The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg


469 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3569-8
DDC 791.43'0233'092




M. Wayne Cunningham is a past executive director of the Saskatchewan
Arts Board and the former director of Academic and Career Programs at
East Kootenay Community College.


William Beard is a professor of media studies at the University of
Alberta. In this scholarly study, he meticulously scrutinizes each of 13
films produced and directed by Toronto born filmmaker David Cronenberg,
beginning with the 1969 short film, Stereo, and ending with the 1996
feature, Crash. Beard’s thesis is that Cronenberg, as a powerfully
minor cinematic artist, has earned the respected designation of
“auteur” since his cinematic output “manifests an incredibly tight
and consistent group of subjects, themes and attitudes as well as an
identifiable style.” Through detailed textual analysis of each of
Cronenberg’s films, coupled with a supportive synthesis of the
prevailing scholarship about them, Beard traces the filmmaker’s
recurring obsessions with the darkest recesses of physical mutation and
disease, pathological sexuality, addictive hallucinations, lustful
female domination, sadistic perversions, and medical and scientific
experiments gone awry. His exegesis also uncovers Cronenberg’s
propensity for presenting these themes and subjects in controversial,
shocking, and graphically horrific ways—hence the depiction of “the
artist as monster.”

From his study of Cronenberg’s cinematic output, Beard contends that
the filmmaker has produced an “almost perfect masterpiece” in Dead
Ringers, an “uneven evocation of another artist’s world” in Naked
Lunch, and an “ambitious failure” in M. Butterfly. He proposes
further that the balance of Cronenberg’s movies to date—The Brood,
The Dead Zone, The Fly, Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, Stereo, and Crimes of
the Future—“by whatever scorekeeping method ... is a fine
achievement for any filmmaker.” Beard concedes that because Cronenberg
is still an active, productive artist, it is difficult to forecast what
his cinematic artistry will produce in the next 10 to 20 years. As the
body of his work develops, however, other scholars will undoubtedly
critique it. Hopefully, they will do so with as much acuity and
attention to detail as Professor Beard has shown in this volume.


Beard, William., “The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,