6. Dead Ringers (1988)
This psychological body thriller plays the story out at two levels – a bodily separation as two identical twins Elliot and Beverly, and a subjective split in identity between the two. The two brothers run a fertility clinic where they seduce women, Elliot does it and passes them on to the more shy Beverley. However, things go for a toss when Claire an actress goes to the clinic and Beverley falls for her. The ruined equation between the brothers or an impossibility in reconciliation is mirrored in drug abuse, clinical depression and a psychotic break where Beverley dreams of mutant women with abnormal genitalia. The split is never really recoverable and becomes most evident when Elliot elects to die. Beverley unaware that his own identity is split irreparably at this moment calls Claire and when asked who he is, he is forced to face the reality of his fractured identity and loss of subjective unity. Faced with this seeming void, he takes his own life. Deftly managed by Jeremy Irons in a double role, this Cronenberg film is an exploration of identity through psychosexual desires and remains all the more a gripping narrative as it is based on a true film.
5. The Fly (1986)
This is the only Cronenberg film to win an Oscar but who needs validation from the Academy when the film itself is fantastic. Often considered to be an allegory for AIDS, Jeff Goldblum plays the role of a scientist who can teleport humans. However, an accidental fly caught in the teleportation pod messes things up as Seth (Goldblum) begins to exhibit properties of a fly. The science fiction movie is a delight to watch and deals with themes of loss and death in the deft manner as is characteristic of David Cronenberg.
4. A History of Violence (2005)
Another fine collaboration between Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg. The plot follows Tom Stall an everyman who runs a diner. However, when two robbers walk in and threaten one of the waitresses, Tom easily disarms them and kills them. He is proclaimed a local hero but his face gets on the news and his dark past comes back. An extremely well-made crime noir, Cronenberg effortlessly combines the action of a gangster film and the emotional depth of a psychological familial relationship in the movie. It’s a film that definitely deserves a watch and one of the finest in Cronenberg’s repertoire.
3. Eastern Promises (2007)
Cronenberg teams up with the talented Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel in this film. Another look at the underworld – this film can be viewed as somewhat of a companion piece to A History of Violence. The film follows a British-Russian midwife who helps a Russian girl deliver a baby before she dies. In an attempt to find the family, she comes across a diary and steps into the world of the Russian mob. A film with the elements of danger, deceit and, abusive father-son relationships, the most striking moment has to be the raw knife fight sequence in the movie. Truly a brilliant piece of work that deserves recognition and a top three spot on this list.
2. Videodrome (1983)
One of Cronenberg’s finest films, it follows Max a person forever in search of risque programming to broadcast. He comes across Videodrome, a snuff programming that fits the bill. A film that predicts a dystopian future where all brutality is reified by ratings and audiences are desensitized to the point of becoming inhuman – this film is classic Cronenberg. Hailed by Andy Warhol as one of the finest films of the 80’s with parallels being drawn to Clockwork Orange, the dystopic vision of a societal collapse is weaved masterfully by the director.
1. Crash (1996)
An argument can be made for Videodrome to be the finest of Cronenberg’s works but for me, it will always be Crash. A film starring the extremely talented and enigmatic James Spader – the plot combines all the favorite avenues the director loves to explore – body horror, psychosexual urges and Cronenberg’s own enthusiasm regarding races and cars. The plot follows a group of people who reenact car crashes for sexual stimulation. The cold and objective handling of the film brings out the alienation evident in the symptom of the people. A critical success, this film remains Cronenberg’s magnum opus.
Read More: James Spader Movies