Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
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Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)
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Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)
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Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

4 comments to Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

  • A friend of mine was talking about Naked Lunch (and Cronenberg in General) and then you popped up with this review. So I though it was a sign and checked it out since it did seem like something I would be interested in. It was one hell of a weird film, that’s for sure. I wasn’t quite sure if it was about drug abuse, sexuality, creativity, something else entirely, or maybe nothing at all.

    I poked about Wikipedia and I think I have a better handle on it now. (Seriously, who needs drugs when you can just watch this movie.) I’m not sure I can say that I had fun watching it, but it was a memorable experience, that’s for sure. And as much as it confused me, that’s not something I’m necessarily opposed to. I guess it had the right level of bizarre to satisfy my aesthetics.

    • Hahahaha, nice coincidence! It’s definitely a weird one. I think it’s about all those things you mention. There’s a wonderful Freddie Mercury quote that says something like “If you see it, it’s there,” and that’s kind of my philosophy on looking at creative works. I don’t know anything about Burroughs and I’ve never read any of his stuff, so the Wiki article was my friend as well, in regards to deciphering some of Naked Lunch. Have you seen any of Cronenberg’s other movies? He’s well worth digging into, and even though a lot of his early movies are horror I think you may still enjoy them. Maybe. In any case, they are far from being traditional horror films, which may appeal.

  • That was my first Cronenberg film, and it was probably an odd one to start out on. Still, I might check some others out just to see what oddities he throws around.

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