Schmeerguntz + The Brood
Alexandra João Martins
October 8, 2023

The Darker Side

What The Brood (1979) shares with David Cronenberg’s latest film Crimes Of The Future (2022) is its constant inquiry into the limits of the body, or the lack thereof. Of the visceral body, like meat, but also of the faces that represent subjectivity and ego. In the latter film, we watch the constant deformation and reconstitution of post-human, cyborg bodies in an aseptic atmosphere dictated by technological development, in which desire has become clinical, or, more precisely, surgical. Meanwhile, in The Brood, the deformation of bodies — which is also, as we will see, their gestation — is the visible expression of the latent pulsations of the psychological drama — “human, too human” — experienced by Nola (Samantha Egger). Institutionalised, isolated and subjected to experimental psychotherapy in the famous clinic of Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), Nola receives regular visits from her daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds), who leaves these visits with scratches on her body. In parallel, a series of murders within the family are investigated by Nola’s estranged husband, also Candice’s father, Frank (Art Hindle). Made following the filmmaker’s own litigious divorce and, therefore, supposedly auto-biographical, the film reflects certain social trends, such as the ongoing increase in the number of divorces and the use of alternative therapies, as well as philosophical trends, such as the anti-psychoanalysis movement of the 1970s — Capitalism and Schizophrenia I: Anti-Oedipus, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, was published in 1972.

In The Brood, “killing the father” or “killing the mother” is no longer a metaphor for taking the place of a dominating other and/or object of desire, a projection known as the Oedipus or Electra complex, depending on the sex of the parent/child. As each of Nola’s childhood traumas is revealed — namely the mother’s physical abuse and the father’s indifference — a corresponding transfigured body is also revealed, multiplying autonomously (without phallic aid) through the gestation of small, disfigured creatures — the titular brood — asexual and without bellybuttons, that is, without umbilical cords. In the absence of a father and indeed a mother, these bodies, formed exogenously in water sacs similar to eggs, are not children. They are the by-product of a traumatic childhood, of Nola’s traumatic childhood, which is a trap that her daughter, Candice, too, will not escape. After all, children are also Children of the Fear (the Brazilian title for the film) that precedes them.

This is what is seen when the therapy takes on form, when it acts: an untethered violence generated from inside to out in a total profanation of the body (which, by tradition, always refers to the body of Christ). First, as a ghost, when she wears a long white blanket, then, as a monster, when she finally shows Frank the open wound in her stomach, later ripping it with her teeth — Nola acts at the boundaries of humanity, where it is still possible to recognise the woman-subject, especially in the face that haunts in close-up, but in which the body is also deformed and evil, forming a monster-object. Indeed, “monster” and “mostrar” (“to show”) share an etymological root, and Cronenberg, like Nola, has no inhibitions: we see crushed faces, bloodbaths, screams of panic. Everything competes in this sensation of the “unheimlich” that runs through the film, translated most closely as “infamiliar”. Everything strangely familiar, like Candice’s conspicuous red jogging suit, which stands out against the snowy Canadian landscape, or the voluptuous red carpets that herald the bloody finale. In a masterful scene, Cronenberg reveals bit-by-bit the partial objects generated by Nola, in shots that show fleeting details of these indiscernible little creatures, as well as of the hammer that will smash the head of her mother, Candice’s grandmother (Nuala Fitzgerald).

The darker side of the female figure, both seductive and enigmatic, is, in the end, the principle anchoring point of this story. The same is true of the opening images of Schmeerguntz (1965), by Dorothy Wiley and Gunvor Nelson. With an overlay of a pregnant woman’s bellybutton and the surface of the moon, the directors indicate the mutation suffered by the body and allude metaphorically to this unknown place where desire seeks to land (this was the peak of the space race, and Apollo 11’s voyage would take place just a few years later). Another parallel emerges through the inventive match cut between a baby’s anus and the plughole of a kitchen sink. With vanguard approaches and a frenetic editing rhythm, in this “sandwich” of images from advertising campaigns we see the figure of the woman, idealised by North American society of the time, as the formal flipside of The Brood, but not only. In these images, the woman emerges as a stereotyped figure of the home and maternity — from housework to make-up — as a body tamed by the institutions of family and society, which the editing liberates through the accumulation of irony. Conversely, in The Brood, the tension instilled by the editing is liberated by the expansion of Nola’s body. To deform Donna Haraway’s expression, it’s reason enough to say that our monsters “are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert”.

Alexandra João Martins

Licenciada em Ciências da Comunicação, mestre em Estudos Artísticos pela Universidade do Porto, e doutoranda em Estudos

Artísticos na FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa, tendo sido bolseira da FCT. Escreveu para diversas publicações. Colaborou e integrou os comités de seleção dos festivais Curtas Vila do Conde e Porto/Post/Doc. Em 2017, foi selecionada para o Talent Press Rio e, em 2018, comissariou a exposição Como o Sol/Como a Noite, com o apoio da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, no âmbito da retrospetiva dedicada a António Reis e Margarida Cordeiro no Porto/Post/Doc.

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
4000-101 Porto

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