View Full Version : The Genius of Cronenberg

03-05-2003, 07:58 PM
David Cronenberg is a man who has forged a body of work that stands on it's own.

From Shivers to Existenz he is a true Canadian original. His latest film has all the integrity you'd expect from a man who I like to say is the cinematic equivalent to Stephen King. (King's "films" lack the punch his novels have).

If you like to "be afraid of the dark" and not be confused, you will thoroughly enjoy his films. While he has often been compared to David Lynch (up here in the great white north anyway) he has a completely different style . An almost exclusively horror director, Cronenberg has a cult following that just grows and grows. "SPIDER" will spawn even more fans, I feel.

It is an epic horror film that will be revered in due time. see it at all costs and have a truly engaging experience at the movies.

Chris Knipp
03-14-2003, 12:45 AM
"Spider" isn't really a "horror" movie, exactly. Cronenberg has evolved his own trippy, mordant genre that lies beyond categories, where many of the best artists reside. (Here's my review.)

It's a kind of antidote to the upbeat Hollywood madness found in last year's "Beautiful Mind." The latter ends with the crazy man turned into nothing more than a slightly befuddled genius, receiving an honorary delayed Nobel Prize with his loyal wife beside him. "Spider" ends with the isolated, pathetic "Spider," Dennis Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) being taken from a grim halfway house back to the asylum from whence he came. He has not worked out, to put it very mildly.

The "Beautiful Mind" character, John Nash, achieves a semblance of normality. Insanity is something he pops in and out of, like a computer game, and resolves to turn away from by sheer force of will, no thanks to Ed Harris but very much with the help of the good and loyal wife the filmmakers provided for him with the collaboration Jennifer Connelly. Dennis Cleg is utterly deranged. Any sort of wife and any sort of life are out of the question for him and always were as the movie gradually explains to us.

"Spider" is more interior. It makes us focus on Cleg and enter his world by following him off a train to the address he's been sent to stay at. He gets there by a slow stumbling shuffle, muttering to himself, stooping over to pick up tiny objects beside puddles in the dingy gritty London streets of Cronenberg's film. "Spider" is a very creepy picture, and Cleg is a very creepy man. "Spider" works almost entirely without special effects and yet like many of Cronenberg's movies it has a hallucinatory, trippy quality from first to last. Nothing could be much trippier than "Naked Lunch" and "eXistenZ" but what makes "Spider" like an eerie dream is the slowness with which it movies. Spider's shuffle compels us to move with him and into his mind.

Cleg is a very, very odd, withdrawn, strange, almost totally uncommunicative creature, living almost certainly more in the past than the present, inhabiting that past doubly--because he cannot get it out of his mind and it also appears now that the halfway house is very near where he lived as a child and he finds his way back to actual sites of the primal scenes that drove him mad (except that clearly he was always mad, or ready to go mad). He inhabits thus in mind and body now in the hallucinatory scenes of the movie this strange childhood, the world of a boy with a mother (Miranda Richardson) and a father (Gabriel Byrne) in a poor working class house in East London. What is going on? We go back again and again to the same scenes: to a pub where tarts smoke and laugh mockingly, where his dad comes in the evening. To the kitchen where he sits with his mum. He is sent back and forth. His father goes with one of the tarts. The boy follows them.

Or does he? Here as in "Beautiful Mind" the protagonist enters the world of his madness before your eyes, but this time we're not fooled for long. Spider scribbles frenzied notes in a hidden journal, trying desperately, it appears, to figure out what his memories mean. The impossibility of his task is shown in the writing, which is gibberish. He lives with a fearful terror, inside multiple shirts, not daring to look anyone in the eye, but he himself is dangerous and doomed.

The boy Cleg is excellent. Not as mannered and creepy as the adult Cleg (a Beckett figure whose performance, excellently done by Fiennes, is mostly dumbshow), he's nonetheless very much like the older Fiennes in the picture, and the young actor, Bradley Hall, is wonderfully understated. He has mannerisms that connect him with the adult Cleg. He plays with little objects, cat's cradles, and has string running across his room like a spider's web, and he picks up bits of smut from the ground and pockets them. He has the same frightened way of mutely staring into space. In retrospect their very eyes seemed the same.

Much credit is due also to another excellent actor, John Neville, as Terrence, the only other inmate of the halfway house that comes into Spider's ken; Miranda Richardson is fine in additional roles. They may seem a bit overdrawn, but then we realize that we are witnessing the hallucinations of an unstable child. All the acting is splendid in this movie.

