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January 20, 2016

Spider (2002)
Director: David Cronenberg
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

280px-Spider_(2002).png (280×154)

Synopsis: Dennis ‘Spider’ Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) is a mentally fragile, middle-aged man relocated to a halfway house in the King’s Cross area of London. Over the following weeks, as Dennis wanders round the neighbourhood, which also happens to be his boyhood haunt, Dennis’s memories entwine with the distortions of his own mind…

Review: This interesting little curio from David Cronenberg is perhaps best enjoyed from a theatrical perspective: it’s an exceedingly literary film (everything is subservient to story, and it really homes in on and prioritises the minutiae of performance), plus it’s a work entirely subsumed in the parlour-game of subtext. And quite rightly too, for what David Cronenberg has crafted is a work about the miasma of mental illness and how some people live in an ulterior world constructed entirely by the way their brains have been shaped by the shadows, echoes and horrors of their past. Thus, while it is a theatrical film, Cronenberg succeeds in making it tactile and interior, approximating the way that the fearfully traumatised Dennis, aka ‘Spider’, receives the phenomena of the world around him: the ominous gas canister that lurks right across from the halfway house he’s been sent to, the seedy pubs and allotments he ghosts his way round, and even the elaborate spider motifs he’s forever associated with (from his own string patterns and metronomic scribblings, to the re-arrangement of a shattered pane of glass after another patient in the house has a major temper tantrum.)

This subtextual element does lead to some transparently convenient devices such as Spider suddenly whispering slightly more emotional context and backstory than he might otherwise be able to (so the audience can follow of course)! There’s also the comprehensible trope of Miranda Richardson as Spider’s mother slowly taking over all the female roles to represent Spider’s bastardised Freudian angst, although it is a touch overly demonstrative and might have had more chilling effect if only thrown in a couple of times toward the climax. That apart, this an utterly engrossing work by Cronenberg, and you have to especially admire his steadfastness and sense of austerity in committing to such a quiet, pungent story of the legacy of mental trauma – while also throwing in lovely moments of gallows visual humour too (the brown-watered bath and the vat of slops in the halfway house are two such gems). (January 2016)

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