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David Cronenberg, Unbound by the Niceties of Taste, Propriety

He is old-fashioned and out of fashion, and for this very disregard of fashion, Cronenberg is always in

David Cronenberg has balls. He has bumps. He has boobs. He might even have beaver — surely he’s considered it.

But it's balls that come natural to him, like a lone figure of the American West, though he’s from Canada; like a roguish auteur of cinema, though he drank his genre straight.

He is old-fashioned and out of fashion, and his films show up in the Cineplex, and for this very disregard of fashion, Cronenberg is always in.

Unbound by the niceties of taste, propriety, political correctness, Cronenberg is hardly contained by society’s dictates. “As an artist, one is not a citizen of society,” says the director. “You don’t have the social responsibility of a citizen. You have, in fact, no social responsibility whatsoever.”            

The same could be said of the subjects of Cronenberg’s latest film “A Dangerous Method.” What responsibility Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung felt to society might be summarized in the act of curing the ailments that society produced. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley, “A Dangerous Method” is due in theaters Nov. 23.

It comes as little surprise that Cronenberg too has been preoccupied with biology since he was a boy. He may well have worn the lab coat for life if he hadn’t liked literature so much. But it was through making movies that he managed to synthesize a preference for science with a weakness for metaphor to become the radical sci-fi horror director of “what if.”

In particular, what if it happened to the human body? Cronenberg makes the human body monstrous — and monsters, as Adam Simon, director of the IFC documentary “American Nightmare” asserts, have lived of late more in science fiction than in horror.

Not even metaphor, the workhorse of literary devices, binds David Cronenberg. No longer a comparison between two unlike things, the metaphor is the thing, especially in Cronenberg’s early films. Disturbances of the mind are made real. Emotions, such as rage at childhood wrongs, become material. They manifest on the body. They even produce offspring, a brood of them.

Telepathic abilities cause the head to explode. A penis-like weapon under a woman’s arm infects; a virus in the shape of a blood-gorged slug slips in through an unsuspecting orifice. Mutant sexual appendages become the means of sexual liberation.

In the un-placid world of David Cronenberg the juncture between mind and body is cracking up from all the tremors. Such a radical disruption was to have found its literary equivalent in William Burroughs’ "Naked Lunch," with its junk-soaked cloth wick set to ignite the most extreme of the mind’s imaginings. But it was not in Burroughs that Cronenberg found his doppelganger but rather in the abundant imagination and lurid tales of sex and the 19th century mind told by Sigmund Freud.

“For all that I’m very body-oriented, I love the idea that words and concepts can alter things physically because of the way that they react on us, on our nervous systems, our actions, our concepts,” Cronenberg said in the interview for Simon’s documentary. That sounds an awful lot like the therapeutic process, revolutionized by Mr. Freud and tweaked by his associate, Mr. Jung. Little wonder that Mr. Cronenberg would find himself taking the cure.

No matter what form it takes or how it manifests — buboes, violence or lust — we are grateful to David Cronenberg for his ongoing obsession with the body. For all its repulsiveness, the body is the best reminder we’ve got of reality (and its sidekick, mortality). Especially since these days reality has fallen so out of fashion.

Aaron Barlow writes about film, new media (especially blogging) and whatever else happens to pique his interest. Past owner/operator of a cafe, a store, and a gallery (among other activities), he began teaching at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) four years ago. His newest book is “Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes.” Visit him online at www.aaronbarlow.com.