This week finally sees the Criterion release of Naked Lunch on blu ray.
There are some movies that will always be polarizing. David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch is a veritable masterpiece to some and pretentious, artsy-fartsy nonsense to others. I happen to fall in the former camp but it took several viewings for me to fully appreciate the film’s merits and there are still elements that make no damn sense to me. The movie is unapologetically bizarre and makes no effort to explain what is occurring to the audience or provide context to the characters actions. To be fair, it’s based on the surreal novel of the same name by William S. Burroughs—one which I would normally say is unfilmable. Cronenberg cleverly bookends the main plotline of the novel with more relatable tidbits from Burroughs’ own life. It somewhat keeps the narrative grounded but only marginally.
If I could pick one word that describes the body of Cronenberg’s work, it would be grotesque. Many of the creatures and humanoids that populate Naked Lunch are just plain revolting. I watch movies to elicit feelings and emotions though, so I am alright with being grossed out every once in a while. Peter Weller, of Robocop fame, puts in a great deadpan (dare I say, robotic?) performance as the main character.He seems just as confused as the rest of us at the events going on in the film which makes him relatable as an “everyman” archetype. It keeps the movie from becoming completely inaccessible and it’s fun to watch him interact with all the wacky denizens.
Movies like this aren’t a lot of folk’s cup of tea but I think that it’s enjoyable to have to really think about what a film is trying to convey. Not to say every movie should feel like an acid trip while you are watching it, but there is something to be said about toying with the preconceptions of how a plot should be presented. This type of thing is Cronenberg’s bag and he is good at what he does.What would be incomprehensible mess in the hands of an amateur director is deftly handled by the master of the bizarre. If you feel like getting a tickle in your brain region and some chills up your spine, you should definitely give Naked Lunch a watch.