21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy and understated Masterpeice
David Cronenberg, Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Burne in a Patrick McGrath adaptation. All these high quality peices fit together to provide an assured and perfectly paced film. This is mature Cronenberg, so the heads stay in one peice; its the minds that fracture instead. Depicting mental illness in an unsensational style, in a dour and miserable...
Published on 28 Feb 2006 by J Grant
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ralph Fiennes finest hour....?
This is a good film.Let me state that at the outset of this review in case anyone thinks that I cant see the merits others do in it.It is understated thoughtfull and contains some scenes of genuine strangness..but am I alone in thinking that Ralph Fiennes is spectacularly miscast?He struggles to convey adequately(in my opinion) the nightmare of mental illness preferring...
Published on 7 Mar 2010 by Sam I am
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy and understated Masterpeice,
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cronenberg's Most Elegant And Understated Film Yet.,
The film unfolds at a pace that many people may find "slow", however, every scene and action carries a subjective power and
ambiguity that is startling in it's bold rejection of all the usual Hollywood "attributes".
The performance of Ralph Fiennes is nothing short of miraculous.
He creates a sweating, grubby and virtually mute character of immense power. We can identify with this characters sense of dislocation with the world, regardless of his past "crime" and present shambolic state.
Miranda Richardson gives yet another astonishing performance in multiple roles and Gabriel Byrne is at his most restrained and
The colour cinematography and production design are exquisitely realised, with a beautifully limited colour palette and claustrophobic rendering of Spider's real and imagined world.
This DVD is a must for anyone really interested in movies and
i can't recommend this antidote to the usual Hollywood dross enough!
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly underrated psychological drama from David Cronenberg.,
Told in an entirely subjective fashion that owes much to the work of writers like William S. Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, the film draws the audience into the lead character's mind and leaves them there to wander through a wavering maze of fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, the conscious and the subconscious, etc. The symbolic side of the film sees Cronenberg at his best; rejecting the adolescent sex and violence of his earlier work and instead building on the same highly psychological mind-space previously explored in his 1988 film Dead Ringers. There's also a certain reminiscent feeling to his two controversial literary adaptations of the 1990's, Naked Lunch (1991) and Crash (1998), both of which depicted a world as viewed through the eyes of a tormented character.
Cronenberg has always enjoyed chronicling the downward spiral of characters that have been psychologically damaged, but with Spider, novelist Patrick McGrath has created one of the ultimate cinematic schizophrenics. From his oversized shoes, to his nonsense book of gibberish, Spider is every rambling lunatic we've ever come across rolled into one. In lesser hands, the performance could have very easily veered towards Rain Man territory; however, with Fiennes in the lead role, this was never a danger. Having exorcised all traces of hammy overacting as The Tooth Fairy in Red Dragon (2002), he is here free to create a subtle, less showy role that requires little besides simply 'reacting'. His appearance is one of outright dishevelment throughout, as he sits in smoky canteens decked out in a dirty rain-coat, scruffy trousers and with bright yellow nicotine stains on his fingers. If we could walk into the film, we get the feeling that the stench of urine would be everywhere.
When not chronicling the darker side of mental illness or the terrible living conditions of the British halfway-house system, Spider works best as a gripping detective story. We, the audience are here to follow Spider as he traces his various webs back to that one fateful night; studying the facts and putting the pieces back together. There is even a semi-nonsense voice over/stream of conscious thought pattern mumbled by our 'hero' throughout, which helps shed some light on the mystery at hand without necessarily giving too much away. The film also works as a showcase for underrated actors. Fiennes, of course, in the lead is outstanding, but we also have Miranda Richardson as young spider's mother, as well as acting as the film's central enigma. Some have criticised her performance as being almost larger than life, like a caricature, but she is supposed to be playing the fevered incarnation of womanhood as depicted from the mind of a very troubled boy; so what do you expect? As mentioned before, the film works from an entirely subjective viewpoint, in which everything in the film has been rearranged and readapted to better suit the crumbling mindset of the central character.
With this in mind, Cronenberg creates a depiction of Britain that has more in common with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) than anything resembling old London town. There are no cars in the film and, save for a few scenes, very little in the way of extras. This allows Spider to wander the empty streets and empty allotments as if constantly roaming around his own damaged and alienated psyche. Gabriel Byrne is also interesting as Spider's father, but his performance is one of great subtly. Even more subtle and criminally underrated is John Neville as Spider's only companion in the halfway house. He gives a very restrained, understated portrayal of psychosis and old age, which is both intriguing and disturbing; with many viewers picking up on the circular thematic of these two different characters. Is Terence a prototype for Spider? Perhaps. Even more intriguing is the character of Mrs Wilkinson, who may or may not be the very same woman who initially flashes her breast at young Spider, thus triggering the events of the film. If she fails to register, it is perhaps down to the streamlining of the character from book to film, which will inevitably leave out major plot details.
