The following article was published in N-SPHERE Omega.
Stereo is a blurred vision of a telepath’s commune. Nothing could sound weirder than this, but Cronenberg delivers to the viewer a witty rendition of what could be an insight of the human mind. Not only considered in its neurological or psychological sense, but also probing the great beyond of the unconscious, the deepest roots of the Self, so subtle and so ephemeral. That underworld has been often visited often David Cronenberg throughout his career, in a descending spiralling pathway that counts on its steps masterpieces like The Fly, Scanners or Crash, among others. I figure that his movies could be considered as a peculiar itinerary because of the common experiences shared by the characters, all of them embarked on a journey that touches the shores of hidden realities.
The concept of an unconscious mind developed in western culture when artists and philosophers started to touch the deep chords which were more visceral than reason or aesthetic beauty. The zone where these chords resound is covered by forces connected to sexuality and primal instincts. Our flesh is the ultimate »weight« that takes us back to earth when the mind starts to become more abstract: flesh sends »its« loud cry, making people aware of its existence. Neglected or not respected flesh reacts to the human mind, giving birth to oddities. In The Fly and Scanners we could see scientists playing with bodies. The results are someway extreme: in the first case we could see the deterioration of flesh stripping down man to his mere biologic support, in the second case the overpowered minds of telepaths have a more relevant consequence on the faculty to manipulate the integrity of other bodies. The mind that could »swim upstream« until it reaches the inner-self, attains the power to manipulate reality, therefore distorting other people’s lives, until the extreme exit.
The balance between the mind and the altered body causes an instability that could not be easily regulated: one of the most notable examples in Cronenberg filmography is Crash: struggling and pushing the limits of the body excites the mind, in a lethal and inuring imbalance.
From the first images we are introduced to an unusual kind of documentary, with several narrating voices revealing us information about experiments taking place inside a palace. Places are symbols, the zone where the movie unravels is built out of concrete, representing a sort of »brutal« introduction to the mind and visions of man, the modern man (or even the post-modern, if the »post-modern« term itself makes any sense to you). The filming is made in an amateur style: the viewer’s attention should be directed towards the development of the plot, well beyond the visual aspects of the movie.
Cybernetic experiments are conducted by Dr. Stringfellow with eight subjects, who undergone brain surgery (controlled by a computer) in order to develop telepathic abilities. We are then informed about the development of psychic addictions between individuals. Psychic aspects are also entwined with physical ones, and the knots of the net created between the telepaths give birth to manifolded sexual desires. The communication level becomes deeper: it goes to the origin of memories and emotion, and given the fact that reality could be considered a »logos«, the movie itself tries to show peculiar aspects of language.
The retro-viral enemy of Logos is language
Our »vision« is translated by language to other people, and language could be affected like a living being. Saussure explained the arbitrariness of language: the connection between the Signified (the object) and the Signifier (the word related to that object) is not logical, nor reasoned. This feature undermines the foundations of man’s rationality: the Eraclitan Logos is so inherently poisoned. This poison circulates in the blood of the telepaths, mixing with the impulses of flesh and crumbling down the structure of dialogue. What is latent on our daily experiences could be magnified in this experimental movie. These eight subjects become like messed up cells that cannot longer communicate. They are obsessively seeking for the satisfaction of reaching the meaning of their actions. Their ability to overcome the Signifier, as a part of communication, lets them see a crazy world of random elements moving in a Brownian motion.
The director’s choice of plot made it clear that he has a marvellous obsession with videocameras, television-sets (as seen on Videodrome and other movies made by him). Here the crisis of art and arts’ symbols produces a new electronic language that has shapes into addiction and dominance: the stronger telepath could assume the leading role, and couple with the weaker one, as in real life stronger individuals could shape the mind of others through ideas that spread like viruses (or memes, as Dawkins called them). Throughout the years, media developed to its full capability to shape minds: the Society of the Spectacle of the situationists’ has got a cancer, and this cancer is called infotainment.
I mentioned Situationism here to also point out the fact that experiments conducted in the Academy of Erotic Enquiry could be considered a way to discover new mediums for exploiting the desires of the masses. It is a sort of futuristic deviance of a society determined to obtain the complete control not only of the collective imagination, but also of minds and the bodies of the »citizens«. It is not simple as a chemical experiment, where often knowing the reagents we know where the reaction is heading to. As mentioned previously, the delicate equilibrium between mind and body, expanded now to a bigger level – the »collective unconscious« – body of the masses«, if touched in an invading and abusive way, it could react and bring the fall of the complex.
As time passes, media gets under the skin of the consumer: we are seeing a hybrid of human bodies with electric devices. Today life without social networking, without knowing each others’ thoughts through facebook statuses or single tweets means disability of relationships, at least for most of western-land-inhabitants.
The scene that sums up everything is the one portraying a telepath drilling its way in one another telepath’s brain: it represents the desperate Spectacular attempt to implant ideas (Memes) into an already formed system. The brain has got plasticity, but similar to all biologic layers, this plasticity could not be deformed beyond a certain amount of stress, without involving the death of Logos and of the physical body.
Stereo was ahead of its time (1969): the telepaths’ communication difficulties anticipate the use of the internet and mobile communication issues. Pervasive even if often necessary. It was an odd experiment, nowadays is the field of experience in which we are diving into, submerged in a massive fluxus of data. My hope is that humanity could have more success than the subjects of the experiment, using this »new« way of communication without becoming addicted to it, and losing vital parts of our intelligence like the telepaths lose parts of their
photo | David Cronenberg. 1969. Stereo. Filmstill.
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