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on 28 February 2006
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 50's London, this is a disturbing and sad work that gets its teeth into issues of loneliness, isolation and family breakdown. Not one for a saturday night then.
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on 10 January 2008
After glancing over some the previous comments for Spider (2002), as well as several other somewhat similar films that explore various comparable themes, I have come to the conclusion that audiences today don't want to be challenged. A sad fact indeed, since David Cronenberg's Spider is one of the more challenging English-language films of the last couple of years.

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....
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on 19 July 2003
David Cronenberg's film of Patrick McGrath's novel "Spider" is easily his most assured and mature work to date. It's indeed quite a suprise to witness such a masterly paced and subtle movie from the director of "Scanners" and "Crash".
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
assured.
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!
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on 30 May 2004
From the opening frames of the credits, the church hymn, the Rorschach prints and the measured and precise pacing of them, we are entering a world of a severely disengaged man, who has had the spectre of schizophrenia as his constant companion, both in his waking and sleeping hours. The mumblings and rememberances of Dennis Clegg (Ralph Fiennes) combine to make for a journey down Memory Lane that is unlike any that rational, thinking people would care to take, let alone inhabit and from which there is very little chance of escape.
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
glass, the jigsaw puzzle, the string game he plays at the kitchen table -- spiraling and spinning the child and the man into its deadly web and further from reality as we know it.
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
forsaken a Hollywood beginning, middle and end.
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!
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on 14 August 2013
For those with compassion for, or even interest in, severe mental illness, this is the best depiction I have ever seen. Other films may be more accurate to a specific condition or a modern treatment reality, but for the sheer creeping horror of the internal hell going on this is unsurpassed. Brilliant.
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on 28 July 2008
A subtle, slow and sad film, this. Ralph Fiennes, when he's on top of his game, does understatement as well as anybody, as anyone who's seen his performance in The Constant Gardener will know. Here, he is heartbreaking as the deeply troubled protaganist of the title; a stutterning, shambling man in a scruffy coat, whose stubby, chewed, nicotine-stained fingers speak of a soul in torment as poignantly as any words could. Released from an asylum after an unspecified number of years, Spider returns to his old haunts and slowly, gradually, the ghosts from his past that have helped shape this piece of human wreckage begin to emerge.
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.
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on 27 October 2007
After the critical mauling of two of his previous films, the incomprehensible Naked Lunch and the equally preposterous Existenz, and the moral outcry caused by the filming of J G Ballard's crash, you would have expected David Cronenberg to go back to what he does so well, the genre known as "body horror" that he practically invented.
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.
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on 19 March 2011
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.
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on 4 January 2013
This is a superb film about a mentally ill man (Ralph Fiennes) who takes residence in a halfway house. He reverts to part of his childhood and eventually discovers the truth about his parents relationship and the death of his mother.
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Rather than his usual niche market of perversity and naked violence, Cronenberg has made an excellent arthouse film about the struggle of a disturbed man who returns home. Fiennes is Mr. Cleg, a schizophrenic man who has left a mental asylum for the first time since his childhood. Checking into a halfway house in his old neighborhood, run by a tough old matron, he goes about exploring his childhood haunts, mixing past and present in painful recollections of some kind of a trauma. This technique is extremely effective in showing not just the disarray of his mind, but also his slippery hold on reality.

The story that emerges has meaning, i.e. his illness is not merely a "chemical imbalance" but linked to experience. As it unfolds, he portrays his family: a loving mother, a cold and apparently abusive father, whose relationship with a local hooker disrupts their home. All the while, Cleg is writing down his ideas in code in a tiny notebook that he hides. As the process progresses, the viewer can see how he is fighting to see the truth, in spite of the lies he has weaved around himself like the webs that obsess him. It is remarkable how well each piece fits as in a puzzle. When it emerges, the truth is far worse than what he imagined (which I won't give away).

Fiennes is amazing in the role. He has to show all the inner turmoil by his gestures and posture, which exude the broken state of his self and mind. It is so believable it is painful to watch.

I would recommend renting this - you won't want to watch it again. But it is a masterpiece.
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