SpiderReviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 02/14/07 20:43:18
David Cronenberg’s 'Spider' is some sort of master class in rigorous filmmaking; this director cuts to the bone now, with absolutely no flab and no ingratiation to the mainstream.Cronenberg tells bizarre and psychologically gnarled stories, but he tells them with a calm and measured sense of purpose, as if he had all the time in the world, and he assumes a high level of patience on our parts. Spider is slow but deadly, fixating on minute details as if weaving a world around us, and the world becomes a web smothering reason.
Working from Patrick McGrath’s screenplay (based on his novel), Cronenberg gives us an unreliable narrator — Dennis “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes), a schizophrenic who takes up residence in a dingy halfway house. Spider is haunted by his past, which we see in fragments, with Spider standing off to the side and observing. We see Spider’s working-class parents, a plumber (Gabriel Byrne) and his wife (Miranda Richardson), who seem to be more or less existing together. The joy seems to have gone out of the marriage; the father frequents a local pub, where he begins an affair with a local “tart” (also played by Richardson). One night, the mother catches the father in flagrante delicto with the tart; what follows convinces the young Spider that a murder has been committed.
We’re not convinced, though. For one thing, the movie often shows us events at which Spider was not present. Spider pursues the mystery anyway, though, a rumpled gumshoe unsure of his own perceptions. Playing this cracked inquisitor, Fiennes builds tension and heartbreak out of indecipherable mumbling and ritualistic, twitchy gestures. Cronenberg’s precise direction keeps us breathing the same stale air as Spider, and the lying, manipulative essence of cinema itself forces us to share Spider’s viewpoint even as we’re questioning it. Miranda Richardson also has a tough role — a triple role, actually, since she also takes on the part of the nurse running the halfway house (played at the beginning by Lynn Redgrave). Richardson is encouraged to play the mother sensibly, the tart and the nurse as threatening caricatures, which of course is how Spider would experience those two women. Gabriel Byrne, too, manages a difficult balancing act as the father, playing against decades of abusive, drunken working-class dads in movies. He drinks, and he fixes toilets, and he seems to be having sex with a local whore. But is he a murderer? And is she a whore?
Spider is bound to be misunderstood by literalists and Freudians, and those who persist in seeing misogyny in Cronenberg’s work. He presents, without comment, a programmatic view of women as either saints, whores or bullies that’s rooted in psychosis; all women become perversions of Spider’s beloved mum. Spider sifts with trembling fingers through the shards of his life, picking out pieces that may not reflect the truth. Cronenberg fixates on the possibly irrelevant and makes it relevant to the complete picture. Martin Scorsese used to be capable of films like this — small gems that root around in a damaged brain, persuading you that no subject could be larger or more important. Cronenberg, who came from visceral drive-in movies, is in his way as obsessive and as purely cinematic as Scorsese. His worlds are hermetically sealed; no outside perspectives are allowed to intrude, no glimmers of pop culture.'Spider' is Cronenberg’s most delicately poetic work yet, a shattered mirror whose reflection is false but finds its own truth.
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