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Naked Lunch is, I think, Cronenberg's best film by far. Eschewing his standard, if quality, horror fare for a more serious approach, he's given the audience the best filming of an unfilmable novel since who knows when. I'm still shaking my head over how he was able to transfer this "novel" to the screen...it's a pity that M. Butterfly and Crash weren't as successful, but at least he's trying, which is a LOT more than I can say of some other directors!
This is a most incredible film... that Cronenburg could piece together Burroughs' cut-ups in a visual and even mildly understandable way is a testament to his brilliance. Judy Davis is lovely as usual.
One of the best movies that I have ever seen... "Naked Lunch" is what the phrase "cult movie" is all about. If you're a Cronenberg fan, it's a must... and if you're not, why not take a look and see what kind of a movie comes out of a story that everybody claimed was unfilmable.
Visionaries, drug addicts, poets, surfers, travellers, mathematicians, writers, zookeepers, and crazies of all types should see this movie. This is my favorite movie. Fans of Cronenberg will not be disappointed. Naked lunch is a naked walk through the mirror of rational interpretation; Interzone the realm of the subconscious where the muses freely play. Take a trip to discover you've never left.
This is a film that jolted me in my sleep and made me awake, days after
I saw this. Some scenes are terribly brilliant in this surreal drama.
Thanks to Criterion, because of which I got to know of this film, and picked it up from their collection. David Cronenberg is one of the outrageous directors existing today. He does not seem to compromise with his vision and tries to be so true to the material that it frightens the viewers very much. I wonder if I can ever see this on a big screen, in theater somewhere. Will they dare to put it up, will there be audience in the first place? I really doubt. yet, this is one of the finest surreal dramas that was made in 1990's.
A week after I watched it, I just woke up as I got a scene from this film in a dream. Damn, even today (which is a month after I watched it) as I type the review, the hairs strands are standing on forearms. Creepy it is and totally insane too. I wonder how such a subject was chosen to be presented.
This is an adaptation of the novel by the same name, written by William S. Burroughs. I wonder whether those who have read it imaging the details presented in the book, also have been through nightmares as I did watching this film.
Nevertheless, this is a very important aspect of art and film making and indeed it is needed. I appreciate the courage of the director and more so the producers. Obviously, this is not a film for everyone, even for the generally weird people, but it's for those who have a liking for aesthetics of weird, nightmarish, disgusting things.
I cannot reveal characters or the plot points coz that would make any reader of this review miss the fun, given that he chooses to see the film. It's definitely worth a one time watch and that perhaps is enough for a lifetime as it would not be easy to erase from memory either. It has tremendous impact undoubtedly.
A 4/5 for one of the terrific and even terrible surreal movies
Now this can be a difficult film to sit through for some and may even
come off a bit slow. It's thought provoking and you really need to
focus on the madness of this film in order to figure out what is going
on when it comes to the story. I couldn't figure out entirely what was
going on after watching it the first time and I was heavily paying
attention. Now some people compare this to "Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas" which is a more popular film that revolves around the side
effects of drugs. And basically is the more popular film between the
two since it has Johnny Depp, it's more easy to follow despite the
craziness and it's just more of a entertaining film overall. But I am
gonna have to appreciate "Naked Lunch" and the ballsy directions David
Cronenberg went with this flick. It's a very bizarre and weird movie
all the way through, even when it comes to the characters and not just
the premise and background of the story. The difficult part might be to
differentiate what is hallucination and just fantasy and what is real.
Even if some parts may appear like hallucinations it can be really
happening just not how the protagonist views it as. The weirdness may
start off overwhelming and you don't really get exactly what is going
on, but as it progressed I got used to it fairly early on. Even if it
feels like it's all over the place a lot of times. Since it has a lot
of plots and layers going on at once. This isn't a movie I would watch
again, but it's a weird trip that I can see why some people might
appreciate and enjoy and others wouldn't. I personally think I liked it
but just not immensely or anything like that. And also found it slow
despite the strange imagery that actually really does connect with the
story. But a movie driven by expression system, this one does quite a
good job while blending in with the madness. It actually made me want
to read the book this movie is based on, since I heard the book is even
stranger. And since this is movie is based on a personal novel by
William Burroughs made it more interesting as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I hate bugs. Watching Naked Lunch is like a nightmare to me; with its
gross visual effects, I get disgusted and lose my appetite. I guess it
is not necessarily a bad thing; inciting disgust is perhaps as worthy
as inciting sadness, anger or laughter. And besides, if you look past
that, Cronenberg's meta film about Bill Lee, quite clearly modelled
after William S. Burroughs, writing a novel called Naked Lunch, while
also experiencing parts from Burroughs' novel of the same name, turns
out to be interesting, if somewhat messy.
