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dwatts
09-26-2003, 09:32 AM
Dennis Clegg, the Spider in this story, is a schizophrenic man who has just been released from an Asylum to go live back in the community. The halfway house he will be staying in, populated by other mentally ill patients, is situated near the house in which he had lived as a child.

Spider, a nickname given to him by his mother when he was a young boy, has been gone a long time, but most of the sights and sounds of his old neighborhood still exist, including paths by the canals, pubs and the house in which he once lived.

Spider, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes, must not only come to terms with his release from the Asylum, but must also see his old haunts through the eyes of an older man. The landlady at the halfway house, a relatively minor role played by Lynn Redgrave, is keeping an eye on Spider, for she can ultimately decide if he is sane enough to remain outside the walls of the Asylum ? secrecy of his thoughts and belongings are key to his freedom. Spider is understandably nervous of this woman, and everyone within the halfway house, as he experiences his past through flashback.

The fragile recovery Spider has been able to sustain shows a sign of weakening as he slowly remembers what led to his institutionalization. Attached to his mother, he realizes what happened to her, and how his relationship to his father had been distorted by a sick mind. Never aware of his own illness, Spider?s journey is at times jolting, shocking, as he stumbles down rain soaked streets, or from thought to thought. All the time pursued by the evil Yvonne, who had stolen his father, and pushed Spider to the edge of his own sanity ? and pursues him still.

Spider is a film that has challenged David Cronenberg fans. Some have called it a ?misstep?, or just plain boring. I actually invested a lot of time into this film. Such was my eagerness to see it, I bought the novel by Patrick McGrath and read that first. I was keen to dig into the film.

Now I have seen it, I can only say that the translation to film is at times awesome, and at other times disappointing. I will state that as a general impression, this film certainly fits the resume of Cronenberg perfectly. Cronenberg has specialized in externalizing emotions in grotesque ways (Rage in The Brood, Sexuality in Crash) for many years, but the restraint he shows here is likely what puts most fans off. You see, Spider probably has more angst than any character Cronenberg has brought to the screen before, but it stays within the characters head. Most fans would likely expect some special FX wizard to conjure up demons, but Spider never goes in that direction, Cronenberg shows great restraint.

While it might seem like a departure then, it really isn?t. It?s simply more subtle, which is no bad thing. Once you consider the budget ($10 million) the tiny cast, and the mere 8 weeks of shooting that was scheduled, you can maybe understand why some corners were cut.

Having said that, the movie stays on track with the book, for the most part, staying true to the story. However, some of the failings are that Cronenberg had to cut some key sequences, such as large parties at Spiders home, and virtually everything that happens at the Asylum. Also, Cronenberg deliberately tries to suppress the Schizophrenia. The book does not dwell on this either, but the ambiguity at the climax of the book is blown in the film, as the portrayal seems very clear. I think the subtly of the book was lost ? although, of course, the climax could indeed simply be a figment of Spiders imagination.

I also found the flashback sequences to be surprisingly awkward, especially when the child Spider and the older Spider were both in the scenes at the same time. It worked, but only just.

The colors in this film are largely browns and greens, and Spider populates a very barren world. Along with a minimalist score from Howard Shore (whom I swear borrowed melodies from Crash, his previous score) and you have a rather depressing film, a film with its own momentum. To watch Spider is to go inside the head of a madman for ninety minutes. However, this is not a crazy man running through the streets, instead, it is an incredibly subdued person, one who shuffles down the road, from scene to scene, a fragile and weak individual who carries the weight of the story upon his shoulders only with enormous mental effort.

All in all, I can see why Spider initially disappointed some Cronenberg fans. However, the themes on show here are not a million miles from the other themes he has pursued. The way it is delivered certainly is, and I think Spider is all the better for that. Cronenberg is a Director who is still growing, still finding his way, and this is a key step in his developmental process.

Bolstered by great performances all round, a gloomy depressive setting, and a score that hides in the background much like Spiders thoughts, Spider is a rewarding film. However, you?ll have to give yourself over to the films vision, to the films expectations. Sadly, this is something few people are willing to do. For me, Spider is as indispensable as Crash, Videodrome and Dead Ringers. It?s darker, it?s quiet, but no less disturbing.

The R1 DVD shows an immaculate print, obviously in wide screen. There are three informative featurettes of around 14 minutes each. Since the interviews were culled from a single source, I found it annoying that I had to select each of them in turn ? why not a single 45 minute documentary?

There is also a commentary from Cronenberg on the R1 disc (truth be told, I have not heard it yet). Sadly, the powers that be decided this commentary should be removed from R2 copies of the disc.

dwatts
09-27-2003, 07:34 PM
Thanks man. Existenz is a weird one. Slowly, I have found I love it. However, the casting of the two main roles is still a bit disapointing. Maybe the girl was okay, but she should have been sexier. That angle was not played up at all.

Multiple viewings have helped, but I would agree that Existenz sometimes seems a little trite.

marioscido
09-27-2003, 07:48 PM
A great film indeed. BTW, the Canadian dvd allows you to access the featurettes all at once, turning them into a more cohesive whole.

What I like about the film is its blurring of 'reality' with Spider's creation of the past. While the film explores how memory is a always a construct, it also examines how reality is always a projection of the mind. This might be Cronenberg's most Buddhist film. As a liminal person on the margins of society, Spider's constructs are, of course, more radical. But this allows us to see more clearly this questioning of reality.

During the interviews, some of the actors kept talking about how we only understand what really happened to Spider at the end of the movie. This is a mis-reading of the film. We are so programmed to look for resolution at the end of a story, that we can't conceive that Spider's resolution might still be another construct. Here lies the web of Spider's mind and his endless constructs of reality. These are constructs we all make. Spider is really us, only a little more extreme.

