18.2015

EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2021, I re-reviewed this movie as part of my series... Chronenburg (Episode 386). The written review here has been adapted from that critique / the videos below.

Scanners is, without a doubt, Cronenberg's best movie to date, but it still isn't without it's flaws. His ability to sabotage his own films by overcomplicating things whilst also not properly expounding is uncanny. It's always present at this point: a weird combo of really sophisticated ideas without the time to make good on them + the shock value of the body horror stuff, which — despite their being amazing from a technical standpoint — ultimately lending said lofty ideas a kinda lowbrow tint (not to mention: the requisite number of cars blowing up) and you're left with a film which feels constantly at odds with itself.



That being said, while the third act definitely struggles through some awkward exposition dumps, it ultimately sticks the landing more deftly than previous entries in his canon. The "who's the real bad guy" subtext wasn't just an underlying mood or red herring; it really is the gist. There are still plenty of underdeveloped characters and concepts (at 100 minutes, it's the longest Cronenberg movie to date and still felt too short) but it's final twist IS rewarding and makes up for that somewhat.

So let's get into it! We begin with the perhaps the most famous musical fugue that soundtrack mastermind and frequent DC collaborated Howard Shore ever composed. These haunting few notes will repeat in various ways over the course of the movie; it's a truly phenomenal film score.

Like with The Brood, we have a fantastic opening sequence that drops the viewer into this strange and chaotic world wondering what the fuck is going on. Our protagonist is Cameron Vale, yet another stiff-as-a-board white guy in the lead role. Only — to be fair — his lack of emotions serves a purpose beyond, I don't know, laziness or a clear lack of acting ability. Not to say that actor Stephen Lack is, well, 'good' here; I think he's fine? He doesn't have much of a filmography and this is the only movie I've seen him in (though he'll pop up again in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers). His cold, detached performance does work in the framework of this story.

So he's apparently homeless or derelict and he freaks out in this mall and almost mind-kills an old lady because she was thinking bad thoughts about him? Oh, I forgot to mention: he has insane psychic powers and can read minds and also mind-kill. He's then kidnapped by some shadowy figures and brought to see a crazy doctor character. We are batting a thousand when it comes to DC and crazy doctor characters by the way. And as I mentioned before, this introduces one of the more intriguing through-lines of the picture: this question of who is good and who is bad? It's honestly never resolved fully in my opinion (which I think is a credit not a detriment). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This doctor, Dr. Paul Ruth, works for a private military company called ConSec, a shadowy group who are searching for anyone exhibiting these special powers. They call these people "scanners" and their main mission is to recruit all existing "scanners" in order to combat an even more shadowy group of "evil scanners."

Meanwhile, somewhere else, there is a conference going on where we are introduced to this concept of "scanners" and "scanning" in the form of a demonstration with this bald guy whose head is about to explode. You see, a 'bad guy' — ostensibly from the aforementioned 'bad guy' organization — has infiltrated the group and volunteered to be the subject in this scanner's mind-reading exhibition. This is Darryl Revok, our antagonist, played by the great Michael Ironside, whose been in about 10,000 movies usually playing the villain. And guess what? He's a scanner too! And he's much better at it than this bald guy. Thus sets off one of the most infamous scenes in cinematic history. The exploding head has been referenced countless times in popular culture (Wayne's World, anyone?) and is still a marvel of practical FX and design.

After this, they try to apprehend him, but he's just too damn good at scanning and he ends up killing seven or so of these dudes before getting away. Later on, at ConSec we see a meeting with Dr. Ruth and the board of directors. We quickly learn one of these guys is a mole working with Darryl Revok on the sly. This sets off the bulk of the movie's action: Dr. Ruth attempting to train Vale to defeat the bad scanners, and Revok — with info from this mole — trying to locate and take down Vale. It's an interesting cat-and-mouse setup and at no point does an outfit called "ConSec" give off 'good guy' vibes. So the audience is immediately presented with the ambiguity of whom to root for: dude who drilled a hole in his forehead? Or kooky bearded doctor and his emotionless protege? Luckily, and predictably, it isn't nearly so simple!

We're then introduced to a character named Benjamin Pierce, played by The Brood's scene-stealing actor, Robert Silverman. Pierce is a scanner who has become a successful artist. There's certainly a meta element to this subplot as well: the idea that we can process trauma and horror through artistic expression. It's never quite fully explored but it's impossible to look at the Cronenberg oeuvre and not see the parallels.

Anyway, Silverman is fantastic and his role here is far too short-lived. He's merely the connective tissue to get Cameron Vale hooked up with Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill). Obrist is involved with yet another shadowy group, opposed to Revok's, albeit a much looser-seeming outfit that gives off an almost hippie vibe. And as soon as he arrives, they are almost immediately attacked by Revok's men and some pretty awesome action ensues involving a pretty sweet car crash into a record store. This the second car chase and crash sequence, another Cronenberg hallmark.

