View Full Version : Spider

03-26-2003, 02:09 PM
David Cronenberg’s very good minimalist drama features Ralph Fiennes, who plays a schizophrenic returning to his hometown to replay important childhood events in his mind. It’s a very dark film, intentionally underlit, with dialogue that’s sparse, subdued and difficult to follow, yet it’s reasonably accessible to the average viewer. Cronenberg and his scenarist, Patrick McGrath, upon whose novel (unread) it’s based, create an enigma based on the rhythms of a disturbed mind, refusing to capitulate to traditional narrative conventions (indeed, one could argue that the entire film is imagined—and not necessarily by Fiennes’ adult character) and choosing instead to have their character work in ways that discretely disarm the viewer, making the ambiguous conclusion easy to absorb. Fiennes works exceedingly well with the filmmakers’ conceits: he’s completely unknowable, a lurching shadow of a man, making no eye contact and whose dialogue consists of mainly one-word responses, mostly unintelligible. He’s as removed as any figure you’ll see in a film, yet he somehow manages to connect with the viewer on a primordial level without having to resort to the histrionics that other actors might feel are necessary to illustrate mental illness—you develop an affection for him without ever truly understanding him. Miranda Richardson (excellent in the critical dual role of Fiennes’ mother and stepmother), Gabriel Byrne (as his father, imagined to alternate between barbarism and sympathy), Bradley Hall (fine as young Spider) and Lynn Redgrave (as the landlord of the halfway house Fiennes lives in) are the other primary players. Because of the director’s mastery of shifting mindscapes, he’s able to bring his usual theme of sexual abhorrence to the forefront while never having to explain or detail it but the lure is there nonetheless. Peter Suschitzky, Cronenberg’s usual cinematographer, delivers his usual brilliance. Coming off the disappointment of the halfhearted “eXistenZ”, this marks a return to form for Cronenberg and though not as audacious as his previous masterwork “Crash”, it’s a compelling, well-crafted piece that lingers with you long after it’s over.