Director – David Cronenberg – 1991 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 115m
New York, 1953. Bug exterminator Bill Lee (Peter Weller) runs out of roach powder whilst treating an infested apartment. His initial accusations against his employers’ theft of the substance are revealed as groundless when he discovers wife Joan (Judy Davis) is using the brown powder as a drug. She persuades him to take up the habit. In a downtown interview, two narcotics detectives introduce Bill to his “Case Officer” – a typewriter sized bug with a talking orifice in its back who instructs him to kill Joan, as she is an Interzone agent.
After shooting his wife, Bill seeks counselling from Dr.Benway (ROy Scheider) who gives him a counter narcotic. A Mugwump gives Bill two air tickets to the Interzone where he meets (among others) Swiss expatriate Yves Cloquet (Sands) and writers Tom and Joan Frost (Ian Holm and Judy Davis). Throughout his adventures, friends Hank (Nicholas Campbell) and Martin (Michael Zelikner) encourage Bill to write his book Naked Lunch.
Attempts have previously been made to turn William Burroughs’ seminal book Naked Lunch into a movie, but David Cronenberg’s version (produced by Jeremy Thomas of The Last Emperor fame) is the only one to reach fruition. Cronenberg teases out good performances both from a predictably impressive cast and from various characters created by special effects supremo Chris Walas (The Fly). These latter include the fifties B Sci-Fi inspired Mugwump, an unnamed predatory insect character (homo)sexually seen devouring the flesh of another man, and a host of mutated typewriter bugs reminiscent of the living television set in the director’s Videodrome.
Naked Lunch may be at once Cronenberg’s most complex and least coherent work. It’s essentially a film about writers and the creative process, viewed through a drug-induced, fifties counter-culture haze. For those familiar with the Cronenberg oeuvre, it brings together Videodrome‘s hallucination, The Fly‘s entomological aesthetics and Dead Ringers‘ fall from grace via drugs. Yet, for all this, Naked Lunch is still quite unlike anything else in the cinema.