Terror in a Snowsuit

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In his book The Artist as Monster: The Films of David Cronenberg, William Beard discusses how The Brood delves into family dynamics and the ambiguity of childhood memories.  Was Nola really abused by her mother, or did she abuse herself and then manufacture her mother's participation?  He also discusses the fear of the female body, particularly, the fear of the female body's ability to create life.  He also brings up interesting ideas about the shift of power from men to women, something that was relatively new (maybe) in 1979.  Nola's father, Barton, is ineffectual and weak, blustering about kicking some ass while at the same time incapacitating himself with alcohol to the point where a tiny creature in a onesie can bash his head in.  Frank, Nola's husband, tries to be proactive but is hampered by the legal system and his own inability to face the seriousness of his wife's condition and the trauma she's suffered.

 

One thing that stood out to me about this film was the shift of power to the helpless victim.  Nola births tiny children of rage, who exact vengeance for real (or imagined) slights against those she is incapable of defending herself against.

 

First on the list is her mother, a heavy drinker (at least, when we see her) who may or may not have beaten her daughter.  The film also highlights issues with childhood memories.  How reliable are our memories of that time?  Have you ever visited a place you remember from when you were a kid, and found it tinier, dustier, and much more mundane than it had been in your mind?  What if we also manufactured the memories of hurts and slights from adults in the same way?  In The Brood, Cronenberg manages to capture that feeling of helplessness a child feels in an adult world.  Her "rage children" exact the revenge that Nola herself couldn't.

 

From her father to the teacher who has invaded her home, Nola's personified rage does what Nola can't.  Civilized Nola would not be able to bludgeon her daughter's teacher to death, but the "bad kids" she births have no compunctions about performing their pastel snow-suited destruction.

 

By comparison, Candice (Frank and Nola's daughter) represents the helplessness of a child in jeopardy.  It's interesting that Cronenberg wrote this movie in part as a reflection of his own divorce and custody issues, since we see how traumatic the events are on Candice.  At the end of the movie, the blisters on Candice's arms hint that perhaps she is discovering her own power, and point toward a future where her own repressed rage may boil over.  As Beard points out, though, Candice is virtually indistinguishable from Nola's brood, showing how sometimes those we perceive as powerless actually are not.

 

While some of the action in The Brood is a bit dated ("Let him go--can't you see he's drunk?"), the underlying themes are very thought-provoking and have a lot of power, even today.

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2 Comments

William Beard is weird.

As I watched _The Brood_ (which came out the year I was born, mind you), I kept hoping for the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to come out. They would have gone crazy over the "rage children" in pastel snowsuits.

Also, if anything, I think women suffer because of what little power they have in this 1979 view of society.

Mike Arnzen said:

The campiness that Natalie is pointing out is clearly there; but then again, our dreams and nightmares would be just as weird and campy if they were put on screen. Horror always risks this kind of silliness... and when children or childhood are the main issues, it gets even weirder. There may be psychological reasons for this (see "the return of the repressed" issue in "The Uncanny," coming soon to a theater near you).

I think you discuss Beard's essay really thoughtfully here; the issues of family, power, and 'helplessness' -- transformed into its Other, 'rage' -- are all very real issues that writhe under the superficial realities of the nuclear family. Are we to feel sorry for Candice, or does the 'power' she have at the end signify something else? Does she represent, perhaps, a social movement of some kind?

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