The film tracks Lee, who first works as an exterminator but then gets addicted to the bug powder, which is said to give you a literary or a Kafka high by, similar to Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis, "(making) you feel like a bug". Suddenly Lee finds himself in trouble with the police, starts hallucinating about insects, kills his wife, and is forced to flee to the mysterious town of Interzone where he works as a secret agent of some sort, writing reports together with various animal typewriters while developing an increasingly severe drug addiction.
Literature, drugs, and the interplay between the two are prominent themes in the film. In a key scene, we see that Lee's ticket to Interzone is actually just the bug powder he is addicted to. In another, his typewriter turns out to be a pile of drugs, perhaps referencing Burroughs' connection between "drug use and artistic endeavour". As for the theme of literature, there is, for instance, a brilliant conversation right at the beginning about stream of consciousness, a narrative mode employed by Burroughs: "See, you can't rewrite, 'cause to rewrite is to deceive and lie, and you betray your own thoughts. To rethink the flow and the rhythm, the tumbling out of the words, is a betrayal, and it's a sin." A third theme is homosexuality, also taken from Burroughs' life and art. Most characters have homosexual inclinations or like to experiment sexually, and there is a terrific monologue in which Lee describes how "I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands when the baneful word seared my reeling brain - I was a homosexual".
As you might have guessed, the film has a very offbeat style, and with its pastel walls and free jazz score, Cronenberg has appropriate visuals and sound to go along with that. Peter Weller's extremely restrained acting and deadpan delivery, where everything he says is barely audible, is perfect too. What drags it down a bit is that, apart from being off-puttingly grotesque, the actual story with Lee's strange mission as an agent is not very interesting, and the film mostly depend on those quirky moments like his fabulous monologue about a talking asshole, which, admittedly, abound. Ultimately, Naked Lunch is more interesting than enjoyable, but original enough for everyone to see at least once.
Within fifteen minutes of David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S.
Burroughs' "unfilmable" novel Naked Lunch, a giant bug in a police
interrogation room begins talking and tells Peter Weller that he has to
kill his wife. Within fifteen minutes of Naked Lunch, Cronenberg makes
sure you know that this isn't going to be your conventional film.
Within half an hour of Naked Lunch, this is a film that has gone far
beyond mad and entered some bizarre world where the most insane has
become the most ordinary and a complete slip from reality is just
another part of life. For decades people had been trying to figure out
a way to bring Burroughs' novel to the big screen, but after all other
hope had failed, Cronenberg decided that it was time to take on a new
approach to the source.
This isn't a direct adaptation by any means, but instead is almost more of a biographical picture of Burroughs himself, taking strands of the titular novel, some of his other works and also elements from the author's personal life (he did kill his wife in the same way that happens here, although probably not after a giant bug told him she was an agent of a nefarious organization) and combining it all into the very mad world that you see on screen. Weller plays Bill Lee (a pseudonym of Burroughs), an exterminator who after killing his wife flees to an exotic location known as the Interzone, where he becomes involved in a war between organizations and tries to write a novel while being addicted to the bug powder he used in his work.
Cronenberg wrote the script himself but the way it all plays out it's hard to imagine how this could look on paper, as it's descent into the hallucinations and paranoia of Lee's mind seems like an almost improvisatory decay into madness. The director early on establishes a slick noir tone that feels appropriately of the period (it's set in the 1950s), which only makes the eventual insanity even more shocking and out of the expected. Naked Lunch transcends any narrative structure and instead becomes a maddening labyrinth of chaos, with secret organizations, double agents, double crosses, homosexual prostitutes and adulterous wives, all done with a delightfully witty sense of humor. Ultimately to it becomes a terrifying exploration into the world of drug addiction, particularly from the perspective of an author.
The characters almost all show up for a brief amount of time but leave large impressions, from Roy Scheider's batty Dr. Benway to Ian Holm's writer Tom Frost. Plenty of them are based on people from Burroughs' own life, not the least of which being Joan Frost/Lee, played with a strange mix of sensuality and insanity by the always superb Judy Davis. Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is very removed from Burroughs, but eventually it speaks to the author as a whole, and in a lot of ways it speaks to Cronenberg. For decades people considered the novel to be unfilmable and for decades it was; they were just waiting for the right mad mind to do it. Naked Lunch is a stunning example of two extraordinary, unique and slightly unhinged minds coming together to create something that is at once fully their own and fully their collaboration.
The adaptation of books to film is as old as cinema itself, stretching
as far back as the early experiments of pioneers such as George Méliès,
who would make his own film versions of novels such as 20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea and fairy tales such as Cinderella over a hundred years
ago. Primarily the purpose of the adaptation is simply to transpose the
descriptions of events, character and dialogue from the page and onto
the screen changing as little as possible so as not upset your core
audience (those who have read the novel). However, this approach is
dependent on the source text possessing a linear narrative. When the
author has taken a more post-modern approach, the director must employ
other techniques to ensure the creation of a successful film. Naked
Lunch is one such example of this.
