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The Philosophy of David Cronenberg

edited by Simon Riches

Publication Year: 2012

Initially regarded as a cult figure with a strong following amongst sci-fi and horror film fans, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg emerged as a major and commercially viable film director with mainstream hits such as A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). With his unique ability to present imagery that is both disturbing and provocative, Cronenberg creates striking films, noteworthy not just for their cinematic beauty but also for the philosophical questions they raise.

The Philosophy of David Cronenberg examines Cronenberg's body of work, from his breakthrough Scanners (1981) through his most recognizable films such as The Fly (1986) and more recent works. Editor Simon Riches and a collaboration of scholars introduce the filmmaker's horrific storylines and psychologically salient themes that reveal his pioneering use of the concept of "body horror," as well as his continued aim to satirize the modern misuse of science and technology. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg also explores the mutation of self, authenticity and the human mind, as well as language and worldviews. While Cronenberg's films have moved from small-market cult classics to mainstream successes, his intriguing visions of humanity and the self endure.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: The Philosophy of Popular Culture

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-6

There can be no doubt that the widely renowned and influential Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg (1943–) has produced a diverse contribution to modern cinema. With his propensity to create imagery that is at once disturbing and provocative, Cronenberg has come to mainstream prominence with a striking collection of films. There were the breakthrough shockers, ...

Part 1

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pp. 7-8

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The Fly and the Human: Ironies of Disgust

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pp. 9-23

Different animal species evoke distinctive emotional reactions in human beings. On the positive side, we feel affection, admiration, attraction, and aesthetic pleasure. On the negative side, we feel fear, contempt, revulsion, and aesthetic displeasure. Pandas, elephants, whales, cats, dogs, birds, butterflies, turtles, and kangaroos are examples that tend to fall on the positive side. Sharks, bears, worms, rats, mice, spiders, bacteria, bats, snakes, mosquitoes, ...

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Tragedy and Terrible Beauty in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises

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pp. 24-35

Many of David Cronenberg’s films highlight, and even relish, images of violence done to the human body. Heads explode and parasites crawl around under people’s skin. A man develops a vaginal opening in his abdomen, a sexy woman is equipped with a knifelike appendage under her arm, a pregnant woman births multiple freakish mutant babies. In Cronenberg’s films,...

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Cronenberg as Scientist: Antiessentialism, Sex as Remixing, and the View from Nowhere

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pp. 36-52

Much of the writing on Cronenberg’s work has focused on his literary influences and the literary quality of his screenplays.1 And to be sure, Cronenberg has spoken of being deeply influenced by writers J. G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, and Henry Miller, among others.2 There is less attention paid to the fact that Cronenberg began his undergraduate career in the sciences ...

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What Happens to Brundle? Problems of Teleportation and Personal Identity in The Fly

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pp. 53-66

What is there in The Fly (1986) of interest to philosophy? Sometimes films deliberately aim to stimulate philosophical reflection by manifestly engaging with philosophical themes. I will argue that The Fly does not do that. Rather, philosophy engages with The Fly when we stand back from our natural involvement in, and reaction to, the plot and ask what sense, if any, can be made of the story. Considering the plot brings us face to face with two large...

Part 2

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pp. 67-68

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eXistenZial Angst

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pp. 69-76

One of the key motifs of David Cronenberg’s film eXistenZ (1999) is the idea that one might not be able to tell the difference between appearance and reality. This is conveyed in the film in terms of the protagonists—Ted Pikul (Jude Law) and Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh)—being progressively unable to be sure they aren’t inside the game they are playing, rather than in the real world. Although the circumstances in play in the film are of course ...

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"Freaks of Nature:" Extrasensory Perception and the Paranormal in the Films of David Cronenberg

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pp. 77-90

Extrasensory perception (ESP)—the ability to gain knowledge of the world by paranormal (literally, “beyond normal”) means—features in a number of David Cronenberg’s films. Cronenberg’s fi rst feature film, Stereo (1969), is a documentary-style art-house film about experiments into telepathic powers conducted by the Canadian Academy for Erotic Enquiry. The film is set in a brutalist concrete building and shot entirely in black and white,...

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Deception and Disorder: Unraveling Cronenberg's Divided Minds

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pp. 91-112

Amid a growing sense of paranoia and fear, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) sprints back from work to save his wife and children from the horror that might ensue when ruthless gangster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his henchmen arrive at his home. On his arrival, he realizes his panic is a false alarm triggered by the events from a day earlier when he apprehended two mobsters ...

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Psychological Determinism in the Films of David Cronenberg

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pp. 113-124

One of the most fruitful ways to interpret a film philosophically is to explore what it has to say about a fundamental issue in the discipline. My intent here is to survey the films of David Cronenberg with two questions in mind: (1) Do his films reflect a deterministic view of human nature, or is he an advocate of human freedom? and (2) Does his oeuvre embody a consistent position ...

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Self-Creation, Identity, and Authenticity: A Study of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises

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pp. 125-140

David Cronenberg’s early work in science fiction and horror may seem to bear only a faint similarity to A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). These later films broaden Cronenberg’s repertoire into the genres of action and gangster movies. However, there are important thematic continuities between these films and his earlier films. Cronenberg’s work continuously explores questions about the nature of the self and the ...

Part 3

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pp. 141-142

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The Fiction of Truth in Fiction: Some Reflections on Semantics and eXistenZ

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pp. 143-154

It is a fact that Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the part of a character called Allegra Geller in David Cronenberg’s film eXistenZ (1999). It is a fact that Jude Law plays a character called Ted Pikul in the same film. Within the fiction eXistenZ, however, neither Geller nor Pikul is played by anyone, for according to the fiction, these characters are real, existing people, not ...

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Re(ct)ifying Empty Speech: Cronenberg and the Problem of the First Person

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pp. 155-174

Th e life of a moviegoer is not always as simple as it seems, particularly when we step into the world of David Cronenberg. Like Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons) in Dead Ringers (1988), we can experience in ourselves a desire to dominate and control the films’ interpretations, fashioning instruments for ourselves to allow access to their mysteries; at other times we become ...

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The Politics of Mad Science in The Fly and Dead Ringers

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pp. 175-196

Surely the most provocative recent study of director-screenwriter David Cronenberg’s varied cinematic oeuvre is Mark Browning’s David Cronenberg: Author or Filmmaker?1 Although Browning never definitively answers the question posed in the book’s title, his assessment is that the most useful approach to Cronenberg’s filmmaking is through a complex web of literary intertexts, the other works to which his films refer and that they oft en remake...

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From "Impassioned Morality" to "Bloodless Agnosticism:" A Philosophy of David Cronenberg through the Burroughs/Ballard Axis

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pp. 197-216

In this essay I will provide an analysis of the vision that lies behind two key films in the Cronenberg canon, Crash (1996) and Naked Lunch (1991), so as to open up a macroanalysis of the philosophical themes that provide a framework for Cronenberg’s enigmatic art. I will explore such themes as the relationship between the social and the individual, the experience of mortality, the nature of artistic integrity, and the distinction between morality ...


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pp. 217-220


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pp. 221-224

Series Page

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pp. 225-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136172
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136042

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Philosophy of Popular Culture