Regardless, Cronenberg ties all of these ideas into the images of the film; creating frames of Kafka-like complexity, with damp, bleak, washed-out scenes brimming with symbolism. Try and count how many times we see Spider framed through bars and grates, or how many times the web symbolism is used. The obsession with gas is also a clever allusion to later events and wonderfully represented by the looming gasworks that linger constantly on the horizon. This is a film that rewards multiple viewings, and, as a fan of engrossing, suspenseful, intelligent cinema, I greet it with open arms. Some will no doubt find the film to be a real chore, while others, I would hope, might find something to enjoy within this dark and troubled story. Sufficed to say, for those willing to allow themselves to be tangled in the spider's web, the film will reward....
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come Into My Parlour Said The Spider To The Fly,
Fiennes spends the length of the film attempting to piece together bits and pieces of times past in his childhood, that may or may not have happened. The prize in this herculanean effort is not so much to discover the unseemly goings on of his father, but rather seeking a discourse into the inner workings of Clegg's mind and what it potentially holds and abandons at will.
Dennis Clegg has been released into the care of a matron (Lynn Redgrave) in a halfway house in a decaying, dying section of London, that has become the home, heart and soul for others of his ilk; the mentally disabled, discharged from the asylum, but not quite ready for habitation in the outside world at large. His lodgings represent the underbelly of a netherworld that caters to no one and where rehabilitation is a foreign word, absent from the vocabulary of those in charge.
Redgrave plays Mrs. Wilkinson, the spawn of Nurse Ratchet, with a demeanor as cold as the grave and as uncaring as any you are likely to see. Hers is a job, nothing more, nothing less; an automaton in the flesh. John Neville (teamed again with Fiennes. He was in Sunshine.) as Terrance, another resident of the house, has etched a character who sums up the medicated and serene patient seen as a non-threat to the establishment, but who attempts to warn Clegg of the queenly attitudes of Wilkinson and the powers she holds. This British character actor's small part in this film is a gem deserving of recognition.
Every movement that Clegg makes is guaranteed to bear witness to a recollection and to focus on events as perceived in his ever crumbling mind. Once his journey into neverland begins, we are brought along ever so slowly so that we capture these moments precisely and without seeing error. We learn that his mother, as played by Miranda Richardson, had nicknamed him Spider and it is through his newly gained name that his mannerisms take on the skin of the animal. Each newly remembered facet of his world is honed on the impressions of a spider web -- the string, broken
Richardson portrays three multi-faceted characters in this film, three spirits, and with each one she sheds a skin and grows another, entirely different in bearing and manner. It is a tour de force performance. Gabriel Bryne as Bill Clegg is dark and daunting, shown as a family man bored and tired with the mundance existance that is his life. Or is he?
The performance of Bradley Hall as the young Spider is eerie and precisely on the money. You can feel a kindred spirit between his child Spider and the adult that he is to become in Ralph Fiennes.
The best has been saved for last and that honour belongs to Ralph Fiennes. His Spider is haunted and haunting, gritty and realistic. This crumbling vestige of a man has been finely honed and not once did I think that I was watching a performance but rather as true a representation of a schizophrenic as one is able to command. It is not a glamour role or a safe role, not a trace of pretty boy about it and thank god, none attempting to project itself from the proceedings! Fiennes, who is known for the research he puts into his roles, has scored all aces with this one.
Another added plus is that Hollywood has not managed to ruin a good thing -- a film that truly makes one THINK about what they have just seen. I cannot help but put another role as a schizophrenic into play -- that of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. When you see these two films and attempt to add the similarities, about the only one that comes to mind IS the fact that schizophrenics are being represented and nothing more. Fiennes has left, for all intents and purposes, Crowe's portrayal in the dust, and if Hollywood has any guts come Oscar nomination time, they will credit a true acting triumph, rather than the orchestrated ones that usually win because of huge studio mounted pushes. Spider is the little film that could, did and should.
Spider is not an easy film to watch, but then seeing madness never is. There are those who will be turned off by it, or perhaps momentarily subjected to moments of quiet. Then again, others will cheer a peformance that is worthy of the accolade, a job very well done indeed! BRAVO! Cronenberg, as director, has launched a film that is as subdued and unassuming as a breath of air as it brushes past a cheek. The hollow streets, the absence of crowds and the delicate renderings of cast and crew alike, have conveyed a dream or as some would insist, a nightmare and
I sincerely hope that Spider is not lost in the shuffle of films that will spill forth over the course of the spring, or be considered as "too arthouse" to warrant consideration by other than those who know absolute talent when it is put in front of them. This film is not "entertainment" per se, and that would be the wrong word to use. Rather, eye opening and thought provoking would be a more apt description. It's a step on the edge of the abyss and the eventual and catastrophic conclusion that must become Spider's reality.
