Scanners (1981) (R)

David Cronenberg lives for those moments that don't make sense. He has said in interviews that his goal in making films is to destroy certain conceptions people may have about society...with transformations, usually bodily altercations. By disobeying the (supposedly pointless) unnamed laws of society, a person eventually dissolves.
This thought isn't quite so present in "Scanners" which could be Cronenberg's most cinematic and most thrilling movie. The film is much more about conspiracies, families, abilities, and lost love than any disobedience towards social rigor.
The film begins in a mall restaurant as homeless man Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) strays from table to table, eating people's leftover food. Two ladies point at him and mock him, calling him disgusting. The next thing you know both Cameron and one of the ladies are writhing in pain, apparently sharing a mental experience. Two GI-looking men in your stereotypical trench-coats notice Cameron and they (as well as the audience) pinpoint him as the psychic aggressor. They chase after him and shoot him with a tranquilizer.
The next thing he knows, Cameron is waking up in an abandoned warehouse with a mysterious Richard Attenborough lookalike. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan, the crowning achievement of "Scanners") is interested in the titular people. Scanners are those who are born with the special ability to scan and control other people's minds.
It's a shame that the best known scene in the film is now simply known as "the exploding head scene"; because that detracts from the mental anguish and insanity of the movie. Much of the movie is cerebral and that's what I appreciate most about it.
This film is the daddy of the "X-Men" movie franchise, yet we don't have to slog through any of Bryan Singer's gay rights commentary. These Scanners are just people with special "curiosities" and nothing more. Though most of the film is eaten up by an "on-the-run" format, we are never instructed to feel sorry for Cameron and company "just because" they're Scanners.
But wait, the plot thickens.
While demonstrating the possibility of using Scanners as a weapon, a company known as ConSec (for which Dr. Ruth works) encounters a problem. Renegade Scanner and the head of an underground community of Scanners, Darryl Revok uses his abilities to kill six men and then escapes the hands of justice.
ConSec want to get someone into the underground of Scanners and Cameron seems like just the person. They train him and send him off to battle with nary but a pat on the head.
What makes "Scanners" so compelling is its flagrant lack of explanations. There is a drug named Ephemeral which stops the side-effects of scanning, i.e., nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, etc.
We aren't given that much information on Ephemeral besides its purpose and approximately where it came from. Yet there are many moments of the film that make it great, perhaps the most obvious of these are its first and last scenes...which show off Cronenberg's flair for theatrical.
Certainly as gory as possible (though nothing in comparison with today's pictures), "Scanners" features on incredible score from Howard Shore who would collaborate with Cronenberg many times.
"Scanners" is impossibly irresistible and, somehow, quite a lovely movie. I enjoyed every second of it.

Score: ★★★½

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