Fantastic Fest 2012
By Anna Bielak | September 23, 2012
With Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg finally has his directorial debut on the big screen. He develops a story akin to stories that his father used to convey. Antiviral’s plot is composed of body, skin and genetic issues; it is a thriller that could have its roots in celebrities’ horrifying dreams; it is startling, yet minimalistic in a way. Antiviral is a bizarre creature. However, beauty is always freakish, isn’t it?
My first impression of the film was rather ambivalent. I liked many little things about the plot, yet I wrote that “I cannot consider Brandon Cronenberg to be a fully-fledged artist. He is more like a maturing boy who is halfway to the doorstep, yet he is still turning back, checking to see if he is traveling in the right direction.” (Read Anna’s full review of Antiviral.) After a brief chat with Cronenberg at Cannes 2012, shall we be more convinced that he knows where he’s going?
Anna Bielak: Can you tell me something about the genesis of this film?
Brandon Cronenberg: I started writing the script in 2004. I was incredibly sick at that time. I was in a state of delirium, haunted by obsessive dreams that there was something in my body that belonged to somebody else. That idea made me really sick… On the other hand, it proves that strangely intimate connections may arise between people thanks to their physique. Afterwards it seemed to be a good metaphor to discuss celebrity culture. I would not be surprised if there were many people who would want to get a disease if it belongs to the objects of their obsessions. One of the central metaphors in Antiviral is as being a part of that culture, we become that disease sooner or later. My attitude towards all of this is critical and satirical. Our culture can be incredibly grotesque, even if it is fascinating. Moreover, I believe that the need of tearing oneself apart is a broader human impulse to eviscerate. This is something very common nowadays in our culture, but at the same time it is an older impulse than we can imagine.
AB: Your father is also interested in those kinds of body matters. Is this fascination sort of a family thing?
BC: [Laughs]] Well, it probably is a family thing. You know, we share genes, David it is my father, he raised me, so I think we just share some interests… Yet, my father was very busy during the Antiviral production; he was finishing The Dangerous Method and started working on Cosmopolis at that time, so he was never on my set. Moreover, I never really watched my father’s films when I was a kid. The body we have is such a basic aspect of our existence, that you should be interested in it. Besides, it is me who likes the idea that somebody could consider disease as a stronger and more intimate connection between people that even sex. Who can see the things from that perspective? Everyone is obsessed in some way with others. It is more realistic than unimaginable.
AB: The idea for this film had its birth in 2004, back then it was a science-fiction film… Have you found, during those passing years, that our society has changed?
BC: Well, Sarah Michelle Gellar once said — probably in some sort of TV talk show — that she was sick and she would get all audience infected. Her statement made the audience cheer. I thought, oh shit, we need to release this film this year or it will be totally outdated! [Laughs] Antiviral was meant to be a caricatural portrait of the society, but it soon occurred to me that it is only a slightly grotesque one. What kind of other research have I done? Actually, I spoke to my doctor. I started to watch celebrity TV more than ever and read pop-magazines.
AB: Do you consider celebrities to be tragic figures?
BC: Not necessarily. I think that celebrity characters are completely removed from real life. Celebrities are just cultural constructs we make by taking out images of people we like. Those celebrities are fabrications only based on people. Therefore, those constructs are immortal. Their existence has really nothing to do with life or death of actual human beings. I didn’t realize to what extent it is really happening. Now, I have become the kind of person who is turning into a pure image that everybody else has. I am a little bit afraid of it –I am totally antisocial. [Laughs]
AB: What about the casting then? You chose the best actors I can imagine for these roles.
BC: Well, I just wanted to work with people whom I really like. [Laughs] Caleb Landry Jones was introduced to me by his agent. My producer agreed that he is an extremely interesting actor who has the potential to create magnetizing characters. He is able to do anything on the screen, it is truly fascinating. The role of Hannah Geist was also very interesting and challenging for the actress. Sarah Gadon as Hannah is all around, but mostly as an image. Therefore we needed someone who could be both believable as the biggest celebrity in the world and also someone who would be an actress good enough to convey a real human being.
AB: I noticed that you are obsessed by the color white and clean frames. With that kind of background, the red streams of body fluids are more visible and bloody expressive.
BC: I felt it was a good way to focus the attention in the frame. The scenes at the clinic were shot with white backgrounds. What you focus on are the celebrity portraits in light boxes. You are immediately drawn to those faces, because there is literally nothing apart from them. Anything that is not white really pops out. Also there is a blood theme that runs through the film. I wanted to be very specific about what should attract the viewer’s attention. I wanted to control, more or less, the eye of the audience.
AB: Do you think that you have already found your cinematic style?
BC: I don’t know, we’ll see what will happen. I hope I will be fortunate enough to make second film. I have a few ideas for it. However, I hated the idea of getting into film for a long time, because of my preconceptions and encounters with people who were certain that I must love cinema and I am dreaming of taking my father’s steps to enter the business. Fortunately, I finally realized that those thoughts were nothing more than bad reasons for not making something I would really like to do.
AB: Did you have any plan B at that time?
BC: I don’t think so. I was working in a coffee shop… I feel insane now. I feel that it is an honor that I am here. I simply do not deserve this. [Laughs.] I started thinking about me as a director when I was about twenty four years old. Before that, since I was a kid, I dreamed of being a novelist. I was a bibliophile. Later I was doing video arts, playing in a punk band with my friends and I was too scattered to focus on one thing. However, when you are making a film, you need to collect images, music and narration and finally it all turns into one piece of art.