It is minimalist and daring and I can't say strongly enough how much this ensemble cast has brought forth for our inspection. See this film and be amazed at it in all its consummate glory!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Patience Will Be Rewarded,
This is not an easy film to watch. Cronenberg will not be rushed, and does not patronise the viewer by offering easy answers or solutions. As it's essentially seen through the eyes of a delusional schizophrenic, neither does he make it entirely clear what's real and what's fantasy. But these things are what make it such a unique and rewarding experience. I'm not going to ruin it by telling you what I think it means - watch it and make up your own minds.
Fiennes is, as I've already said, superb. Gabriel Byrne also lends his usual presence as Spider's taciturn, brooding father, and Bradley Hall is creepily effective as his younger self, but it's Miranda Richardson who steals the show in a dual role as Spider's mother and the loud-mouthed, tarty Yvonne.
This is an excellent study of madness and maternal obsession (to call it Freudian would be to underate its subtlety), which keeps you thinking until long after the credits roll. It's not a film to watch on a romantic evening in, and will probably test the patience of many. But if you are a grown-up seeking a perfect antidote to Hollywood shlock, then I urge you to watch it.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars unsettling, disturbing...yet strangely moving,
So it was a bit of a surprise when he came back with this movie, a small, intimate exploration of one mans mental illness. The film focuses on Dennis Clegg (brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, who immerses himself in the character and clearly relishes the challenge of portraying this mans fractured mental state), a man recently released after a long stay in a mental institution, who returns to his home turf and finds rooms in a bleak halfway house run by Mrs Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave in a fantastic supporting turn playing a woman so unsympathetic to her charges that it is something akin to a slap in the face). It is in this bleak environment that Dennis (or spider as he was nicknamed by his beloved mother) attempts to piece together his fractured childhood memories. Flitting in time between a grimy London of the 80's, Spiders present, and his equally colourless childhood in the 60's, his memories gradually come to focus on the apparent spur of the moment murder of his doting mother (played with a quiet dignity by a wonderful Miranda Richardson) by his brutish boozing father (Gabriel Byrne). However, the fact that Richardson also plays the floozy who takes the place of Spiders mother in the Clegg house following this event suggests that everything may not be as it seems.
And it is the truth underlying this tragic event that we, the viewers are here to witness as we try to understand this confused, muttering and crushingly lonely cipher of a man. This is a film that offers no easy explanations, with no men in white coats pooping up to offer an easy to digest answer to Spiders haunted mind. Abandoning his more recognizable milieu, Cronenberg has fashioned a film that is horrific in a much more subtle, disturbing way, and marks a welcome change of direction for the Canadian auteur, whilst still dealing with his common themes of psychology and transformation, though here focused firmly on the cerebral rather than the anatomical.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different and interesting.,
This review is from: Spider [DVD] (DVD)I found this film, although quite dark, a bit of fresh air away from the tedious, predictable plots that Hollywood so often produces. Both Gabriel Byrne and Ralph Fiennes are fantastic and it's well worth a look if you fancy somehting a bit different.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Cronenberg's Best,
This review is from: Spider [DVD] (DVD)Spider was the first film by Cronenberg that I truly loved and for me, heralded the start of a more mature style of film making that he has thankfully carried forward into his later films, "A History Of Violence" and "Eastern Promises".
The film works extremely well as a study of a damaged mind dislocated from the present by a preoccupation with the traumas of the past. The film exists in this amber half life where memory and fantasy collide and we're never quite sure what's real and what is the product of Spider's damaged mind.
If you like meticulously observed mood films that require patience then this will be a film for you. There aren't many great films like this about mental illness that don't resort to sentimentality, usually we're treated to incredibly worthy films or some attempt at an Oscar nomination. Spider just tries to paint the portrait of a troubled mind without making any moral judgements or lifting the lead character out of the murky hell he's resigned himself to. A troubling film but rewarding to watch. Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast in the lead. It would've been an inferior film without his performance.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hanging from the edge of the web,
This review is from: Spider [DVD] (DVD)The rainy,grim,grey streets of East London,dominated by the Gasometers,streets of bricked-up windows and doorways,or unpeopled.Set in the late 50s of post-war desolation.Ralph Fiennes plays Dennis Clegg,inching his way slowly from the train to the half-way house for the mentally ill,between hospital and community,run by Mrs.Wilkinson(Lynne Redgrave),the formidable matriarch of fear.He mumbles hesitatingly.John Neville plays the loquacious,grandiose Terence,with the humour of the institutionalised who welcomes him to this Dickensian, ramshackle home.Clegg has been away in a mental institution for years.He is now returning to explore his memories, delusions,paranoid thoughts and fears of the trauma of his schizophrenic past.His notebook is used to record this journey into time and trauma.Jig-saw pieces filled in by conjecture.Isolated,lonely,with no friends to dispel his webby thoughts.As the sights and smells of a dank landscape permeate his fractured consciousness, Spider begins to recall his turbulent boyhood as the only child to an abusive plumber (Byrne) and his wife (Richardson).He explores the outer environment of café's,pubs and canal seats,near to the environment he grew up in on the silk of memories.
