Have you ever loved a celebrity so dearly that you wanted to make them a part of you? Have you studied them, obsessed over them, perhaps even followed them in a way that skirts the borders of legality? If you had heard that your idol had been infected with a disease of some sort, would you want to make that very disease your own? If you’ve said yes to one or more of these questions, I highly recommend watching Antiviral after you finish therapy. Antiviral is a movie that portrays a world utterly infatuated with celebrities, and shows you the grimy inner workings of the well-oiled, beautiful media machine.
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for the Lucas Clinic, one of several organizations responsible for the distribution of celebrity illnesses amongst obsessed fans. The process is fairly straightforward: A celebrity falls ill, the Lucas Clinic (or one of its competitors) purchases a tainted blood sample from said celebrity, modifies the illness to remove any chance of infection, and then sells the final product to obsessed fans who desire a more profound connection with their idols. The modification process is performed via running the blood through a futuristic machine that simulates the “face” of the virus, and alters its fundamental nature to be more marketable. Marketable in this context meaning non-infectious and thus inaccessible to competing groups.
Things aren’t so simple, however. Syd, having stolen one of the virus modifying machines from the Lucas Clinic, likes to make money on the side by smuggling viruses to piracy groups. After obtaining samples of sick celeb blood, he injects a little into himself for later at-home modification. Despite having to be sick all the time, he’s got a nice little side business cut out for himself. That is, until he “acquires” a lethal illness from Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon).
Lethal pathogens are illegal in this celebrity-run world, and with Hannah Geist facing her death, her popularity has skyrocketed. Underground demand for the deadly Hannah pathogen is greater than ever, and Syd finds himself pulled into one bad situation after another: Greedy smugglers, secret corporate wars, and of course, the increasing probability of his own death. What’s a poor sick guy to do?
Antiviral’s portrayal of celebrity obsession is disturbing in that it isn’t wholly unrealistic. Ours is a world of powerful media and shifting cultural trends; obsession with the flavor of the month is commonplace. Who is to say that, if the technology were made available, the world wouldn’t begin taking on celebrity diseases? If you can cover yourself in tattoos of your idol, cover the walls of your bedroom with their face, fill your life with their music or movies, why not fill your blood with their illness?
That’s really gross, though. You shouldn’t do that or want to do that. I don’t. I mean, Caleb is a pretty good-looking actor, but I wouldn’t want to dose myself with a noninfectious strain of whatever he’s got goin’ for him. Ah, but maybe I need to obsess a little more.
Annalee Newitz of io9 thought that the movie got a little preachy at points, and that Syd could have been a little more… present in the film. True, his character was very quiet, very calm, and didn’t show any real emotion until the very end of the movie, but maybe Cronenberg thought that a vibrant main character would get in the way of his film’s message? Leave a comment to let us know what you think, and check out the io9 review of Antiviral right through here.