Spider (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. David Cronenberg
viewed: 03/17/03 at Lumiere Theatre, SF, CA

David Cronenberg’s new film Spider reminded me a good deal of another film that I had seen a couple of years back, Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy (1997), so much so, that I began to wonder if they were both adapted from the same author. This turned out not to be the case. The Butcher Boy was adapted from a novel of the same name written by Patrick McCabe, and Spider was adpated from a novel by Patrick McGrath. In both cases, the novels were adapted for the screen by the original authors, though Neil Jordan shared a screenwriting credit on his film.

These items are more pure coincidence really. The parallels, if there really are any, are in the narrative’s plot lines. (I will warn you that I am getting into spoiler territory here, so if you don’t want to read the film’s plot twists, turn back while you still can.) The films linked in my mind by depicting the interior world of two mentally ill boys who end up becmoing murderers as their psychoses dominate their personalities.

In both movies, the world of the film is aligned very much with the mind of the protagonist, offering a something of a first-person perspective/interpretation while seeming initially as objective. Not explicitly “narrated” by the protagonists (there is no voice-over in either film, I believe), each film begins with a more naturalistic representation of the narrative, giving the viewer the impression that the world of the film is objective and believable. Eventually, though, the viewer is forced back to realize that the narratives have not been reliable, that at some point one is forced to recognize the delusional state of some of the content and that this confusion lies within the protangonists’ understanding of reality. This break, arguably, shifts the narrative back into a more traditional third-person omniscient perspective, seeing more than what is viewable by the protagonist, knowing more than is possible for the protagonist to know.

In Spider, the cracks in the believability of the narrative only start to show near the end, just before they are shattered in the climactic revelation at the end. It’s almost classically Freudian. Dennis “Spider” Clegg views a duality in his mother’s personality (depicted as almost a virgin/whore stereotype), which he envisions as an entirely different people. Only after succeeding in killing the “tart” does it become perfectly clear, to both “Spider” and the viewer, that both characters (each played by Miranda Richardson) are one and the same person. “Spider”‘s split is not of his own personality, but with his comprehension of the personality of his mother.

All in all, I thought that the film was pretty good, though a bit slow. I would definitely recommend Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy, though, which I thought was utterly amazing.

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