Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg; Cinematographer: Mark Irwin)
“It’s a door. It keeps people out. People don’t know it’s a door because it’s the eye,” says Darryl Revok, the murderous villain of David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi horror epic Scanners, in which a group of people have developed the ability to infiltrate the minds of others through a process called scanning. When villain Darryl Revok begins his killing spree, a government organization called ConSec brings in timid hobo and novice scanner Cameron Vale to harness his ability and serve their means of taking down Revok. The operative concept here is that ConSec is brainwashing a person whose primary ability is brainwashing. Wait, what!? That’s what we call a game-changer, folks.
At its core, Scanners is simply the story of one man, born with a predisposition that society rejects on a search for self-discovery. Which brings me to my next point: Scanners is gay. That’s right, the movie is an entire 103 boob-less minutes as Cameron Vale struggles with his homosexuality. Sure, there’s a female lead in Kim Obrist, but Vale’s connection with her never gives off the slightest inkling of romantic energy.
ConSec, attempting to preserve conservative security, trains Vale to control his homosexual impulses by escorting him into a small room with another man. Vale is commanded to take control of this man’s mind and to raise his heart rate, but not too much. It’s a tug of war of pain and pleasure not unlike a sexual release, but with the old white men in suits watching and dictating, the experience isn’t particularly gratifying. In fact, much of Scanners has to do with these penetrating, voyeuristic moments. Not only can the titular characters get inside minds, the film is chocked full of surveillance videos, voyeuristic camera angles, and men spying on each other.
ConSec also tease Vale with a drug called Ephemerol designed to suppress the scanning power. Ephemerol, first administered to pregnant women, is also the root of the scanner’s existence, and becomes a seminal metaphor. The scanners crave this fluid to to quell their horny, undisciplined mind scanning powers.
In the end, Vale discovers that ConSec – unmistakably representative of a heterocentric society, and I believe parallels can be drawn with today’s Conservative Party as well – is not what they say they are, and confronts Revok on his own. Alone, Revok, bearer of the “eye of insight” offers a partnership with Vale. He also reveals in all his wisdom that he and Vale are “brothers.” Oh, whatever, movie, these dudes are gay! When Vale refuses, Revok threatens to “get inside that head and suck everything out”. A real butch move if you ask me. And it’s game on, people. The two fight Cain and Able style. Revok is stronger. He’s long embraced his own homosexuality, hence the door to “keep the other people out”. Therefore, it’s no surprise when he takes control like a real top. Cameron’s veins begin pulsating, engorged with blood. Revok proves too powerful and Cameron bursts into flames. Cameron sacrifices his body to invade Revok’s mind and he collapses into a hot pile of ash. While he is dying, per se, Cameron has had what we call a sexual awakening, a rebirth, and the two merge together into a union of men. Kim Obrist returns to find Cameron/Revok naked in the corner. “We’ve won, Kim.” He tells her with complete masculine confidence.
“Scanners: A climax that is literally mind blowing.” -TIME Magazine
While Cronenberg has never strayed from the controversial, I think it was especially bold in 1981 to make a film so heavily illuminating the sexual war that was blossoming, and backing the same sex lifestyle. We need more of these types of risks in 2012. The timing is perfect with the current state of civil rights. It may be the only thing that can save the sci-fi genre. I want my alien film backing same sex unions and kinky sex acts. Which reminds me, I need to get tickets to Prometheus.
(This post written by Ill Stills contributor, Daniel Eastman.)