Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Spider" - David Cronenberg's internal version of "The Fly"

Spider is the story of a man recently released from decades of institutionalization. We follow him as he stays in a halfway house - particularly, as he uses a journal to uncover and relive the incident that lead to his incarceration. Ralph Fiennes plays the eponymous lead (yes, Spider is his name). Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson turn out clever and skilled performances as his parents (and more, for Miranda).

What follows is depressing fun. Spider's release is unlikely, considering he's almost incapable of speech; he doesn't talk, he mutters. Enabling DVD "subtitles" proved fruitless - when he's extra-unintelligible, it's on purpose. Connecting to anyone, especially women, is nearly impossible. His name is very apt - he freezes at external stimuli, scuttles away, and (occasionally) strikes unseen.

The quiet soundtrack is effective, underscoring the magnificent presentation. Peter Suschitzky has been Cronenberg's DOP/cinematographer since 1988's "Dead Ringers." It's easy to see why, because the lead's horrific and sad journey has a beautiful look.

Past and present are interwoven to amazing effect as Spider actually walks through his own story. One moment, we watch Spider observing his past - suddenly, it's the present, and he's occupying the same space. He is revisiting the past on literal and figurative levels.

This is David Cronenberg's last pure art-house film, made before "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises." Those two seem mainstream because of breathtaking shoot-outs or fights, but still match his style and motifs. He waived his salary in order to make "Spider," and the reasons are clear.

DC has certain themes at the heart of all his films, and the foremost are: betrayal of the body, mutation, technology, self-destruction, and the mind being lost to fantasy. This story allows him to realize that last point like never before.

Spider was lost in his own mind as a boy. He is just as lost in his 30s/40s. One hallmark of insanity is how badly you misperceive reality. Another is that one event can dominate the mind - they say that crazy people have only one story to tell.

Spider has a deeply flawed perception of reality, and is trapped in the same scary story all his life. Did he really grow up in the area near the halfway house, or does he see it in any similar building? An event can make us view a person differently - but how do you see someone else altogether? Seldom does a flick give so much food for thought, or provide such a grand metaphorical aspect to analyze.

This is a sad, fascinating, and beautifully-made film. I had trouble actually enjoying this movie because I was so repulsed by Fiennes' character, but your mileage may vary. I strongly recommend it, as I would anything that Cronenberg makes - he is a true artist, and always worthy of attention.

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