Cronenberg has created a world in "Spider" that's elaborately decayed and dirty and dripping with moisture. Every object or bare wall is richly patina-ed and ancient, ageless, but the world of the picture is simple and without distractions. Nothing takes your eye off Cleg and his memories or delusions. Cleg moves very deliberately, always hesitating, tentative, withdrawing, withholding. There is no need to overstate horror. It is simply horrible. People will differ on whether this is a great movie. For all its greater integrity and grittiness, it falls prey to the problem of "Beautiful Mind": that we, the sane, cannot know madness, and devices, essentially artificial, must be created to provide us with some substitutes and metaphors for an interior world to which we lack the key. Some of us may feel curiously let down when "Spider" ends without the payoff of a tragedy or a cure. One thinks of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men":

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

But we may find in the days after our viewing that "Spider" has left its stain on our memory.

March 11-14, 2003

03-16-2003, 11:39 PM
hey, this is my first post. Peter emailed me the other day, asking me to give my opinion on this forum. I have a feeling he has over-estimated me and I'm only really a kid (16) but I'll give it a shot.

I haven't seen Spider yet but I really want to, I saw eXistenZ and its by far my favourite sci-fi. I agree that David Croenberg has a very different style of directing than David Lynch. David Lynch has also got the power to make movies very trippy but Croenberg makes us want to watch more while Lynch's atmosphere is more powerful in that it takes more time for you to realise how shocking it is ( Blue Velvet, Eraserhead)

Chris Knipp
03-16-2003, 11:52 PM
Welcome, Oliver! We need a young point of view.
I would add that Cronenberg tells a more coherent story. His movies are intensely trippy --especially eXistenZ but also Naked Lunch--but unlike Lynch's you don't have to watch them 15 times trying to figure out what's going on. Because Cronenberg has a clear narrative line going, he can pop in and out of separate fantasies and you can keep up with him.

03-22-2003, 11:38 AM
Yes, greetings Oliver.
Have no fear-I started my interest in film when I was 16. Look at me now! An obsessed FANBOY!

03-22-2003, 02:42 PM
Thanks a lot! Still haven't seen Syder yet, and now I really want to more than ever! I just saw Videodrome for the first time yeturday and now I'm on a Croenberg spree. Going to see Scanners today.

oscar jubis
04-03-2003, 03:02 PM
I saw SPIDER last night. As usual, I agree with most comments by Johann and Chris. I don't have a coherent, final appreciation of the film, only some ideas(half-baked?) and comments.

Mr. Cronenberg has evolved from King of Body Horror(J.Hoberman calls it venereal horror) to specialist in visual translation of difficult literary sources:Burroughs, Hwang(M. Butterfly), Ballard and now McGrath's first person novel. The novel is a composite portrait of the "incurables" he saw at Broadmoor Hospital, where his father worked circa 1960.

Spider is to Cronenberg what The Straight Story is to Lynch. This adaptation is as rigorous and "old-fashioned" as possible given the theme. Can you imagine what Ken Russell, Jan Svankmajer, Cronenberg himself years ago could do with the psychotic musings of Spider? This film is extremely restrained and austere. Maybe J is right to call it horror but I think the term raises false expectations.

This is one-character drama, perfectly cast(somebody gets mentioned in the credits for finding the actor playing Spider as a child) superbly acted, stately paced, carefully designed.

Spider is quite hermetic. It resides entirely inside the protagonist's head, or so it seemed after one viewing. I challenge anybody to identify with a character damaged beyond repair, who says little we can understand, who appears to lack the capacity for growth as a human being. I still don't know if the lack of emotional payoff is an asset or a liability.

04-03-2003, 07:26 PM
Spider is not cookie-cutter horror -I guess I label it that because of the atmosphere- similar to the The Blair Witch Project's feel. The "unknown forces" that characters have to deal with, etc...

Chris Knipp
04-04-2003, 12:04 AM
Spider doesn't reside inside the protagonist's head entirely; if it did it would be a gimmick and the tension between the brain and the external world would evaporate. It's not a horror movie at all, though its director may have a horror movie background. It's a psychological study about the thin line between reality and imagination in the mind of an deranged man, with strong elements of the grotesque but also traces of old English movies of the Forties and Fifties.

05-17-2003, 04:41 AM
Originally posted by oscar jubis
Can you imagine what Ken Russell, Jan Svankmajer, Cronenberg himself years ago could do with the psychotic musings of Spider?[/B]

It has only just dawned on me the implications of this statement by oscar jubis...I don't know what to think...oj you bastard! (and I mean that in the kindest sense...)

oscar jubis
05-18-2003, 10:13 PM
Cronenberg's a genius Johann, but imagine Spider made by Bunuel and Dali circa Un Chien Andalou! You like?