Following in the footsteps of your father is never a meningeal task, especially when your father is acclaimed filmmaker David Cronenberg. The director of ‘Videodrome’ and ‘The Fly’ has strived to ensure that his nickname ‘The King of Venereal Horror’ has stayed true throughout his career. So with his feature film debut ‘Antiviral’, Brandon Cronenberg already had big shoes to fill.
Set in the not-too-distant future, Brandon’s ‘Antiviral’ tells of a society obsessed with celebrity culture. Troubled protagonist Syd March works at a clinic that sells illnesses harvested from celebrities to infatuated fans. The stage is set from the off – in a world of mundane white, the only colour comes from the vibrant lives of others; and in this case it’s those in the public eye. Syd finds himself infected with the disease that killed super-celebrity Hannah Geist, making him a target for fans and collectors alike.
There was once a time in human history when our idols were writers and artists, whose works were not only enough to gain our appreciation but were enough to immortalize the legacies’ of those talented individuals. By contrast, today’s society seems to hold focus on anyone in the public eye. And what’s more, it’s not just their work we’re interested in; it’s who they’re seeing, what they’re wearing, where they’ve been. We have come to a point where people are captivated by the innermost details of the celebrity lifestyle. For me, the question drawn from this film is not, are we too obsessed with celebrity culture? But instead, are we drawing too much attention to it? When we comment on these celebrity lifestyles, even if we’re judging those addicted to it; we subsequently become part of the ‘hype’. The last few years have brought about many works based upon our fame-consumed culture, most recently Sofia Coppolla’s ‘Bling-Ring’; centered upon teens breaking into celebrity’s homes and stealing their possessions. ‘Antiviral’ itself, though clearly a critique of these modern trends, may be as much a part of the problem as it is a solution.
The Internet has now provided our society with a whole new platform in the quest for fame. Through websites like Twitter and Youtube, people around the world can share their talents (or lack of) with an audience of millions. In the space of minutes, someone can record a video of themselves, upload it and spread it throughout the internet with little to no effort. There’s a real sense of constant self-promotion because in a world where almost everyone wants to be famous, the only way forward is to capitalize on your best (or worst) qualities. But this somewhat forced narcissism isn’t limited to those who are fame hungry; with websites like Linkedin the general public are promoting themselves for hope of career development. There’s seemingly a real chance of fame becoming a motivating factor in everything we do.
The real conundrum that ‘Antiviral’ is part of is one of morals and standards. When we have television, film and written word all focused upon the details of certain people’s lives, it’s difficult to judge whether we’re creating realistic role models for our generation and the generations to come. Since the days of Channel Four’s ‘Big Brother‘, British television screens have been dominated by reality TV, culminating in the likes of ‘Geordie Shore’ as seen every single week on MTV. With smart phones and the Internet, people can find out what a celebrity had for dinner at the touch of a button, it’s never been easier to obtain this kind of information. If we’re to be constantly exposed to people’s innermost details and flaws, what hope do the general public have of creating a balanced lifestyle of their own?
Having said all this, it’s difficult to come to any sort of solution. Fame, as understood nowadays, is as much about personality and lifestyle as it is about talent. Would Jay Z be as popular as he is without being married to Beyonce? Would Robert Downey Jr be the household name he has become without having conquered his drug addiction? It’s a tricky concoction when talent is entwined with character. At the same time, there are those who’ve gained fame without any real discernable talents. The aforementioned cast of ‘Geordie Shore’ achieved fame by getting drunk, trashing their homes and having sex with each other on camera. The show, which is itself mimicking it’s American equivalent ‘Jersey Shore’, has since spawned multiple shows of the same ilk - ‘The Valleys’, ‘Made In Chelsea’, ‘The Only Way Is Essex’, to name but a few. With more, similar shows on the horizon, it seems these programmes are only growing more popular.
So it seems that ‘Antiviral’ may have struck a nail on the head. In this film Cronenberg has brought to attention what could perhaps be inevitable in the future, a world where celebrity culture dominates over every aspect of our lives. Slow at times, with some clunky dialogue in parts; Brandon’s debut feature might not be the most engrossing movie you’ll see this year. However what it will do is make you ask yourself and those around you a crucial question: What on earth is going on with contemporary Western culture and what are we going to do about it?