The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. Rev. ed.


568 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3807-7
DDC 791.4302'33'92




Reviewed by Anna Migliarisi

Anna Migliarisi is an associate professor of Theatre Studies in the
Department of English, Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.


The films of David Cronenberg continue to exert in their proclivity for
the strange and disorienting a fascination among popular consumers and
dedicated interest from a reach of feminist, psychoanalytic, Marxist,
cultural-studies, and especially postmodernist or proto-postmodernist
scholars. The prevailing literature would see in Cronenberg something
“that seemed particularly symptomatic of the age, an idiosyncratic but
acute reflection of contemporary perspectives and anxieties.”

Following a persuasively contrary line of thought, William Beard
distinguishes Cronenberg as a “modernist” artist all too sensitive
to the terrifying conditions of a new age, reminiscent of premodernist
writers like Coleridge and Poe and modernist ones such as Kafka and
Sartre. Cronenberg’s body of work, moreover, bears all the essential
features and status of an “authorial cinema.” It is on these
multifarious threads on which Beard anchors his highly meticulous and
thoroughly accessible study of Cronenberg’s feature films, organized
chronologically into 15 chapters from Stereo (1969) through eXistenZ
(1999) to Spider (2002)—a revised and expanded edition of his seminal
earlier publication. Beard’s point of departure is the goings-on “in
the films,” and his central preoccupation the “huge moral and
ethical struggles underlying [their] surface” illustrating the
developing “human cost of transgression.” That cost, Beard argues,
rebounds inevitably on the central (male) protagonist, rendering him an
ethical and biological “monster” in his own eyes and in the extreme
stage of the metamorphosis, a self-loathing suicidal
monster-melancholiac. This self-reflexive depiction of the male
protagonist’s terrifying progression, put side by side by Beard to
“something like artistic creation,” is a consciously marked
development in Cronenberg’s cinematic vision, emerging in full force
in Videodrome (1982) and subsequent films. That Beard’s analysis is
lucid, carefully researched, and thoughtfully argued comes as no

Dispensing with the standard filmographies and histories of production,
areas amply covered in existing works, the overall design and substance
of The Artist as Monster can hardly fail as an insightful, instructive,
and essential point of reference to the subject of Cronenberg’s
inimitable filmic creations.


Beard, William., “The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. Rev. ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,