Imagine not being able to, oh, let's say, ride the bus without the ability to drown out the thoughts of the other passengers. I think most people would agree that the constant of barrage of inner inanity would slowly erode a person's mental well-being. Luckily for us, we have no idea what other people are thinking. However, to a small segment of the population who exist in the world of David Cronenberg's Scanners, the scenario I just described is all too real. It should be noted, however, that, yes, it's true, most people can't read people's minds. But for a brief moment there, I did have to listen to other people's conversations (which are like thoughts, but more verbal). You see, when the mobile phone first started to become an acceptable mode of communication within the non-brain surgeon/non-drug dealing community, I felt like I was being inundated with pointless bather non-stop. It was only when talking on the phone became passe (eventually replaced by texting) that I felt secure that my brain cells would not have to be subjected to such tediousness. Every once and awhile I'll hear someone talking loudly on their phone. But since they're usually speaking a language I don't understand, I try not to get too bent out of shape about it. Oh, and just to let you know, I have a strict "No English Allowed" policy on my bus.
Anyway, getting back to Scanners. Does anyone know if Margaret Gadbois, who plays "Woman in Mall," was wearing a full slip or a half slip underneath her dress? The only reason I ask is because I'm a huge pervert. Just kidding. But seriously, does anyone know?
The reason I ask is because the sight of Margaret's not quite middle-aged, not quite elderly gams kicking and flailing on the floor of a mall food court is the first image to grab my attention in this film, which, should come as no surprise, explores the destructive nature of the human body.
According to David Cronenberg, the human body (specifically the human brain) propels us forward, but ultimately let's us down.
(What caused Margaret's oldish legs to flail so violently?) What are you doing, man? I was trying to make a profound point. (You already made that point in your review of David Cronenberg's Rabid.) I did? Let me check... Well would you look at that...
If that's the case, let's get back to talking about those kicking and flailing old lady legs, shall we? Like I said earlier, the legs belong to an oldish woman who is sitting in a mall foot court with a friend. Noticing a mildly dishevelled man eating scraps of food off the bolted-down tables that have recently been vacated, the woman and her gal pal start to think disparaging thoughts about him. The reason we can hear their thoughts is because the man, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), is a scanner, the name given to a powerful group of telepaths.
Except, Cameron doesn't know he's a scanner. Nevertheless, while attempting to block out the women's thoughts, Cameron inadvertently causes one of the women (the leggy one wearing the full or maybe half slip underneath her dress) to convulse on the food court floor.
As she twitches violently (her friend and some passersby try to calm her), two creepy dudes in trench-coats begin to pursue Cameron through the mall. After a brief chase, the men eventually shoot Cameron with a tranquilizer dart and take him to a warehouse run by CONSEC, a Blackwater-style security company, who, in the grand tradition of David Cronenberg films, are shady as fuck.
Lulled into thinking he's amongst friends, Cameron is given a drug that will help him suppress his powers (or "quiet the voices") by Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), the world's foremost scanner expert.
Meanwhile, over at CONSEC's main headquarters, a scanner is giving an audience a demonstration of what a scanner can do. Asking for a volunteer from the audience, the scanner... oh shit! (Don't tell me, another woman just showed her slip while being scanned.) No, the audience member who volunteered is played by Michael Ironside. (You're right. Oh shit.) This does not bode well for that scanner's mental health. *splaaaaat!* Wow, now that was quite the understatement.
Irked that a scanner was able to infiltrate their organization and cause their scanner (the only one they had on the payroll) severe cranial distress, CONSEC hire Braendon Keller (Lawrence Dane) as their new head of security.
While the hiring of Keller is initially seen as a step in the right direction, Dr. Ruth manages to convince the CONSEC higher-ups that the only way to stop a scanner is to use another scanner. And that's where Cameron Vale comes in.
Sent on a mission by CONSEC to infiltrate the so-called "scanner underground," Cameron Vale goes literally head-to-head with Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the world's most powerful and therefore most dangerous scanner.
Culminating in an epic battle, one that will test the structural integrity of his mind, Cameron Vale quickly discovers that not all scanners are socially awkward misfits. Some have plans to take over the world, while others are merely content to look awesome in high-neck knitwear; I'm looking in your general direction, Jennifer O'Neill, from Lucio Fulci's The Psychic.
In one of the film's best scenes, Cameron Vale also discovers that he can hack high security computer systems simply by picking up the phone.
Boasting top-notch make-up effects (especially during the scanner showdown), an appropriately throb-friendly film score by Howard Shore and the always terrific Michael Ironside (in what is easily one of his best roles), Scanners does an excellent job of mixing the silly with the cerebral. Which, and I think most people will agree with this, is the key to making a successful David Cronenberg film.