It’s not uncommon for people afflicted with mental illnesses to report feelings of paranoia, isolation or a detachment from society. It can be a struggle to exist for people with severe cases. Not all mental illnesses are the same of course, but keeping the ideas of insularity and paranoia in, well…mind, they’re areas that help to drive David Cronenberg’s 1981 film Scanners in a far more intimate way.
The film is essentially sci-fi horror which deals with familiar themes that make a good sci-fi flick. Big corporations, a good guy vs. a bad guy, a group of underground resistance fighters, technology, chemical drugs, an impending war and some intense special effects all feature in the film in unique and important ways. The main character Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is a derelict looking individual who cannot control the ‘voices’ in his head which helps to convey the themes of being an outsider to the world due to suffering from an affliction he doesn’t understand or can’t control without chemical assistance. Micheal Ironside as his counterpart, the insidious Darryl Revok, is motivated by destruction, working clinically and methodically to achieve his nefarious goals.
What helps make Scanners such a highlight of Cronenberg’s filmography is the alien and bleak urban scapes that the film is mostly set in. Apparently the film had to be shot in a very improvised way, with the hunt for shooting locations to be undertaken daily. Maybe this adds to the atmosphere of the final vision, with a stark, cold industrial and almost low fi cyberpunk vibe permeating the whole film. While Scanners certainly looks like it was filmed in 1981, it doesn’t always seem like it. It’s almost like an idealized version of 1981, with more futuristic elements incorporated into the film and accepted as normal, everyday occurrences. This is similar to Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1965 film Alphaville, which is considered a sci fi film but was shot completely on the streets of Paris, utilizing the architecture of the city to create an otherworldly, futuristic visual experience. These two films prove that you don’t need a big budget to create a believable futuristic sci fi film, the real world is already the future if you can see it.
Scanners is a film that doesn’t need too much of an introduction, many sci fi or horror fans are undoubtedly already familiar with it. But if you haven’t seen it, you shouldn’t watch it with a headache…it could have explosive results.