Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Patrick McGrath
Cinematographer: Peter Suschitzky
by Susan Bartley
David Cronenberg’s style is one of the hardest to define. Or maybe others are just so easy and apparent. You know when you’re watching a Cronenberg film, yet I can’t point to what it is specifically. I want to say it’s the 4:3 aspect ratio, which sounds pretentious but I believe most of his films use this. It’s a very strange format to watch a movie on. It makes it look like television and requires you to shoot as such. Though beyond the aspect ratios is the strange and unsettling feeling all his films have. This is the indefinable. Horror, thriller, sci-fi, history, drama, they all have a certain feel, revolving in some ways around the macabre and graphic, sexual urges.
I was nervous that Spider was going to be a strange psychological drama where it's revealed as all a dream or some type of solipsistic nightmare (see Lords of Salem). I suppose in some ways that is the case, but for once it was done well. The movie is fairly boring at first. Dennis Clag, aka Spider (Ralph Fiennes) is a bland character, interesting to watch for the first twenty minutes and becoming more and more dull as the first half progresses. He lives at a halfway house for the mentally ill, and having been recently released, he’s trying to readjust back to regular life and soon begins having flashbacks of himself as a child, witnessing his father kill his mother. Come the end we discover it actually wasn’t his father, but Dennis, leading you, in a rare triumph for the psychological thriller, to want to rewatch the whole film with that twist in mind.
The films works due to the unsettling and peculiar setting it takes place in, feeling as though it could be an alternative world, possibly a future time, in which a community sectioned off from the rest of the modern world is reserved for the mentally ill, rather than the 1930s or 40s.
The backstory alone is fascinating. It’s where Cronenberg's style is most apparent, exploring the father’s obsessive lust and inability to control his desire. I’m not entirely sure if any of these concupiscent episodes actually occurred, but nevertheless it's a magnificent and modern Freudian tale. Dennis wanders around, trying to adjust to a life beyond the hospital, unable to escape his own nightmares, desiring his mother's care who he knows is dead. No one cares to try and help him out. He is overwhelmed by the flashbacks, which bury him further and further into a solipsistic nightmare.
It all returns me to contemplate where the story takes place - how do you deal with someone who has lost all understanding of reality? To protect others they should be kept away, so is a room good enough? A hospital? Maybe Dennis is living in some type of cordoned off community. The state put him in there in the hopes that being amongst others like himself, alone with his thoughts, he could be cured. If this isn't the case, the story's terrifying tale of a cursed individual, haunted by his memories, unable to escape his own mind.
BELOW: Interesting video critique on the film
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