Monday, September 21, 2009

“The Brood” by David Cronenberg compared to “Rosemary’s Baby” by Roman Polanski


Writing prompt: Barbara Creed describes the use of the "abject" maternal body in Cronenberg's film, The Brood. Beyond the examples she cites, have you seen other films that use the female body or womb imagery in similar "abject" ways?

The film that comes to mind in comparison to Cronenberg’s The Brood, is Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. I think that Polanski does it much more successfully, however.

Nola was influenced by Dr. Raglan’s book, The Shape of Rage. She was perhaps convinced by him to give form to her anger in the end result of producing a monstrous brood, but it is ultimately her decision to create the brood and in the end, she is the one who controls who will be the victims of her little monsters. In the shocking scene in which we look under her cloak to see the bloody sac she rips open with her teeth, we watch her lovingly lick the blood off of her creation, thus showing her maternal love.

Rosemary’s body is used in the worst way possible, to give birth to the son of Satan, and it is definitely not her choice. Rosemary’s Baby has the shocking final scene in which Rosemary forces her way into the adjoining apartment by the use of a knife and insists upon looking at her stolen child. She exclaims, “His eyes, what have you done to his eyes.” We see the horror on her face. Polanski wisely refuses to show the actual child’s eyes, knowing that anything the audience can imagine is much worse and more personally terrifying than anything that could be portrayed on the screen. In the end, Rosemary’s maternal instincts get the better of her, and she can’t help but want to become a mother to the little tyke.

In The Artist as Monster, the Cinema of David Cronenberg, William Beard states, “… in the scene at the end of the film where she gives birth to one of them (the children of her rage), the film finally enters completely into the world of the visceral transgressive body – and returns also to the theme of the power and horror of the abject female body.”

Nola has, on purpose, created little monsters to do her bidding. She has reverted to an animal-like state that causes her body to break all of the rules of nature and create it’s own monsters. Rosemary has unknowingly created a child of Satan. At the end of both films we see what the female body is capable of producing.

The men in the films react differently. In Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary’s husband, Guy is the one who sells his soul to the devil, or more accurately sells Rosemary’s womb to the devil, in return for fame, fortune and a comfortable life.

In The Brood, Nola’s husband, Frank, is a passive bystander. His only desire is to protect his daughter, Candace, from the monster he fears his wife has become. In the end he isn’t able to protect her. We have some sympathy for Frank because the woman he married turned into a psycho, yet we grow impatient with his continual ineffectual behavior. When Juliana (Nola’s mother) is murdered by an unseen monster, Frank assures Candace that the monster is gone and she’s perfectly safe. Yet we as the audience realize that he’s being na├»ve in this assumption.

As far as the filmmaking goes, Roman Polanski’s interpretation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby is timeless. We see that it’s clearly a period piece from the 60’s, but the horror we experience through Rosemary’s limited viewpoint is raw and real.

Chronenberg’s rendition of The Brood has a dated look and feel to it. Much of the acting and dialogue is melodramatic and screams 70’s but in a bad way. We’re never drawn into that world.

Both films confirm my belief that there’s nothing worse than a weird kid.

Works Cited:

The Brood by David Cronenberg

Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polanski

The Artist as Monster, the Cinema of David Cronenberg by William Beard

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How Robert Bloch manipulates chronological time and point-of-view in Psycho.



In Psycho, Robert Bloch effective uses time overlaps and flashbacks to tell his story. If he moved time forward only in a linear fashion, we’d miss out on much of the suspense that’s created when we have the limited viewpoint of one character.

Throughout the story, the point-of-view changes only at chapter breaks. Though we may have the same point-of-view character for several chapters running, Block never switches viewpoint in the middle of a chapter. This effectively keeps us in these characters’ worlds to the point that the reader gets emotionally involved with them.

Chapter one starts with Norman Bates showing background on his life and relationship with his mother. He hears a car driving up.

At the beginning of the second chapter, time rewinds to show us Mary lost on a dark road. The story moves into a flashback of Mary’s life the day she stole the money from her employer. Mr. Lowery. Inside of that flashback is another flashback telling about her youth with its missed opportunities to go to college or marry, and how she met Sam Loomis on a cruise. It wasn’t the “wild, surging thing” it had been when she met her former lover, but Sam offered her a possible future. He did have considerable debts, though. The story then returns to the Mary being lost on a dark road pulling up to the Bates Motel with Norman opening her car door.

The third chapter stays in Mary’s point-of-view as she meets Norman, checks in, goes up to the house for dinner with Norman. Their conversation reveals more about their respective personalities. Mary goes back to her room and decides to take a shower, but her peaceful night is cut short when she sees a figure standing on the other side of the shower curtain with a knife. At that point Bloch violates viewpoint when he says, “It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream. And her head.” Presumably, she would have been dead at that point and wouldn’t have known that her head was being cut off.

In chapter four, we switch to Norman’s viewpoint. The timeframe again rewinds. He’s outside of his office trembling. Norman has a few drinks and looks through his peephole into Mary’s room as she’s preparing to take a shower. Norman semi-passes out and seems to see his mother standing over him. She leaves, he sleeps then startles awake, realizing that the shower is still going. He goes into Mary’s room, rips back the shower curtain and realizes that his mother has used her keys.

Norman is to some extent an unreliable narrator. He has actually killed Mary; he blacked out when he took on the personality of his mother and performed the despicable deed himself.

At the beginning of chapter five, we are back in Norman’s point-of-view. He’s walking back to the house, a bloody mess, even thou he has supposedly only looked at Mary’s dead body on the bathroom floor. After finding his mother gone, gets rid of the body.

In chapter six, time has jumped forward one week. Sam Loomis is in the back room of his hardware store listening to opera and wondering what he actually knows about Mary, when he hears a knock at the door. At first he thinks the woman standing there is Mary, but he soon realizes that it’s her sister, Lila.

Form here, time moves forward at a regular rate, until chapter fifteen. At the end of chapter fourteen, Sheriff Chambers has revived Sam after he’s been clobbered by Norman, and they both hear a scream from the old house. At the beginning of chapter fifteen, time rewinds and we see Lila going up the steps to the old house looking for clues to her sister’s death. At the end of the chapter, Lila stumbles upon Norman’s mother’s mummified body and screams.

At the beginning of chapter sixteen, time jumps forward to give us the resolution of how all of the cars and bodies were found. We also get a psychological evaluation of Norman.

The last chapter is the only one we see from Norman’s mother’s point of view, once he has melded all his personalities into one, that of his mother.

I wonder if Bloch consciously set out to manipulate time in Psycho or if he set out to tell the story in a way that came naturally to him. I think the latter is true.

Works Cited:

Bloch, Robert. Psycho. New York: Tor Horror, 1959. Print