Spider (Ralph Fiennes) moves – tentatively - into a half way house, many years after a traumatic event that sent him to an asylum. Here, not far from the giant gas tank that is close to his childhood home, his memories are awakend of his boyhood in the care of his beloved mother (Miranda Richardson) and his wicked father (Gabriel Byrne) whose affair with the blonde (Miranda Richardson) in the local Dog and Beggar pub triggered the dramatic events that robbed him of his mother – and his mind.
Review by Louise Keller:
A disturbing and fascinating character study, Spider is an extraordinarily subtle film that masterfully explores the crevices of a distorted mind. The very first glimpse of Spider is a tragic sight. The last passenger to disembark from a train, his face is wracked with confusion, his shoulders slouched underneath his four shirts and coat and he mumbles incessantly through closed lips. Here is a man in pain. We feel his pain throughout David Cronenberg’s painstakingly detailed film as we enter this traumatised and deeply troubled schizophrenic mind. From the pen of novelist/screenwriter Patrick McGrath who was raised on the grounds of an institution for the criminally insane (his father was Medical Superintendent), the premise plays with the notion that painful recollections are masked and new memories created. We enter Spider’s new austere home with him and as he recognises the familiar surroundings of his childhood, he is haunted by the events that led up to his incarceration in a criminal institution. He relives parts of his childhood as he sees himself as a young boy with his parents, watching, seeing, sensing. As we sense his discomfort, Howard Shore’s discords echo the mental disorientation – inharmonious, dissonant chords, the juxtaposition of instruments playing jarring notes…. As we re-enter Spider’s childhood, the family home, the pub and the issues between his mother and father, the adult Spider is also there, like a ghostly figure who can’t bear to look away. The past intrudes on the present and we, like Spider, feel persecuted by it, like a web of psychological terror. Ralph Fiennes’ Spider is a haunting portrayal: his is a character who says few words, but whose language is interpreted by an anxious gaze and heartrending body language. It’s a solitary performance with very little interaction between the other characters, yet remains strongly connected to us. Miranda Richardson is stunning in dual roles and Gabriel Byrne is just right as the father. Good casting of 10 year old Bradley Hall who is convincing as the young Spider, and Lynn Redgrave makes a marvellous Mrs Wilkinson-cum Danvers. The devastating conclusion comes to a head with great pace, which is a contrast to the rest of the film, which like a spider’s web slowly spreads and seeps deep into our minds.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Mother, virgin, whore - yes, we’re in that territory with Spider, and don’t let the title suggest otherwise. This is not David Cronenberg’s inventive sequel to The Fly - although I wish it were. Spider is the nickname his mother gave young Dennis at around age 10 after noting his fascination for spider mums who drop their eggs and then go off to dry up and die. Whoops, did I just drop a spoiler? No, just a metaphor. Because in this film, the story isn’t IT; it’s the journey. Ralph Fiennes is the grown up Dennis, except he isn’t. Grown up, that is. He’s still inside the mind of the little boy who has deep delusions about his mother being murdered by his father. And why? Because he can’t stomach the thought of her having sex….and dad is having an affair with a blonde tart from the local pub and mum walks in on her riding dad’s lap. But Cronenberg doesn’t present it quite as economically as that, nor as simplistically. Patrick McGrath’s novel doesn’t either, I am sure. This is yet another example (there seems to be one a week) of a fascinating novel being unsuitable for adaptation to the screen. Certain intricacies of a work of literature are not easily translated to cinema. So I find myself irritated and frustrated by what plays like a tedious self indulgence, and this is not rescued by Cronenberg’s filmmaking talent, nor by Ralph Fiennes showcase performance, nor the drably evocative production design or ominous score. All very fine technical and creative achievements, but they stand on their own, popping up as exhibits in a gallery, asking to be admired. I don’t mind the incoherence of Fiennes’ Dennis, nor the incoherence of his scribbling, of which much is made. Nor do I mind the occasional bit of incoherent editing, but I can’t overlook patches of weak acting from Garbiel Byrne and Miranda Richardson. And I do mind the pretention that the weightiness of the subject makes it intellectually important as a film. In the end, I do admire the technical and very detailed brilliance of filmmaking that takes me on a tour through the mind of an unbalanced man. But do I care?
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CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne
PRODUCER: Catherine Bailey, Samuel Hadida
DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg
SCRIPT: Patrick McGrath (novel by Spider)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Suschitzky
EDITOR: Ron Sanders
MUSIC: Howard Shore
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew Sanders
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 8, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: October 15, 2003