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Andrew Fish

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The Day I Finally Understood David Cronenberg

Posted: 06/12/2012 2:40 pm

When I read the first review of Cosmopolis after its premiere at Cannes last month, I remembered that I still had this unpublished interview with the director that really should see the light of day. I figure it's never too late for a David Cronenberg story, so here it is.

I met with him last October during press time for A Dangerous Method, the story of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein in their younger years as Freud was grooming Jung to take his place as top dog in the fledgling field of psychoanalysis. In preparing for the interview, I'd planned to talk to Cronenberg about Jung's move into mysticism, and delve into a few of the spiritual concepts that the psychiatrist wove into his theories. Because of my own attraction to coincidences and synchronicities -- in addition to the film's tending toward Jung as the protagonist -- I thought that Cronenberg might harbor at least some affinity for the Swiss doctor's otherworldly ideas. Not only was this not the case, but being a fan of the director's work I really should have known better.

The sharp turn in our conversation took place toward the beginning of the interview when I mentioned how each character in the film respectively represented the ego, superego, id, and reality.

"You have to say it's kind of an amazing coincidence that it has a perfect Freudian structure," he noted, "because it is historically accurate. It's not like we forced it into some scheme."

"What would Jung say if he heard you talking about coincidence?" I asked.

"He would say there are no coincidences, and I'd say, 'You're quite wrong.' Because, you see, I part company with Jung at a certain point, philosophically," he replied. "As a card-carrying existentialist, I say, 'No, there is only coincidence.'"

Call me a slow learner, but it took Cronenberg saying it to my face for me to finally understand his body of work. His universe of the frightening and impossible, as portrayed in The Fly or eXistenZ, has focused on ideas like the merging of humans with technology and not on eternal souls or the hereafter. And his efforts in the realm of realism like Dead Ringers, A History of Violence, and Eastern Promises -- and Cosmopolis, as I understand it -- all focus on the intensity of the here and now, and the apprehension for what may lie around the very earthly corner. Any thoughts of a mystical shade to his work were projections of my own psychological biases.

"I'm an atheist. I think that we are the body and when we die, we are done, that's it, it's oblivion, it's something we have to accept," Cronenberg said. "To live the authentic life, you accept this reality, and it doesn't mean you're depressive, it doesn't mean you're terrified of death. To me, it just means you are living a real life. You are accepting the reality of it. It's obviously not the way most people live, but I think it is a way to live that suits me, anyway. Let's put it that way. So, if you're going to do horror, then that is where the horror is -- rather than the supernatural, rather than ghosts. Because, to me, the idea of ghosts is an evasion, a cop-out. It means that you can live after you're dead. It's scary, but on the other hand it's actually not scary. It's scarier to think that when you're dead there are no ghosts."

Upon thinking about films like Shivers, Videodrome, and Naked Lunch, with their sexual symbolism and intimate physicality, it's clear that Cronenberg is far more Freud than Jung. For the filmmaker, the body and mind are the sum total, and Jung's archetypes -- "which are really godlike figures that live in what [Jung] called the 'land of the dead,' who commune with you when you're asleep and put dreams into your head," as Cronenberg explained -- simply aren't part of the equation.

"I just don't think it's an accurate representation of what it is to be a human being, frankly," he related. "That is not to say that Jungian analysis is not useful for some people. I know of people who have benefited from both Freudian and Jungian analysis, so I'm not discrediting it. I'm talking about my personal relationship to it."

Having experienced coincidences so improbable that they feel like magic, I found it fascinating to talk with someone who applies no other meaning to them than their existence, itself. However much I'd thought it would be neat to delve into mysticism and spirituality with David Cronenberg, it was just as enlightening to hear how he lives without them.

To read the full interview, visit www.iconicinterview.com.

For more David Cronenberg, visit www.andrew-fish.com for an interview with the director from 2008.

 
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