Deep Cuts: “Naked Lunch” – 1991. Dir. David Cronenberg

With Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands and Roy Scheider

“What do you mean – “it’s a literary high?””

“It’s a Kafka high, you feel like a bug.”

 

Bill Lee (Peter Weller) is an exterminator whose “bug powder” also acts as a hallucinogenic drug that is becoming extremely rare and in demand. Lee’s wife Joan (Judy Davis) has become addicted, and has been skimming Lee’s bug powder from him, causing him to get in trouble at work, and causing his work to report him to the police. Lee gets arrested and he’s left in an interrogation room with a bug that begins to talk to him, the bug tells Lee that he’s a secret agent and a writer, and that he needs to get to “Interzone”.

I am a big fan of David Cronenberg, and due to the fact that Barnes and Noble was doing their 50% off Criterion Collection sale, I picked up “Naked Lunch” and watched last night. As a body of work, I think that Cronenberg has made very good films, and I think he’s a very good auteur – but as for “Naked Lunch”, it’s Cronenberg’s masterpiece.


This comes from the “unfilmable” novel by William S. Burroughs, and much of what takes place in the film took place in Burrough’s life. There is a scene early on in the film, where Lee tells his wife it’s time for the old William Tell trick. Joan puts a glass on top of her head, and Lee pulls out a pistol to shoot the glass off. Lee pulls the trigger and shoots Joan in the forehead – this event happened to Burroughs’ while he was living in Mexico and he fled to the United States – in the film Lee fleas to “Interzone”.

This film is built around paranoia and mystery, it’s very incoherent with its flow and intention and the film is the perfect metaphor about the writing process. As Lee dives further into the underground world of drugs and being a secret agent Cronenberg builds the paranoia which at times feel sort of Polanski-esq.


I’ve always felt that Cronenberg’s themes to his films is a central character that has to lead a dual life (whether he wants too or not), and from that dual life comes a lot of repercussions and struggles. In “Naked Lunch” Bill Lee deals with the dual life of first being an exterminator and second being this secret agent/writer.

Peter Weller is amazing in this film. I’ve always liked him since “Robocop”, and his stint on this season of “Dexter” displays the range he has as an actor. He brings this Humphrey Bogart style domineer and perspective to the role of Bill Lee. This is a character that we’ve seen before, but Weller puts his own unique style and brand on it. Weller is slowly making his way to becoming one of my favorite actors.


Roy Scheider (who I heart) plays Dr. Benway who Bill Lee goes to for help for his addiction to bug powder. Scheider has limited screen time but he is incredibly precise and effective in his small roll that should have earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

The film is a remarkable homage to pulp fiction. The set décor, consumes and especially the music are all musings of a film noir, and that era of film. The film feels a lot like “Chinatown” because it’s a merging of film and neo noir. As to where many feel that “Chinatown” is a perfect film, I feel that “Naked Lunch” is a perfect film.

Exterminate all rational thought.

Rating: 10/10

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Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

2 thoughts on “Deep Cuts: “Naked Lunch” – 1991. Dir. David Cronenberg”

  1. comparison to “Chinatown” is absolutely, absolutely spot on. where that film is suffocatingly pessimistic this film is joyously optimistic.

    am i right? it seems that way. this movie is nearly ‘feel good’ – as in ‘a feel good heartwarming romp’ when you’re perceiving it a certain [i would say, the- right] way

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