Clegg has a deep love for his mother,who is the archetype for all women to him.He was closer to her than to his father.He believes his father(Byrne)Bill,killed his mother and took up with a tart.It seems that his mother(Richardson) and himself are neglected by an alcoholic husband and father.His mother has fondly called him `Spider', because of his love of cat's cradles and spider's webs.She becomes mixed up in his head with Yvonne, the tart,also played by Richardson,who Bill makes love to by the canal or at the allotment.He sees or hallucinates the killing of his mother by Bill.Yvonne comes to live with them,usurping his mother's role.Again what is real and what is delusion are hard to fathom.In the present,Yvonne soon inhabits Mrs.Wilkinson's role in the half-way house.He steals into her room planning to kill her.When she wakes up we see it's Redgrave's Mrs.Wilkinson.We also see the way Spider junior rigs string up to the gas supply and turns it on.The tart is killed but as his father drags her body out in the street,he is crying over Spider's mother's body.Through the protagonist's narrative, truth and illusion intertwine.The psychic events,the subjectivity of an unreliable narrator,drive this film slowly forward,memories distorted by perception.Hanging on a fragile precipice of Spider's creation,the film images represent the beliefs of what happened, to conceal what really happened.
As Spider delves deeper into his past his hallucinations escalate.Fiennes portrayal is his best ever,stripping away all the rhetoric of `acting',to become seemingly a real schizophrenic.The cinematography is 1st rate showing a reductive,realistic,impoverished environment.The music too is beautifully selected.Witness how `Silent Night' captures all the fled tenderness,Spider associates with his mother.Richardson is truly magnificent in 3 roles. Cronenburg has honed his art with a Beckettian austerity,bleak interiors,drab colours,no longer ram-raiding the subconscious,he uncovers and disentangles the psychology of a 'dead soul' beneath layers of paranoid schizophrenia,unravelling the disconnected psyche,spaced out for years on solitary musings in the hinterland of his mind.This has the clarity and sombreness of a masterpiece.Cronenburg's best film yet.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Untypical Cronenberg,
This review is from: Spider [DVD] (DVD)There's something intriguing about most of David Cronenberg's work.He was known originally as a cult horror film director in the '70s and '80s featuring typically graphic scenes from classics like Shivers, Rabid, Scanners and The Fly (his biggest hit). In the '90s and 00s Cronenberg moved away from horror and science fiction to make thrillers and then this highly unusual film, Spider. The film's title initially misleads as it has nothing to do with spiders or arachnophobia, but instead is a disturbing psychological drama seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic. The 'spider' is just a nickname for a lonely and strange little boy growing up in the 1950s, who seems to have a fascination with spider webs and cats cradles. He even has a hobby of adorning his bedroom with huge cat's cradles of string.
The film starts out with Spider (Ralph Fiennes) now an adult disembarking from a train, on his way to a boarding house in the East End of London, the area where he grew up. He has been reduced to a shambling wreck of a man who just stumbles around muttering apparent inaudible nonsense.The boarding house is a ahabby, grim Dickensian place, whose residents are elderly men, who have fallen on hard times. It is there we see Spider trying to piece his life together and ascertain how he came to end up in such a state. He does this by keeping a notebook of events he recalls from his childhood and he continues to make entries as childhood memories return to haunt him. The film then backtracks to that period of time when we learn about Spider and his relationship with his Mum and Dad.
During the film we (or rather Spider) witness his father kill his mother after he has started an affair with a local common tart, brilliantly played by Miranda Richardson. For reasons that become clear ,she also plays Spider's mother and shares the role of the housekeeper of the boarding house with Lynn Redgrave, but I don't want to give too much away. The question is did Spider's father actually murder his mother or did Spider imagine it all? The harsh truth is revealed towards the end of the film when the purpose of the story comes together.
The film deliberately moves at a slow pace reflecting Spider's personality, and it is certainly not for everyone. It's basically a study of schizophrenia and I think it's well portrayed. If you are expecting the earlier type of Cronenberg films, forget it. This is much more akin to an art-house type film, and you will need a certain amount of patience to get into it. Subtitles should be switched on, so that you can follow what Spider is mumbling about. I'd say the film probably needs more than one viewing to fully understand and appreciate what's going on. But nevertheless I found this Cronenberg film fascinating if depressing and very different to what you would expect from him. It's also Ralph Fiennes finest acting role that I've seen so far.
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Spider [DVD] by David Cronenberg (DVD - 2008)