Film review by: Witney Seibold

            Dennis “Spider” Cleg nervously shuffles into a dusty, dry halfway house on the outskirts of London. You can practically smell the uncleanliness. Stale bread and dusty furniture and unwashed jackets. Mr. Cleg has just been released from the local asylum where he was put as a boy. Now he is a man, and going to give the outside world a chance. He’s far from healthy, he still mutters, has to compulsively wear many layers of clothing, and makes a diary of sorts, which is just scribbling in a small notebook he keeps hidden under the rug.
            The mystery of Mr. Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) is the center of David Cronenberg’s new film “Spider.” We see Cleg interact with the other recent released (notably a crumbling John Neville), and the house’s matron (Lynn Redgrave), all the while he’s “remembering” his boyhood. The flashbacks are presented as dramas that he is part of. He is present in the room when he sees his father (Gabriel Byrne) step out to drink and cheat on his mother (Miranda Richardson). We’re only sure that these are flashbacks because of the names, and some later revelations. Much of the time, we’re living right alongside Cleg. We also meet dad’s mistress Yvonne, who is also played by Richardson. Very soon, Cleg once again picks up his obsessive childhood habit of stringing thread across his room; the habit that earned him his titular nickname. Something has happened to him in the past, but we can’t be sure what it is, or what exactly happened. The events of his childhood become more and more bizarre, and we’re never sure what is remembered, what is fantasy, and what is hallucination.
            I love this manner of storytelling. Where we’re not given “reality” as such, but we can glean most of what is real from what we are given. And so it is, I imagine, with the minds of the mentally ill like Spider. One can never be sure what is real and what is hallucination, since it all feels real. Since we’re living the film in the mind of Spider, we’re not offered understanding or explanation in any conventional sense. Both Spider’s mind and the film itself play by the same rules of unreality, and we’re given that wonderful instability which make both worlds seem all the more intriguing and beautiful.
            Cronenberg, a director who often dances the edge (“Crash” and “eXistenZ”), has made his most sedate and solid (and surprisingly gore-less) film with “Spider.” Slow, perplexed, and musty, we’re pulled into our hero’s mind. Fiennes gives a wonderful performance in which he mumbles more than speaks. The explanations are few, the mysteries are many, the film is rather good.

Published in: on May 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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