Cronenberg is always probing extremes to talk about the society, the world, etc. And that's where horror is at its best. Is 'Spider' horror? I think it is. It's a film about the horror of not being able to glue your present reality, ultimately your identity, everything that makes you who you are, to your past, to your history. And 'Spider' is a lot more frightening (in a quiet kind of way) that the formulaic garbage that comes out of Hollywood.

I saw it in its original release and saw it again on dvd (which I found very cheap), and I found the print to have darker hues than the dvd. I like what the dvd looks like, but the screening that I saw was more somber. Great film.

dwatts
05-13-2004, 03:57 AM
Bump (for RyanPC) ;)

John Gargo
05-13-2004, 02:16 PM
A great little movie from one of my favorite filmmaker, I remember reading interviews with Cronenberg in which he displayed his disapproval with the treatment of mental illness in A BEAUTIFUL MIND, and I'm glad that he decided to go for the low-key approach here. My favorite sequences were the flashbacks, although I find the scenes with Dennis obsessively scribbling in his notebook to be rather fascinating... I'll be revisiting this movie a lot...

Mr Peabody
05-18-2004, 02:50 PM
Exellent acting by Fiennes and Richardson. WHERE were their Oscar noms? :confused:

dwatts
05-18-2004, 02:57 PM
Even Cronenberg fans seem to dislike this one, which is a mystery to me. This and Crash show that Cronenberg is at his prime, seeing his view of the world through to its conclusion.

In a recent poll on DVD maniacs, Crash got voted off very early on, and Spider isn't going to last long either - leaving something like 8 films still in the game! Shocking.

Mok
05-18-2004, 06:26 PM
Cronenberg's best achievement was his role in Nightbreed, followed only by his cammeo in Jason X. Scanners and The Fly were his only quality fliks. Crash was too absurd in a "why the fuck should I care?" sort of way - it has its moments, but its no where near how good some people say it is. Naked Lunch? WTF? Existenze, well Naked Lunch part deux for generation X. From what you say about Spider, I get the feeling that it's just another overrated Cronenberg dildo fest. Sorry to everyone who pops boners over his stuff, but man, I think that most of Cronenberg's stuff just too fucking weird/perverse in a low-budget sort of stinky way. Call me Naieve, but that's the way I see it.

On a subliminal level, I think most people who say Cronenberg is a genius, do so because they think it puts an intellectual feather in their cap.

dwatts
05-18-2004, 06:57 PM
After trashing his films, why would anyone think liking his work is "intellectual"?

They're good films - generalizing won't help explain why some like them. I happen to think he's an amazin Director, with some great ideas and movies. By the way - The Fly is easily one of his weakest films, imo.

Mok
05-18-2004, 09:01 PM
After trashing his films, why would anyone think liking his work is "intellectual"?

They're good films - generalizing won't help explain why some like them. I happen to think he's an amazin Director, with some great ideas and movies. By the way - The Fly is easily one of his weakest films, imo.

Intellectual because others seem to be getting something profound out of his stuff, when I just don't get it. It's like when people pretend to like caviar to look high class - not to say that some don't genuenly like caviar, or in this case Cronenberg, but you know what I mean. I also wasn't necessarily referring to you dwatts. I know some people personally who I suspect of such facades, and I was only insinuating that it may be a trend.

dwatts
05-18-2004, 09:07 PM
Cronenberg has done both good and bad. Mirroring Argento, when persuaded to make bigger budget US targeted work, he gets watered down and less identifiable (The Fly and Dead Zone). I suppose not coincidently, those also happen to be films of his that are most favored. For me, they have lost their Cronbergian nature - are veer too close to what anyone else could have done.

When he's purer though - he's one of a kind. I don't know anyone else who could have adapted Crash, nor made Videodrome. Spider is brilliant in part because it actually doesn't look like a Cronenberg film, but in every corner lurks the man.

Mr Peabody
05-18-2004, 10:48 PM
Cronenberg has done both good and bad. Mirroring Argento, when persuaded to make bigger budget US targeted work, he gets watered down and less identifiable (The Fly and Dead Zone). I suppose not coincidently, those also happen to be films of his that are most favored. For me, they have lost their Cronbergian nature - are veer too close to what anyone else could have done.

When he's purer though - he's one of a kind. I don't know anyone else who could have adapted Crash, nor made Videodrome. Spider is brilliant in part because it actually doesn't look like a Cronenberg film, but in every corner lurks the man.

Agreed.

RyanPC
05-19-2004, 03:49 AM
I think SPIDER is one of Cronenberg's best films. I thought it was a bit hard to understand at first, but after listening to Cronenberg's excellent commentary, it all makes sense now, since he goes into so much detail in explaining each and every scene and what they mean.

I don't mind the restraint- it's a great psychological drama that wasn't meant to be gory or even really scary.

John Gargo
05-19-2004, 10:27 PM
I've personally enjoyed every single one of Cronenberg's films (I haven't seen FAST COMPANY yet, but I've got the 2-disc sitting on my shelf waiting to get watched), although if I had to pick one film as being his weakest, that would probably be EXISTENZ... It just isn't as successful as his earlier works, I think. Also, you can count me in as another huge fan of CRASH...

tobaccoman
07-02-2004, 05:42 PM
Cronenberg rules! I haven't seen all of Spider yet as I fell asleep, but I plan on purchasing it in the near future. I wasn't to enthused about The Dead Zone, but I liked The Fly. Naked Lunch is a brilliant adaptation from one of my favorite authors. Scanners and Videodrome are very hazy to my recollection as it's been years since I've seen them (I remember liking them very much though). I also wasn't to fond of The Brood.