Everybody but Obrist and Vale die and, because the plot can only move in one direction, Vale scans one of the assailants into giving him a clue to the next part of the story. This vile has the logo of a pharmaceutical company called Biocarbon Amalgamate. (As if we needed more shadowy and/or evil organizations!) They discover Revok is using this place to distribute large quantities of Ephemerol under a ConSec computer program called "Ripe." Up until this point, all we know about this drug Ephemerol is that it acts as a tranquilizer and neutralizes the powers of a scanner.

If it feels like the plot is going off the rails at this point, I would say that's an accurate response. It's worth noting that Cronenberg was forced to write much of the screenplay on the fly during production, as they were forced to start filming quickly in order to take advantage of subsidies offered by the Canadian government. Knowing that, it almost feels like a miracle that this isn't even more half-baked. However, the scene that eventually follows: Cameron Vale mind-hacking a computer system — whose only responsibility is to route delivery trucks (?)— from a [wait for it] PAYPHONE is never not gonna be unintentionally hilarious here in 2021.

But before all that, Vale delivers a line which I think cuts at the heart of this film's major themes. He says, "we are the dream; they are the nightmare." This extremely Lynchian sentiment brings up several ideas and motifs: on the surface, it's your basic 'us vs. them' tale, but — digging deeper — I think it tackles the feeling of losing control in the face of mysterious, nefarious entities who seek to either profit or gain power at the expense of greater humanity. It also harkens back to that notion of art and the artist: what use is a good idea if it's misused or mistreated? Perhaps we all have the choice to live in some version of the dream or some version of the nightmare in our waking life. Or perhaps the lack of said choice is the division line between the two?

Who the hell knows! A ton of shit explodes when Vale does his payphone mind-hack to disrupt the truck shipping routes, and the mole bad guy is killed in the process. . . Why were they secretly shipping Ephemerol you ask? Well, to infect unborn fetuses and make them scanners. Because this is a David Cronenberg movie and children. Does one of these fetus scanners scan Kim Obrist. They certainly do. I think there's some weird logic that the same drug used to neutralize adult scanners is the same thing that causes babies to become them, but I can't even go down that path.

We've basically reached the climax of the film at this point: the big showdown between Vale and Revok, and they have themselves an old-fashioned scanner fight! But not before we learn about the origin of all this shit. Somewhat mimicking the real life story of Thalidomide, a drug developed in Germany and marketed internationally to pregnant women in the late 1950 as a treatment for morning sickness which caused horrible birth defects, the fake Ephemerol in Scanners was basically meant to pacify pregnant ladies because pregnant ladies DO BE BITCHIN'. This is unintentionally hilarious to me and a totally asinine backstory, if you think about it. Like, the intended use of this drug could've been anything, right? And it's just funny to hear these two weird dudes, who — as we learn in this scene — are actually brothers, discuss their dad (who turns out to be Dr. Ruth R.I.P.) and his totally failed "we gotta find a way to calm these pregnant ladies" medication which actually causes paranormal psychic brain mutations in unborn children! Including themselves! But a scanner fight is a scanner fight and we're all the better for it...

The film ends with Kim Obrist barging into find the charred body of Vale (he spontaneously combusted during the scanner fight). Revok is cowering in the corner, only when he speaks... it is not him. It's the voice of Vale. Vale is inside his brother Revok's body. Or they are one now. Or: _____ (you fill in the blanks).

Like every other entry in the Cronenberg filmography, this goes almost completely off the rails. But it just does so in a much more interesting and entertaining manner. I feel like this was definite leap forward and I can't wait to get into the rest of his 80s, the majority of which I haven't seen before.

๐šƒ๐š‘๐š’๐šœ ๐š’๐šœ ๐š๐š‘๐šŽ 7th ๐š’๐š—๐šœ๐š๐šŠ๐š•๐š•๐š–๐šŽ๐š—๐š ๐š˜๐š ๐™ฒ๐š‘๐š›๐š˜๐š—๐šŽ๐š—๐š‹๐šž๐š›๐š – ๐š–๐šข ๐šŒ๐š‘๐š›๐š˜๐š—๐š˜๐š•๐š˜๐š๐š’๐šŒ๐šŠ๐š• ๐š ๐šŠ๐š๐šŒ๐š‘/๐š›๐šŽ๐š ๐šŠ๐š๐šŒ๐š‘ ๐š˜๐š ๐™ณ๐šŠ๐šŸ๐š’๐š ๐™ฒ๐š›๐š˜๐š—๐šŽ๐š—๐š‹๐šŽ๐š›๐š'๐šœ ๐š๐š’๐š•๐š–๐š˜๐š๐š›๐šŠ๐š™๐š‘๐šข. ๐™ฒ๐š•๐š’๐šŒ๐š” ๐š‘๐šŽ๐š›๐šŽ ๐š๐š˜๐š› ๐š๐šž๐š•๐š• ๐š›๐šŠ๐š—๐š”๐š’๐š—๐š ๐šŠ๐š—๐š ๐š–๐š˜๐š›๐šŽ...



CHRONOLOGICALLY
EPISODE 17 - (YOU ARE HERE) - EPISODE 19 ⫸

CHRONOLOGICALLY
EPISODE 385 - (YOU ARE HERE) - EPISODE 387 ⫸

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