Pictures Classics presents a film directed by David Cronenberg.
Written by Patrick McGrath, based on his novel. Running
time: 98 minutes. Rated R (for sexuality, brief violence
and language). Starring
Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn
Redgrave, Bradley Hall.
This review contains obscure spoilers as to certain aspects
of Spider's story. If you wish to see the film with
no prior information, come back to this review after viewing
based on the Patrick McGrath novel of the same name, represents
a departure for director David Cronenberg. Instead of a special
effects film like some of his more recent efforts, we are
given a fascinating look into the mind of a severly mentally
ill person. All the special effects we need are provided by
Ralph Fiennes's astounding performance.
film begins with a wonderful shot of a train screeching to
a hault. The camera pans down the lenght of the train, as
the passengers begin to step off. The last person to exit
the train is Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes),
and we can immediately tell that something is slightly off
about him. He shuffles down the sidewalk, muttering to himself
and picking up debris off the street (audience members familiar
with psychology will be able to tell that Dennis suffers from
schizophrenia, although it is never explicitly stated). Dennis
moves into a shelter run by a bitch of a landlady, Mrs. Wilkinson
(Lynn Redgrave). We soon learn that the shelter is a halfway
home, and Dennis has recently been released from a mental
idea of presenting a movie through the eyes of a mentally
ill individual is not original. But the way it is implemented
in Spider seems fresh because of the nature of the
story. Much of the story is told through flashbacks, detailing
Dennis's childhood. His mother (Miranda Richardson), is a
kindly woman, and his father, Bill (Gabriel Byrne), is a frequent
bar-goer. One night, when Bill is visiting Yvonne (also Richardson),
a tramp from the bar, in a garden shed, Dennis's mother walks
in on them. Bill murders her with a shovel, and buries her
body in the garden. Bill brings Yvonne back home, and acts
as if nothing has happened, but Yvonne is not as subtle. "Yes,
it's true he murdered your mother. Try to think of me as your
mother now," she tells the young Dennis (Bradley Hall).
it is impossible to be sure of anything we are seeing. Because
his mother and Yvonne are both played by Richardson, we are
not sure whether both of them exist, if either of them exist,
if they are actually the same person, or if the entire memory
is really just a schizophrenic delusion. Not until the climax
(if it can really be called that) is it made clear as to what
aspects of his memories are to be trusted.
in Cronenberg's lesser films, the atmosphere has always been
engaging. Spider is no exception. The England portrayed
in this film is dark, empty, and bleak, much like Dennis.
There are very few bright colors to be seen - Spider
might as well have been shot in black and white. Howard Shore's
haunting score enhances the atmosphere, and adds to our growing
distrust of what is occuring onscreen.
Fiennes has recently become regarded as somewhat of a sex
symbol. Many people forget, however, that his first major
performance came as the cruel nazi guard in Schindler's
List. Now, after a brief foray into the romantic comedy,
Fiennes is back, and his performance as Spider Cleg is certain
to be one of the best male performances of 2003. He hunches
is back, shuffles his feet, and mutters incomprehensibly.
Only when what he says is important is it completely possible
to understand his speech. Miranda Richardson is also excellent
in her two seperate roles. Despite my previous knowledge of
the film, I was still uncertain as to whether both characters
were being played by Richardson. Gabriel Byrne cashes in on
his greatest asset - being able to toy with the audience's
opinion of his character. At one moment he may seem cruel
and dispicable; in others he is a loving father and husband.
This switching is essential to the success of the flashback
story, as it directly affects the audience's thoughts on the
trustworthiness of Dennis's memories.
major problem with Spider is Dennis himself. As good
as Fiennes is, it is impossible to relate to Spider, because
of his mental problems. Dennis is a distant person, and the
decision to make him such makes sense, but it keeps us from
truly connecting with the character. The film also drags at
times, and I wish more time had been spent developing Dennis
as an adult.
these are relatively minor complaints for a movie like this.
The strength of the acting and direction alone make this one
of the more pleasant surprises of the year, and the fact that
the initial run of the film is so small is disparaging. If
you're a fan of challenging cinema, Spider is good
enough to be worth a trip.
2003 Matt Noller