David Cronenberg is 80 years old. That does not necessarily mean his time is short, but his film at this year’s Ageless International Film Festival in Toronto certainly is.
The Death of David Cronenberg is 56 seconds long. That’s two Milk Duds in the theatre, tops. There will be no intermission.
Originally created as an NFT art piece in 2021, the short can be found online. It makes its world premiere on a big screen on Sunday evening at Ageless, an annual festival that celebrates films by and about older people. Admission is pay what you can.
The Death of Cronenberg stars the acclaimed director of The Fly, Crash and The Dead Zone. Dressed in a robe, he approaches his own corpse in a small, pristinely white attic bedroom. The dead body, with its mouth agape, has turned a purpled translucent hue. Cronenberg gently kisses his corpse twice – once on the cheek, once on the forehead – before lying next to it.
This is necromancy, not romance, from the filmmaker who invented the “body horror” genre. It is peaceful rather than erotic or macabre. For his daughter, who produced and shot the film, the experience was a little unsettling, however.
“It is utterly horrifying to see a parent in that state, and it was very difficult to engage with the corpse,” says Caitlin Cronenberg, whose debut feature film Humane is expected to be released next year. “But it was also strangely cathartic.”
The realistic replica was originally created by Black Spot FX for an episode of the Netflix horror series Slasher, in which Cronenberg’s character – spoiler alert – meets his demise. The body was borrowed for The Death of David Cronenberg, which was filmed in Caitlin’s childhood bedroom.
“We needed a place to store the body,” the 39-year-old photographer explains, “and it was a free location.”
In an interview with the sci-fi auteur on the digital art market SuperRare (which premiered The Death of David Cronenberg online in 2021), Cronenberg described the short as 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.”
For Cronenberg himself, the film is less about facing his own mortality and more about the 2017 death of his wife, Carolyn Cronenberg.
“[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.”
His daughter says she was there to support his vision. “I think it was a helpful expression of grief.”
Now in its fourth year, the Ageless International Film Festival often programs movies dealing with intergenerational conflicts and collaborations. All screening are followed by a discussion. “It’s not just for seniors,” says festival executive director Judy Gladstone.
Highlights this year include Face Places, a poignant portrait of life in rural France directed by and co-starring the late Belgian director Agnès Varda and French photographer and street artist JR (who was in his mid-30s when the film was made.)
A Rémy Girard double bill pairs Denys Arcand’s 2003 classic Les Invasions Barbares with Éric Tessier’s Tu te souviendras de moi, a 2020 drama about a retired professor and his younger caregiver.
Another double bill unites 1952′s Ikiru and its 2022 British remake Living, which earned Bill Nighy a Best Actor nomination for his crisp portrayal of a civil servant calmly facing an unfortunate medical diagnosis.
The Death of David Cronenberg will be screened with the 2023 Pedro Almodóvar short, Strange Way of Life, a Western starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal.
Ageless International Film Festival takes place at various Toronto venues, Nov. 1 to 5, and Nov. 12.