11. Kevin Macdonald on ‘Doctor Forrest’ + David Cronenberg’s surgical skills

Kevin Macdonald is of course the director of, inter alia, the documentaries One Day in September (Academy Award winner, 2000) and Touching the Void, and the feature dramas The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and The Eagle (pictured.) He kindly read a proof copy of The Possessions of Doctor Forrest and gave my publisher this approving quote:

‘Not even David Cronenberg, master of body-shock horror, has come up with anything as chilling as the tale that unfolds in DOCTOR FORREST. Mr. Hyde suddenly seems a quaint and pleasant companion…’

You can imagine I’m very pleased, indeed flattered, by the associations therein. Of Mr Hyde and his unfortunate benefactor I will say more very soon. Of David Cronenberg I would simply say that he’s always been a hero of mine, an incredibly bold film artist, and that throughout my researches in surgery that preceded the writing of Forrest I was continually reminded of Cronenberg, so completely has he made the theory and practice and aesthetics of the surgical his personal property in cinema. (He owns the image of the operating theatre just as Kafka seems to own the letter ‘K’).
Cronenberg’s masterpiece, it seems to me, is Deadringers (1988), though he may well have another one in him. I find it hard to imagine a more elegant, profound fable about sexual difference – our bodies, how they define us and separate us, this set against the oh-so-human urge to merge and conjoin and be something other than what the mirror says. Again, only Cronenberg could have so fully embraced the gynaecological art as fit material for film drama. There is a gynaecological ‘moment’ in Doctor Forrest – I think of it as ‘the speculum scene’ – and I suppose it’s a sort of tip of the hat to Cronenberg, Deadringers, and the concept of ‘inner beauty’…
Health warning: if you are the owner of a female body you might conceivably feel a tad less enthused by Deadringers‘ storyline and mise-en-scene. The film is partly about female vulnerability, but it plays some unnerving notes in that line. This clip is about as reserved as Cronenberg gets yet, in its effect, not for the fainthearted.


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