For­est Hill di­rec­tor puts down the cam­era to write his bold new novel

Richmond Hill Post - - Contents - by Ron John­son

Renowned di­rec­tor David Cro­nen­berg on why he put down the cam­era

to write his bold new novel

“For me, art isn’t com­fort­able. Com­fort is for en­ter­tain­ment, not for art.”

When ac­claimed and mildly gory film­maker David Cro­nen­berg was a young man, he wasn’t film­ing the grue­some life of flies in his child­hood home. He didn’t go hunt­ing for dis­fig­ure­ment with the hopes of catch­ing some car­nage on tape. All lit­tle Davey wanted to do was write books. His fa­ther was a writer, and the bud­ding scribe re­mem­bers fall­ing asleep to the sound of his dad’s IBM Selec­tric typewriter peck­ing out ar­ti­cles late at night in their Toronto home.

A novel is much more in­ti­mate, and you can­ni­bal­ize your en­tire life.”

It might have taken him more than 50 years to ac­com­plish his boy­hood dream, but with the pub­li­ca­tion of his de­but novel, Con­sumed, Cro­nen­berg, the nov­el­ist, has fi­nally ar­rived.

When he was 16 and a stu­dent at Har­bord Col­le­giate, Cro­nen­berg started writ­ing short sto­ries, and one in par­tic­u­lar was greeted with some pos­i­tive feed­back.

“It was about a de­formed lit­tle guy who lived in a base­ment and who had a paint­ing that he sort of lived in on the wall,” Cro­nen­berg ex­plains, of the story he says deals with those who feel iso­lated from life and so­ci­ety. “It was painted by some­one almost like him,” he adds. “Some­one also in ex­ile from so­ci­ety.”

But when he was 21, he de­cided to put his writ­ing ca­reer aside after at­tend­ing the Univer­sity of Toronto and get­ting ex­posed to the world of film through his well­doc­u­mented as­so­ci­a­tion with fu­ture Hol­ly­wood heavy Ivan Reit­man amongst oth­ers.

And, you know, he’s done fairly well, over the past 50 years, mak­ing 21 fea­ture films, in­clud­ing such no­table ti­tles as A His­tory of Vi­o­lence, A Dan­ger­ous Method, Crash and the up­com­ing Map to the Stars, on his way to be­com­ing one of the most revered and popular film­mak­ers in the coun­try.

Cro­nen­berg, 71, de­cided to re­turn to writ­ing eight years ago after some en­cour­age­ment from a friend at Pen­guin Books, which would even­tu­ally publish

Con­sumed un­der their Hamish Hamil­ton im­print. The novel picks up on many themes that Cro­nen­berg ex­plores in his films on the way to es­tab­lish­ing his own unique genre — body hor­ror.

In the novel, jour­nal­ists and lovers Naomi Se­berg and Nathan Math pur­sue seem­ingly dis­tinct sto­ries around the globe that deal with tech­nol­ogy, phi­los­o­phy, dis­ease, medicine, fetishism and a light sprin­kling of can­ni­bal­ism be­fore the plot lines con­verge in a most unique and graphic fash­ion.

The ques­tion the novel asks is, sim­ply put: what is re­al­ity? From the first line, Cro­nen­berg ques­tions the ac­cu­racy of what we per­ceive. Things change through­out and, quite fit­tingly, the book doesn’t end with a neat and tidy bow tied around the plot line. In the end, the reader is left with a pro­found sense of un­ease.

“In many ways it could have been ended in a spe­cific way,” he says. “But the novel is about what re­al­ity is, and can we have any ab­so­lute knowl­edge? You do get the sense that re­al­ity is very much neu­rol­ogy. If you’re sit­ting with a dog at your feet in the same room the re­al­ity for each cre­ative is to­tally dif­fer­ent. The dog’s sense of hear­ing, smell, lack of lan­guage are a com­pletely dif­fer­ent re­al­ity but no less than hu­man re­al­ity. Re­al­ity is built into the book. Right from the be­gin­ning you have to ques­tion ev­ery­thing: what is real, who is do­ing what. There are many ways an in­ci­dent can be caused, de­pends on how you look at it.”

Although there is some shock­ing im­agery in the book (yes, a fe­male breast might have been con­sumed at some point), Cro­nen­berg doesn’t con­sider him­self a shock artist. He merely has some unique pro­cliv­i­ties when it comes to art.

“All art as­pires to is to ex­plore dif­fer­ent and per­haps not common ways of per­ceiv­ing things,” he ex­plains. “Then we en­hance our un­der­stand­ing of what it is to be hu­man and ex­ist as a cre­ative in this world…. I’m not a shock artist, nor do I think that you must shock peo­ple. As an artist, you want to of­fer a dif­fer­ent set of per­spec­tives that most peo­ple don’t have, and you’re shar­ing them with your au­di­ence even as you are ex­plor­ing them your­self.”

Cro­nen­berg lives in the For­est Hill area of Toronto and has for quite some time. He makes a habit of go­ing for walks around the up­scale ’hood in the evenings, and it is in that par­tic­u­lar leafy nook where he places the very creepy Dr. Rolphe, fa­mous for hav­ing a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease named after him. The doc­tor is study­ing his own daugh­ter and her habit of eat­ing small bits of her own skin. Ahem.

“That was a very in­ter­est­ing thing about writ­ing a novel as com­pared with a screen­play,” he says. “A novel is much more in­ti­mate, and you can­ni­bal­ize your en­tire life, the life of my friends and fam­ily and any­one you ever read or heard about.”

Although it took him a while to fin­ish his first novel, Cro­nen­berg is keen to re­turn to writ­ing as soon as pos­si­ble.

“I’d love to have the ex­pe­ri­ence of just writ­ing a novel [with­out in­ter­rup­tion for film projects], just to see what it would feel like,” he ex­plains. “At the mo­ment, I’m closer to writ­ing another novel than another film, and un­less a movie project is in­cred­i­bly se­duc­tive and spe­cial, I won’t do it.”

But will Con­sumed, and its can­ni­bal­ism, sex­ual fetishes and mind-bog­gling plot twists make its way onto the big screen in the fu­ture?

“I have the rights,” says Cro­nen­berg, who in­di­cates he won’t make the film him­self but would be fine with oth­ers do­ing so. “And I’m will­ing to sell them to you.”

Cro­nen­berg’s novel in­volves can­ni­bal­ism, sex­ual fetishes and mind-bog­gling plot twists

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