When the life-size prosthetic of David Cronenberg’s corpse first arrived at his Toronto home, the artists that built it covered the decaying body so the neighbors wouldn’t see them unloading it from their trunk. They carried the 5’9” silicone deadweight, which stars alongside the renowned filmmaker in ‘The Death of David Cronenberg,’ up four flights of stairs to his daughter Caitlin’s childhood bedroom, and they tucked it into bed.
And there they left it. Alone, on its back, mouth agape, skin marbling: purple, red, white.
Cronenberg is hailed as one of the more inquisitive and often unsettling directors of the last half century, known for exploring themes of bodily transformation, technology, and infection in films such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Crash (1996). At 78 years of age, the poignancy of conducting daily life beneath the attic where your bloating corpse lies is far from lost on him. In fact, it was one of the main attractions.
“I left it up there for a couple days and I’d occasionally just go and check it out,” he said. “It had an emotional resonance for me. The obvious thing is [the short film] is a little metaphorical piece about a person embracing his own death. I embrace it, partially, because I have no choice: this is man’s fate.”
He spoke to me from Athens during pre-production for his first feature film in seven years. A seven years in which his wife passed away.
“[She] died in that house, in a bed, and it felt when she died, partly, like I died, and I still feel that,” he said. “That corpse is my wife to me. So it’s not just a frivolous horror film. It is a film about love and the transient aspect of being human.”
The film itself, which David and his daughter Caitlin shot together and tokenized as an NFT on SuperRare, is a minute long. A robed Cronenberg pauses at the foot of his bedded corpse. There is a stillness, an emphasis on natural light and the weight of the matter. He breathes heavily before approaching his decomposing head. And then the ambient hum is punctuated by wet corpse kisses. Spooning follows.
“It’s as if you stumbled upon it on the internet – no music, no credits,” Cronenberg said. “The Cronencam: A couple of cameras stuck in my bedroom.”
“There was a moment [while working on the series], when the special effects people said, we’ve got a surprise for you,” Cronenberg said. “I was introduced to my corpse, and it was terrific.”
Later in 2021, when Caitlin proposed the idea of an NFT project, David thought of the body.
“I have unfinished business with this dead version of me,” he said.
Cronenberg convinced Black Spot FX, also based in Toronto, to loan him the prosthetic and bring it to his house, but he wasn’t immediately sure what the project would involve. So the corpse waited, like a morbid muse, in Caitlin’s childhood bed.
“I think contemplating your own death, whether you are religious or not, is a difficult thing,” Cronenberg said. “It is difficult to experience your mortality. It is an existing creature trying to contemplate nonexistence. A lot of religions are built around trying to avoid that.”
‘The Death of David Cronenberg’ is an opportunity to face-off with existential dread, a chance to address the question, “I’m almost 80, what do I do about that?”, he said.
“I used to say long ago, whenever I kill somebody in one of my movies, I’m really rehearsing my own death, and that became a cliche, but there is truth in it,” he said. “It is part of life to deal with your own death. People know they won’t live forever, and that their parents won’t live forever. You never finish dealing with that. Every decade of your life you have to revisit it specific to where you are.”
And certainly, there is something relatable and universally human about the film and its production: The daughter of a genre-defining horror filmmaker works with her aging father to look life’s only absolute – its only known horror – directly in the face, and then give it a cuddle.
“To be able to actually kiss your [dead self],” Cronenberg said, “There’s no question it’s fantastic. I think everyone should do this. Everyone should have a corpse made by Black Spot FX.”