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Overall Rating

Awesome: 21.43%
Worth A Look: 25%
Just Average35.71%
Pretty Crappy: 12.5%
Sucks: 5.36%

6 reviews, 20 user ratings

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by Robert Flaxman

"Weaves a tangled web of... not much."
2 stars

It’s all well and good for a film to try and get inside a character’s head. When that character is as nuts as Ralph Fiennes’ in Spider, however, maybe he was better left alone. David Cronenberg’s film doesn’t just get inside Spider’s head, though – it all but takes place there. While Cronenberg’s style is effective, the result is a plodding, dank affair with little substance to offer.

Clearly released far too early from the mental hospital, Spider makes his way to a halfway house run by Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave). He flashes back to his time as a boy, when his father (Gabriel Byrne) apparently killed his mother (Miranda Richardson) to be with another woman (also Miranda Richardson). This other woman’s name just happens to have been… Yvonne Wilkinson.

Or was it? Spider’s memories are suspect from the very beginning because we see him remembering so much he could not possibly have been privy to. Like Leonard Shelby in Memento, Spider creates memories he wants to believe – as it turns out, his mother is not actually dead; rather, her death appears to have been a metaphor for her sexual actualization.

The oedipal theme in Spider can’t really even be called an undercurrent, so front and center is it. Young Spider is only too happy to watch his mother trying on undergarments until she asks if his father will like them, at which point he darts away. Inventing a mistress based on a woman who flashes the boy at his father’s pub of choice, Spider grafts the idea of the loose woman onto his mother, turning her into a similar-looking woman who nonetheless is complicit with Spider’s father in his mother’s death.

The question is, why does it matter to us what’s going on in Spider’s mind? His mother’s supposed fall from grace is not the only event in his past Spider has to work out, but he does all of it so quietly and so meticulously that the film is rather frustrating to watch. Spider was a crazy kid, and now he’s a crazy adult, but his psychological profile isn’t really all that deep or interesting – not enough to justify the film’s pace, certainly.

At least Cronenberg gets the style right – his version of London as filtered through Spider’s fractured mentality is dark, cold, dank, gray, bleak, and empty. But the same could be said for the movie itself. A fine actor in Ralph Fiennes is pretty much wasted on the part of Spider, who is required to do little more than mumble to himself and shamble around, generally looking like someone not right in the head. His character is really not all that interesting, and with the movie turning around him, the entire proceedings grind to a halt.

If there were either more going on in Spider’s head or more to discover, the film might have more meaning. Everything mostly connects up, but there’s nothing terribly exciting about any of the connections. The discovery of why Spider is in the asylum in the first place is at best mildly surprising, but hardly anything groundbreaking considering the rest of the film.

“Things aren’t what they seem” is a pretty common gambit in film, but rarely is it used when it’s so uninteresting what things seem like. The film’s intense quietness sometimes feels like it’s going to burst forth into a revelation, but none ever comes – the big revelation is treated as dispassionately as anything else. It makes sense from the standpoint that the film is filtered through Spider’s mind, but evidently nobody stopped to consider just how dull that particular film would be.

When the psychology is the film, it needs to be a lot smarter. With only the most basic of questions to ask and a well-executed sense of style, all Spider really has is its surface. There’s a lot of promise in the essence of Spider, but very little of it ever shines through the tedium.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6597&reviewer=385
originally posted: 11/30/04 11:05:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/07/10 little jerry John Neville's performance is one of the most poignant ever. 5 stars
2/23/07 dmitry fantastic...Cronenberg at his best 5 stars
11/19/06 Ionicera it stays with you 4 stars
11/07/05 K. Sear A little cry, even for Cronenberg. Still entertaining though. 4 stars
8/18/05 ES Lynch and Cronenberg must have gone to the same school for making crazy movies that suck 1 stars
9/23/04 Roxy Smith excellent 5 stars
7/29/04 Josh Standlee So unscary, it would pass as a made-for-TV movie on PAX! 1 stars
6/06/04 Ryan Clark Either you get it or you don't - to truly appreciate the film, listen to the commentary. 4 stars
5/10/04 The More You Know scatterbrained insomniacs worst nightmare 3 stars
2/23/04 Naturezrevenge Typically good cronenberg from the canadian Lynch. 4 stars
10/02/03 Mickey With A C Art or crap? CRAP 1 stars
8/21/03 Bernie Chabel Not easy to watch but oh so rewarding 5 stars
8/13/03 Jeannie Karlsen Loved Ralph Fiennes performance (as always), love Cronenberg films (as always) 5 stars
5/21/03 Elendil Very atmospheric,. Pity about the SPOILERS provided by E. Childress. Review ~= plot outline 4 stars
4/06/03 Byrneoholic I like the movie 4 stars
3/25/03 rue the whirl it's pretty crappy i guess 4 stars
3/10/03 thejames its ok i guess. 2 stars
3/05/03 Spy It isn't very good... 3 stars
1/13/03 marzio arigoni@rtsi.ch great director, great actors Fiennes Richardson and Byrne, great film 5 stars
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  28-Feb-2003 (R)



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