The Brood by David Cronenberg

I didn’t quite know what to expect when watching The Brood for the first time. I had the general gist of the storyline, but I really didn’t expect to get so much more than just entertainment from the viewing.

One of the first things that stood out to me was how the first person we see on the screen is Dr. Raglan. His personality, even while role playing and treating his patient, is overpowering. It almost seems that this will be his story. And it sort of is…but not really.

I was overwhelmed by the images of purity in the movie, especially since it was supposed to be a horror movie. There was the pure white snowy backdrop at the institute (although I don’t think there is anything innocent at all about snow since my first experience with the ominous stuff in January, it is a symbol for purity), the guileless, wide eyes of Nola and the soft spoken Ruth Mayer who had the children’s well being as her only focus. There were also the little blond children, who couldn’t possibly have represented anything bad, even while they looked otherwise like little monster monkeys.

To each of these was an opposite image. Juliana was dark haired, she drank and smoked and she had many lovers whose names could not be remembered. Ruth carried the dichotomy within her own actions, as she felt Frank out as a potential romantic partner even while the object of her affection was a married man. And all but one of those little blonde angels were actually murderers with blood on them.

So I completely understand the shocking scene at the end where Nola gives birth. First of all, up until then, the most grisly scenes were limited to blood pooling beneath dead bodies. But all of a sudden, the screen was filled with a picture that should have been awesome for the act it portrayed, but was instead the ultimate shock because it was…somehow off. Mothers in childbirth are not supposed to be as calmly angry and vengeful as Nola was. And they definitely aren’t supposed to give birth on the outside of their bodies. And the heartwarming moment when she cleans her newborn off with her tongue, well, that generally doesn’t happen in the human childbirth bed, either.

But when Nola did that, she concluded her crossover from innocent victim to inhuman monster. And then it was okay for Frank to kill her. The other murders actually followed this suite of punishment for the bad people, although their transgressions were much more subtle than Nola’s. Kill the bad mother who actually wanted to have a life for herself outside of her child and estranged husband. The potential adulteress should be killed, too. And the drunken man who was not able to protect his daughter or wife? He’s got to go, too.

A couple of other points were not so neatly sewn up for me, though. I don’t think it a stretch to see Candice as the fruit of Nola’s rage just as the others. Could she have felt caged in a marriage where her mental decline was ignored and treated like a pesky obstacle? Since Candice was born into that relationship, would she really be so different from her monster siblings?  Maybe this is one of the reasons for the “pronounced and rpeatd comparisons of Candice and the brood children” mentioned by William Beard.

And what about the basis for Dr. Raglan’s research? I don’t know that it’s as farfetched as it seems. There was mention of “5 year olds with ulcers” in the movie. Would ulcers and cold sores be two of Dr. Raglan’s physical manifestations of rage/stress/frustration?

Beard, William. THE ARTIST AS MONSTER: The Films of David Cronenberg.  Toronto, Canada: U of Toronto Press, 2001.

“The Brood.” Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar. 1979. DVD. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 2003.

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About rjjoseph

I am a Texas based writer who must produce words to exorcise the voices that will never quiet until I give them their due.
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One Response to The Brood by David Cronenberg

  1. Mike Arnzen says:

    A thoughtful and thorough response to the issues in the film! The questions you raise at the end are all quite sound. Beard himself concurs with much of logic. I think Cronenberg takes some of the psychological concepts to their excessive and absurd ends to create the monstrosity in the story; but perhaps, like all horror stories, the ludicrous representations we are given are really just expressions of true feelings, made large. Nola’s ‘brood’ are projections of her rage; parents, too, project their emotions onto their children, who are vessels for it, no? I found the ending quite poignant!

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