At the heart of Antiviral is the notion that in the near future fans will become so rabid they’ll actually pay to be infected by celebrity diseases to feel closer to their idols. Sounds strange, but consider the statue containing John Lennon’s DNA (courtesy of a Beatle molar bought at auction) by artist Kirsten Zuk or the $40,668 paid for a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair.
“I always thought it was kind of plausible,” he says. “A friend of mine, while I was shooting, pointed me in the direction of this YouTube video that was Sarah Michelle Gellar on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
“At one point she says, ‘I don’t want to sing because I have a cold, I don’t want to get the audience sick,’ and everyone started applauding like crazy. I’m sure one person in that audience would want Sarah Michelle Gellar’s cold. It’s certainly meant to be satirical and a cultural caricature but I think it is not that far from what already exists.”
When I tell the son of famous director David Cronenberg about the Lennon DNA statue he says: “It’s very interesting to me how obsessed people are with the physical tokens, the fetishes. John Lennon’s teeth… It’s so incredibly religious. It’s like going into some church that claims to have the finger bone of some saint.”
The idea for the film didn’t come from an analytical look at celebrity culture, however. The concept occurred to him as he was laid low by the flu.
“I was obsessing over the physicality of illness and how I had this thing, physically in my body, in my cells,” he said, “that had come from someone else’s body and how there was a weird intimacy to that connection. After I got better I was trying to think of a character who might be able to see disease in that way and I was struck by the idea that a celebrity obsessed fan might want that kind of intimacy and it developed into an interesting metaphor.”
These days Cronenberg’s life is imitating his art to a degree as the film makes the festival rounds — it’s played at Cannes and Toronto—and the spotlight has been turned on him. “It’s sort of like being a character in my own film,” he says of the attention.
“It’s hilarious and also kind of uncomfortable.”