As I gear up to (eventually) watch David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (2011), I thought I’d delve into some older Cronenberg that I was unfamiliar with. Spider (2002) stars Ralph Fiennes as a mentally-disturbed (possibly schizophrenic) man just released from an asylum and trying to reintegrate himself into society. Living in a halfway house, he finds himself caught in a waking nightmare in which he recreates scenes from his childhood.
The film was a rather appropriate precursor to A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg’s film on the advent of psychoanalysis as told through the lens of Freud’s relationship with Jung) because Spider is very preoccupied with both psychoanalysis and the Oedipal complex. It’s a very tightly-wound film, full of quiet and stillness, that gradually builds tension, allowing only for the briefest expressions of emotion before the release at the end.
Working from Patrick McGrath’s novel and screenplay, Cronenberg directs Spider as a by-the-numbers thriller, showing admirable restraint from delving into what has become known as the “Cronenberg realm” of body-horror. (The one distinctly Cronenbergian moment comes when a woman, having just — and there’s no pretty way to say this — given a tugjob under a bridge, flicks the detritus at the camera and stalks off.)
The direction itself is at least somewhat successful, giving us the uncanny impression that the film was produced in the early-90s rather than 2002, but the script suffers from an over-literalization of the Oedipal drama. It fits so perfectly into Freud’s map of psychoanalysis — from the repression of the primal trauma to the inability to enter Lacan’s Symbolic order (for the Freudian nerds out there) — that it fails as a story. With the exception of Miranda Richardson’s admirable performance (as Fiennes’ mother), characters are not given the opportunity to express any sort of emotion and as such identification with them becomes difficult and they merely stand as placeholders for an intellectual discussion on sexual repression.
Verdict: Let’s hope the “talking cure” is a little more subtly portrayed in A Dangerous Method.
Medium: Netflix, 1st viewing.
Rating: 1.5 stars.