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Naked Lunch (Criterion Collection) (1991)

Cast: Peter Weller, Peter Weller, Judy Davis, more...
Director: David Cronenberg, David Cronenberg
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Criterion
Genre: Cult, Foreign, Experimental/Avant-Garde, UK, Erotica, Criterion Collection
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
    see additional details...

This cinematic/literary hybrid fuses motifs from Beat writer William S. Burroughs's novel of the same name with elements of the author's biography and plenty of the cerebral alienation and biomorphic special effects fans of creepy cult director David Cronenberg have come to expect. Bill Lee (Peter Weller) wants to write, but he exterminates bugs to pay the bills. His wife, Joan (Judy Davis), becomes addicted to Bill's bug powder dust, and soon he joins her in a world of unorthodox hallucinogens; he visits the kindly yet sinister Dr. Benway (Roy Scheider) and walks away with his first dose of the black meat -- a narcotic made from the flesh of the giant aquatic Brazilian centipede. Soon, monstrous beetles are whispering conspiracy theories in Bill's ears and his nebbish writer friends Hank (Nicholas Campbell) and Martin (Michael Zelniker) are sleeping with Joan under his nose. When a party trick involving a liquor glass and a gun goes awry, killing Joan, Bill flees to Interzone, a Mediterranean city full of talking insectoid typewriters, double agents, offbeat aesthetes, and plots within plots. As he navigates this paranoid landscape, Bill begins ingesting another drug called mugwump jism and writes fragments that Hank and Martin soon assemble into a novel under the title Naked Lunch. As beat literature aficionados know, Interzone is based on Tangiers -- the city where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch. The incident in the film in which Hank and Martin appropriate Bill's writing and have it published closely approximates the real-life circumstances of the novel's publication, although it was Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac who helped out the real-life Burroughs. The William Tell incident that kills Bill's wife is also drawn from the author's real life. "William Lee" is both Burroughs' literary stand-in and the name under which he published his first autobiographical novel Junky. Ian Holm, who plays Joan Frost's husband, Tom, would appear in Cronenberg's similarly experimental eXistenZ several years later. ~ Brian J. Dillard, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Spotlight, November 2003: "The very fact that it's unfilmmable means that I'm free to invent something new," David Cronenberg told an interviewer as he was wrapping his reinvention of William S. Burroughs' 1959 stunner of a novel, Naked Lunch. When you see Peter Weller as the film's lead, Bill Lee, you realize immediately that he's an amalgam of Burroughs's gaunt desperation following the accidental shooting of his wife (played with ferocity by Judy Davis, who took the role after proclaiming Cronenberg's script the most erotic she'd ever read) and Cronenberg's sly, studious eagerness to creep you out. That is the face of this film, part biopic, part cinematic rendering of an autobiographical psychogram from a writer for whom writing is hell, quite literally, yet also the only means of survival.

You'll want to catch the audio commentary by Cronenberg and Weller on this Criterion disc and also the bonus disc with its a making-of doc, clips of Burroughs reading from his book and more.

You might also enjoy:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Terry Gilliam's equally weird, even trippier adaptation of a drug-induced book

William S. Burroughs - Final Academy Documents
Priceless footage here for anyone wanting to study up on the beat poet

William S. Burroughs - Commissioner of Sewers
In depth doc covers many angles of cult figure's life

GreenCine Member Ratings

Naked Lunch (Criterion Collection) (1991)
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7.06 (474 votes)
Naked Lunch (Criterion Collection) (Bonus Disc) (1991)
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7.15 (146 votes)

GreenCine Member Reviews

Worth the 2nd watch with commentary by JKelly July 3, 2005 - 12:20 AM PDT
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
I had no idea Peter "Robocop" Weller was so well-read and articulate. So many strange things play into this movie that after you watch it the first time, even tho you will mostly "get it" (the oddness is associated with drug use), it was very illuminating to me to hear the commentary with Weller and Cronenberg and get the back story of the author and the works the film was based on, as well as hearing the director explain what he injected into the story.

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