Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Take My Wife, Please

It never quite struck me until my latest viewing of The Brood just how brutal it is that Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) strangles his estranged wife to death. Not that I normally take acts of strangulation lightly but I guess I always accepted Frank's murder of Nola (Samantha Eggar) as a horrible but necessary act. After all, he's trying to safely extract his kidnapped five-year-old daughter from the Somafree Institute where she's in the bunk house of the deadly Brood and the only way to stop the Brood from killing Candice (Cindy Hinds) is to stop their "mother" who is psychically willing them to attack. Frank isn't really the killing type, I don't think, but Nola really forces Frank's hand in the matter. Oh, excuse me - I mean forces his hands.

Cronenberg's films have always been lauded for thier precognitive acumen and philosophical depth. But amid all the provocative, esoteric ideas that his films have offered, Cronenberg says something very simple and true in The Brood - an observation born not from intellectual study but from bitter experience:

On that count, Frank worries that Candice has already been screwed up before she's even six. Sadly, all evidence suggests that he's right.

In his 1981 book Cult Movies, critic Danny Peary fumed at The Brood's final sight of Candice, writing "...It makes me angry that Cronenberg ends the film by showing welts on [Candice's] arm (signifying that her rage is building up in her just as it did in her insane mother when she was a child) - why can't contemporary filmmakers ever let us leave the theater thinking it's over and all is well?" I don't know what movie Peary was watching but I'd like to know how the Hell all could possibly be well after the events of The Brood.

That said, I always went along with it when Frank and Candice drive off at the end. Sure, Candice's trauma isn't something that a bowl of chicken soup is going to remedy but at least she has her one sane parent so some good days might lie ahead. This time around, though, I couldn't help but think that Frank and Candice's time together is surely almost at an end. Frank himself might know this but doesn't let on.

The whole murdering your child's mother thing...even if the police never show up at his door asking questions (and I can't imagine that they wouldn't), it's still a thing, you know? And that's a shame because, as The Brood shows, Frank really tried to be a good dad.


Ivan said...

Jeff, I like what you're saying here. I, too, have been annoyed by Mr. Peary's remarks (although I read and re-read his Cult Movies books incessantly when I was a kid), especially when (and correct me if my memory is wrong) Peary makes note that Cronenberg's script/film of The Brood was completely influenced by his bad divorce and subsequent child-custody case. I think it's shockingly honest of Cronenberg to acknowledge (via the welts) that even his own kid may be affected by its parents' divorce.

Arbogast said...

Given that Cronenberg's movies, even up until that point, are principally concerned with evolution rather than preservation or restoration, no one should have been surprised by the final frames of The Brood. I think Peary had a very emotional response to the film - I like the fact that he's so nakedly devastated by the outcome, it's honest and really the kind of reaction you want from a viewer - and let's not forget that was a very long time ago.

Of course, the end is meant to be provocative - we can't know how Candice will evolve and we're left to be tortured by our own dark expectations. But that also means we can interpret freely, so I reject what I would read as a glib sting-in-the-tail (that she will end up monstrous, like her mother) for a somewhat qualified happy ending, with Candy maturing into a complicated, maybe even damaged adult who nonetheless is fully in charge of managing her nonconformity. So maybe some college boyfriends got the worst of it... she's married now, with children, and her own kids are driving her cuh-ray-zee!

Jeff Allard said...

Ivan, all three volumes of Peary's Cult Movie series were indispensible to me as a budding film fan. They didn't include as many titles as Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film but I loved that so many films that I knew only through reputation were given such lengthy, thoughtful essays. That said, as I began to see more and more of the films he discussed, I found that I often disagreed with his viewpoints.

In the case of The Brood, I felt like he was attacking the ending as though it were meant as a cheap set-up for a sequel rather than an ending that stayed true to the reality of child abuse.

Arbo, speaking of an adult Candy, during this viewing of The Brood I was thinking that in real-life that character would be pushing forty now - and that she'd probably be exactly the kind of woman I'd find attractive! Damaged women - they're all the rage!

Dom Coccaro said...

I love the fact that you don't just post simple reviews. It's one of the reasons why this is my favorite blog. Another great read, Jeff.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks Dom - I appreciate the support!