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Alex Grant Reviews David Cronenberg’s SPIDER

'Spider is a slight painterly oneiric film atypical of David Cronenberg’s oeuvre'.

Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Bradley Hall, Lynn Redgrave.
Director: David Cronenberg
Durée: 1:38

David Cronenberg’s remarkably astute filmisation of Patrick McGrath’s highly original novel SPIDER is an extraordinary achievement in that both the book and the film are equally powerful and idiosyncratic. McGrath penned the script and his literary vision of madness; rooted in the unresolved Freudian "Oedipal Complex"; is conveyed to the screen with unerring sensitivity and single-minded pathos by a filmmaker more commonly celebrated for the ruthless cruelty of his imagery and for the sheer moral ugliness of his characters..

SPIDER is surprisingly delicate and free from gore, except for a single scene of brutal murder. Ralph Fiennes as ‘Spider’ Cleg gives an admirably subtle portrayal of a pathetic creature suffering from schizophrenia. Miranda Richardson - in three roles - acts with complete conviction and is lent generous support by Gabriel Byrne in the thankless role of a boozing lecher of a husband.
Or is every excruciating detail of the ‘dysfunctional’ family-life so chillingly caught in SPIDER actually a fabrication of young master Cleg’s perverted preoccupation with his Mum? ‘Spider’ from a tender age is a fabulist born into a seedy no-hope working-class milieu in London’s East End. A dreaner who can never overcome his unconscious feelings for, and resentments of, his parents whose every action he appears to misinterpret.

Committed as a teenager to Broadmoor, the notorious British prison for the criminally-insane, a solitary mad-as-a-hatter Cleg is released as an adult back into society where he actively re-lives, in every fetid detail, the pathological world-view that he has created to make sense of his past. Residing in a ghastly Dickensian ‘half-way’ house, where he has an utterly depressing and sordid bed-sitting room, and where he is kept cruelly under the thumb of a callous penny-pinching landlady ‘Spider’ falls under the spell of his lurid fantasy-life reliving each episode of his childhood obsessively, keeping a scrawled notebook packed with hieroglyphics, revisiting the scenes of his upbringing on his daily round/.
I should warn you that as ‘Spider’ Cleg actor Fiennes mumbles inaudibly with only the occasional words comprehensible. Despite this handicap the actor is always believable as the kind of societal reject and pariah, or leper, whom most of us encounter on the streets of every major city every single day – kicked out of mental hospitals in the 1980s such wretches are reduced to begging and to permanent homelessness. SPIDER however is not a social tract, far more a piercingly humane and tender slice of inner-city poetry, determined to make us enter the mind-set of a maniac, a man whose experiences from birth are not so very far removed from our own.

According to Sigmund Freud, the ‘father’ of psychoanalysis, we all have to endure the Oedipus Complex and a few of us remain stranded within this rivalry against Dad for the fair hand of Mum.
© Alex Grant March 2003

© Alex Grant October 5th 2002

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