The fundamental question that Videodrome (1983 dir. David Cronenberg) is concerned with is a question that naturally arises from increased interaction between humans and machines: what are the limits of the human subject? Are the machines that human beings rely on effectively a part of humanity? In a world where the average American watches multiple hours of television a day is it fair to assume that the television has moved beyond simply being a source of entertainment and that it now can be considered a part of human beings no different from their own brains?
Max Renn, the protagonist is representative of an archetypal film or television audience. His constant urge to observe reflect the voyeurism inherent in any film audience. The camera itself moves through the movie like an unseen stalker, forcing the actual audience to approach the film with the same perverted intensity that Renn does. By making the audience to respond to the film the same way Renn responds to Videodrome, Chronenberg is exploring how persuasive film and television really are. The audience ironically considers how much of Renner’s thoughts are his own because of thoughts the film has planted in their minds.
In this light, some of the fear that Videodrome inspires is based around the realiziation that there is no functional difference to Renn whether his thoughts are his own or not. As Jack Creley’s Brian O’Blivion himself says, “there is nothing real outside of our perception of reality”. Good science fiction should examine questions of how changing technology would affect humankind, and Cronenberg’s is no exception. He is taking a critical look at the relationships between modern media and the very idea of human identity. The TV, Cronenberg implies, may as well physically be a part of the human brain.
The uncomfortable meshing of man and machine is expressed through the uncomfortable violation of Renn’s own body. The disgusting slit in his stomach that allows him to receive programming via VHS tapes is a physical representation of how television influences audiences. The sometimes gratuitous special effects Cronenberg employs become physical representations of the anxiety of losing personal individuality that permeate the film. The constant deforming and violation of the human form represents the same ideological defilement that occurs when human beings allow machines to become such an integral part of their everyday lives.
Ultimately Cronenberg’s film is both cautious and pessimistic. On one hand, he implores the audience to think critically about the effect of introducing media machines into such a large part of their lives but on the other hand he recognizes that it is pointless to attempt to differentiate the human and the machine. While the anxiety towards so drastically altering the human subject is well placed, it is pointless because there is absolutely nothing to be done to prevent the television from becoming an integral part of human thought. Videodrome is a rare film which uses the pure metaphysical pathos inherent to the medium of film to create a warning about how powerful that pathos really is.