Review by Michael Jacobson
Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider
Director: David Cronenberg
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2003
all rational thought.”
been a big fan of David Cronenberg for a long time, and as such, I cherish the
films he makes that others seem to recoil in horror from.
Naked Lunch is a prime example.
What some see as grotesque and cumbersome, I see as the brilliant
marriage of the words of William S. Burroughs and the visual style of
Cronenberg. While some view it as
unclear and without focus, I find a certain subconscious sense of logic about it
all that I get, but don’t really know how to explain.
It’s kind of like how I can walk around my apartment in pitch
darkness without seeing anything. Cronenberg’s
flair for the bizarre equates to a kind of comfort zone for me.
largely on Burroughs’ book of the same title, but also drawing inspiration
from another of his stories The Exterminator, as well as incidents in his
actual life (mainly the death of his wife), with a good dose of Cronenberg’s
own imagination thrown in, Naked Lunch is kind of a surreal take on film
noir, where the characters don’t move about in shadows but rather wander
through delusions of their own making.
Lee (Weller, playing the fictional counterpart to Burroughs himself), is a
one-time failed writer turned exterminator with a propensity towards drug use.
His wife Joan (Davis), like apparently many others around him, has
discovered the bug powder he uses for his job makes for a great buzz.
“It’s a Kafka high,” she explains.
“You feel like a bug.” Maybe
if I’d had some of that back in college, Metamorphosis would have made
more sense to me, but there it is…
Lee becomes hooked on his own insecticide, it leads him treading precariously
between two strange worlds: the
real one, where writers resembling Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac earnestly
dissect their craft and in which he accidentally kills his own wife, and the “Interzone”,
a drug induced hallucinatory place where machines become organic extensions of
their users, giant bugs literally talk out of their asses, and where Lee is an
agent, who was supposedly under orders to kill his wife as an enemy operative.
In his fantasy (nightmare?), he is writing reports on the activities of
Interzone. Apparently in real life,
he’s writing Naked Lunch, which could be a masterpiece, if he somehow
survives the birthing pains of creating it.
in the dream world where the meat of Burroughs’ and Cronenberg’s visions are
given free reign. On one hand,
we’re trapped with Lee in a place where we understand nothing is real, yet the
unreal means more than the reality. On
one plane of existence, Lee is merely a rapidly burning out abuser of narcotics,
but what he is in his delusions is decidedly more fascinating to both him and
us. Peter Weller was a good choice
for the role; his dry baritone delivery not only invokes the real William S.
Burroughs, but provides a kind of dark wit that lends a subtle but wonderfully
edgy comic sense to the strange proceedings.
cinema of Cronenberg is the cinema of the grotesque; it’s a place where human
frailties, needs and appetites are often graphically depicted in symbolic images
that are equally repulsive and fascinating. I don’t think it’s a vision that has ever been so well
served as with Naked Lunch, which essentially uses drug hallucinations as
a means to convey the pains, conflicts and sometimes out-and-out irrationality
of the creative process. Burroughs
himself apparently saw no distinction between the creator and the created.
In fact, he lent his philosophical approval to Cronenberg’s idea of
combining other works and elements of his real life into the film of Naked
Lunch. While many celebrated
figures try to keep their works and lives separate, to Burroughs, there were all
part of a personal continuum.
this is a film I love, as with most Cronenberg movies, I have to hesitate giving
it a full out recommendation. For
those with adventurous tastes in either literature or cinema, this represents a
wonderful blend of genius and insanity. For others, it will be seen just as a horrid mess.
But while some may dismiss Naked Lunch, they won’t soon shake it
from their minds.
did a respectable job with this anamorphic transfer. The opening titles with their clashing color patterns looks
exceptional on DVD. There is a
distinct somewhat muted look to the picture; while colorful, the images are
still a bit on the shady side, invoking a noir feel and removing an absolute
sense of realism from the film. There’s
a touch of grain here and there, and some softness, but these are mostly
artistic choices. A purely clean
visual rendering would have robbed the movie of some of its visual flair.
2 channel surround mix is better than most of it’s kind in that it invokes the
rear stage frequently to keep the experience unsettling and surreal.
Dynamic range is fair, dialogue is always clean and clear, and the
balance and blend of audio effects are striking and supportive.
has plenty to offer with this double disc set, starting with a newly recorded
commentary track featuring David Cronenberg and Peter Weller (recorded
separately but edited together smoothly), and it’s one of the year’s best.
Both men are intelligent and articulate, and have plenty to say about the
film, Burroughs, the literary aspects of the picture, and much more.
Students of film and print will find plenty of good information here.
Two features everything else, and the running theme seems to be “how the heck
did this book ever make it to the screen?”.
That question is addressed in the 1991 TV documentary Naked Making
Lunch, which features an in depth approach to answering the query.
There is also a shorter production featurette, a trailer, two TV spots,
and a montage of B roll footage. Especially
cool is a collection of excerpts of William S. Burroughs reading from his own
novel. Three galleries including photos, special effects shots, and
pics of Burroughs by Allen Ginsberg are also included.
DVD booklet is also a treat, featuring essays by critic Janet Maslin,
documentary maker Chris Rodley, Gary Indiana, and a piece by Burroughs himself.