The film is based on William Burroughs novel of the same name, a novel which ignores a traditional approach to story telling in favour of employing each chapter to act as a short story, these chapters are united by nothing more than the occasional recurring characters and a series of common themes and concerns (primarily drug addiction and homosexuality). Juxtaposed together these chapters can be seen to be doing more than simply telling the tale of a characters passage through a fictional world, but as attempting to create a fuller picture of the nightmarish world that Burrough's characters are inhabiting.
Films rarely succeed however when they completely break free of the confines of an act structure, although many books can be described as 'plot less' there are few examples of films that have faced commercial or critical success when there is no forward narrative present (Last Year in Marienbad being the only exception that comes to mind). Cronenberg therefore takes certain elements from the book, such as the alien like 'Mugwumps' that produce their own highly addictive secretions, and the 'black meat'( used metaphorically to represent methadone) along with various characters such as Doctor Benway (Roy Scheider) and places them around the story of William Lee (Peter Weller). William Lee was Burrough's pen name on his first novel Junky and the story draws largely on biographical material from Burrough's own life. Like his fictional alter ego Burroughs worked as a bug exterminator in New York, he accidentally shot his wife Joan (played in the film by Judy Davis) through the head during a drunken game of 'William-tell' and would later retire to the 'International zone' (or Interzone) of Tangier where he would send correspondence to his friend Allen Ginsberg that would later be placed together and form Naked Lunch. The more surreal elements of the book are attributed in the film to Lee's drug addiction, firstly to 'bug powder' and then the substitute ' the black meat' (Burroughs was an opiate addict for most of his life). The more surreal elements of the plot are treated as hallucinations, which he then chronicles to form his book.
This approach works well to give Burrough's text a form and structure necessary for the screen, it is not a betrayal of the novels experimental approach in that by putting on display the creative process used to forge the original source material, is post-modern and experimental itself. In the 90's many films would see release that worked on a similar level, from the same year as Naked Lunch there is for example Steven Soderbergh's Kafka, focusing on another author living through the experiences that would become his fiction. Later in the decade there would also be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which also dealt with the influence of hard drugs on the authors writing style. Fellini's 8 ½ can be seen as the only film to precede it in creating a work of fiction centred around the work's conception, a source which Naked Lunch surely must have drawn upon (indeed it's eccentric cast of characters feel like a more downbeat version of Fellini's own).
Burroughs had always hoped to bring Naked Lunch to the screen, and had made forays into film himself shortly following the books publication. Working with Anthony Balch on such short films as The Cut Ups in 1966, he attempted to apply techniques he had perfected in the literary world to the screen (in this example, his cut up technique). Working closely together with Cronenberg, Burroughs manages to translate his world onto the screen successfully, whilst Cronenberg is allowed to further build on themes touched upon his other works. There is his usual use of body horror and the dangers of scientific experimentation, but primarily it can be seen as treating literature in the same way television was portrayed in Videodrome, like a drug for both those who create and consume it.
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In the early 50's, Bill Lee (Peter Weller) is a bug exterminator/writer
in the big city. He has been high on bug powder that he uses as his
personal drug that makes him see weird fleshy creatures such as
Magwamps to talking beetles with anuses for mouths making his world all
out of control. His wife Joan (Judy Davis) was accidentally killed by
him, leaving Bill in a panic as he heads off to a mysterious middle
eastern place called "The Interzone" where he can have peace even for
his mind. But it seems he still is high on drugs even made by gigantic
Brazilian centipedes causing more hallucinations then before sending
him in a downward spiral of madness and sexual repression.
Co-starring Roy Scheider and Ian Holm, this UK/Canadian/Japanese production is a bizarre yet stunning fantasy drama thriller from writer/director and cinematic artist David Cronenberg. It's definitely not a movie for everyone but i applaud for giving Mr. Cronenberg the dignity of bringing William Burrough's unfilmable novel to the big screen in a successful way. Now i haven't read the book but what i understand is that it was a semi-biography and fiction book that has William Burroughs's alter ego Bill Lee about his drug addiction and sexual problems of fooling around with women and men back when different sexualities was considered taboo. I also understood that the book is suppose to be about the destruction of the body and mind as David Cronenberg could relate to that, so he got the rights for the book to be a movie and made the author proud.
The special effects and creatures are superbly done by Chris Walas ("The Fly 1 & 2", "Scanners", "Gremlins" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark") and the performances are just solid. The film is really about what the life of a drug addict can do to your life and how it affects you to the bone.
One of David Cronenberg's masterpieces.
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