“It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV.” - Family Guy
As much as this line is used for comedic effect in “Family Guy” and considering how I have an extreme distaste for the approach the show as taken lately, that one particular line said in the opening theme song does have a point.
Many movies and television shows in the last few years have become more about sex and violence, something that was once taboo and is still rather uncomfortable to discuss in public conversation. The reason movies and television are able to get away with it is because the audience (hopefully) knows that what they’re watching isn’t real and can tell the difference between reality and fiction. That it’s merely fantasy that can’t hurt others.
What if the line between reality and fiction was so blurred that it was impossible to tell them apart? That is the main point of David Cronenberg’s 1983 film “Videodrome,” a film that exploits the hell out of sex and violence, but does so to convey a message about where society is going.
Max Renn (James Woods) is the president of CIVIC-TV, a television station that plays material that is looked down upon by most, from soft-core porn to violent torture. Max is looking for a new program to air which will bring in new audience members, and he believes that can come from a show called “Videodrome,” a plotless show is merely torture and murder of a different person every episode.
Max believes this is the future of television and immediately wants to air it on his channel. But as Max begins to watch more of “Videodrome” he begins to get strange hallucinations about torturing a woman he met and an odd hole appearing in his stomach. As Max begins to investigate further, he finds out that there may be more to “Videodrome” than he initially thought.
I should hate this movie. It’s merely gory and seemingly unnecessary violence mixed with disturbing imagery. But I can’t bring myself to say it’s a bad film, because “Videodrome” is a rare example where gore, violence, sex and disturbing images are necessary to the story and world of the film.
There’s a scene early on in the film where Max is on a talk show, discussing what he believes is point of his station. He starts off by saying that his station provides an outlet for many people who can’t find porn or torture any other way (this movie came out in the 1980s, so the internet didn’t exist yet). Max also says that what he does is a positive benefit to society, because he allows his viewers to live out their harmless fantasies or frustrations.
To me, this scene justifies the need for violence and sex and why I’m okay with it’s presence in this movie. That Max is helping society by letting them vent their sexual feelings without it getting in the way during their normal lives. He doesn’t do it for the money or because he just really loves porn and torture, but because this something that everyone experiences and he wants to make it easier for people.
As the film progresses, it becomes more of a cautionary tale about blurring the line between reality and fiction. That it’s easy to confuse the two with the abundance of television and media in our daily lives. Those with a strong moral constitution would be the ones to withstand in society, and the weaker ones would eventually die out.
What I really enjoy about this is how much more effective this message seems in today’s world. Television and social media sites putting out fiction every minute of every day, and often passing it off as the truth. This only blurs that line even more. As television and other media outlets attempt a more realistic approach, we are often left wondering what to really believe in.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about the movie, it would be the ending and how forced it felt. Until the last few confrontations, it was moving at a brisk pace and had a solid yet eerie tone about the uncertainty of events to come. The last few minutes just seem to be there to give some resolution to events that Max goes through. In this particular case, I don’t think resolution of these events needed to be there. With all the hallucinations, I think the ending would have worked better if it was a bit more ambiguous.
I should also say that this is not a film for everyone. There is much gore, violence and (well crafted) deaths that many people will find disturbing. This film was made by David Cronenberg, who you might know as the director of the 1986 film “The Fly” which still gives me nightmares about some of its images.
So if you’re not into that at all, then this movie is not for you. But if you enjoy a film that’s more of an interesting sci-fi commentary about sex and violence in our society, as well as a unique but well made narrative (for the most part), then I would suggest checking out “Videodrome.”
Final Grade: B+