By GUY FLATLEY
CAST: Ralph Fiennes,
Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Bradley Hall, Lynn Redgrave,
John Neville, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig
Clegfor reasons clear to his keepers at a state institution
but not, at first, to usis known as Spider. Adrift in a fog
of medication and inept therapy since the tragedy that shattered
his adolescence in the sixties, Spider is suddenly scheduled for
a change. Were in the enlightened eighties now, and in its
pragmatic wisdom the British government has decided to set free
its mental patients and give them a chance to sink or swim in the
mainstream. Thus Spider, a schizophrenic subject to frequent hallucinations,
is handed a piece of paper with a strange name and address, escorted
to a train, and told he is on his own.
Having wandered in a daze for the greater part
of his first day of freedom in over 20 years, Spider finally reaches
his destination and knocks on the door of what has to be the most
inhospitable halfway house in all of London. Managed by a cold-eyed,
domineering woman, the house is for disturbed men only, and its
puke-yellow walls and creaky corridors seem on the verge of decay.
Yet these rooms, with their muffled voices, flickering shadows and
jabbery conversations, provide a tingle of pleasure to Spider, a
kind of perverse familiarity. He has literally returned to a neighborhood
he knew as a boy, and to a past that is slowly resuming its shape.
Its as if a door to a hidden chamber has opened and a warm
wind is pulling him into powerful dream, an inescapable nightmare
strong enough to have driven a boy to madness.
The memories that torment Spider surface in
jagged fragments and neither he, nor we, can anticipate their duration
or their intensity. Nor can we exactly determine their veracity,
since they are filtered through Spiders feverish brain. Did
his drunken, crudely sexual father really leave his mother for a
woman he picked up in a bar? Why is Spider so shaken by the recurring
image of his mother, dressed in a clinging slip and smiling a secret
kind of smile? Most baffling of all, how can Spider recall the precise
details of a grisly murder he could not possibly have witnessed?
The thematic threads of "Spider"--loneliness, fear, madness,
familial violence, the search for significance in a world without
meaning--have been woven by David Cronenberg in films ranging from
"Scanners" to "The Dead Zone," "The Fly,"
"Dead Ringers," "Naked Lunch" and "Crash."
But the director reaches a new peak of brilliance here, seamlessly
blending his bizarre imagery and insights into a surreal, harrowing
shocker. Working from Patrick McGraths skillful adaptation
of his own novel, Cronenberg has drawn an extraordinary performance
from Ralph Fiennes in the seemingly unplayable role of Spider. Except
for the agitated gibberish he frequently mouths, Fiennes has nary
a line of dialogue, but he speaks volumes with the fear and the
fire in his eyes and with the anguished, longing motions of his
body. Astonishing, too, are 10-year-old neophyte Bradley Hall as
the young Spider; the incredibly versatile Miranda Richardson as
both the seductive mother and the barroom tramp; Gabriel Byrne as
the lusting father; and Lynn Redgrave as the woman whose halfway
house is not a home.
And, yes, as you will see--there is a very
good reason Spider is called Spider.