Being trapped in my mind is perhaps the scariest thought of all!
Written By: Patrick McGrath
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Knowledge is not integral to Spider, in fact knowledge would render the tone and mood of the film completely moot. We do not know reality, and neither does our lead character. However, our knowledge of that fact is not of importance. Spider is not a simple film about a simple twist, it’s not seeking to shock or to play with reality. There is nothing to grab onto during the entirety of Spider, no inkling of what may or may not be the true reality. That is the state of Dennis Cleg’s mind and that is the state David Cronenberg imbues into his audience.
At the core of the delusions, hallucinations, reality, and non-reality are two actors. Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson have two very different roles to play (although Miss Richardson herself ends up playing three roles in the film). Miss Richardson plays the fly caught in the center of Dennis’ web. Every tale that his mind weaves revolves around her. His mind is the great spider ensnaring and trapping whatever he sees fit to be reality and his version of reality must always revolve around his mom, in whatever form she may take.
Mr. Fiennes shuffles his way through Spider, but his shuffle is an angry one. He has no real forward momentum, as evidenced in a great moment of small impact when he reaches a curb that he cannot step over. Dennis, the character Mr. Fiennes so brilliantly portrays, doesn’t move through the worlds he creates so much as he sits within them. He sees all and knows nothing, he is simply present and his mind can do no more than be present.
Outside of the story Miss Richardson and Mr. Fiennes deliver two fantastic performances. Miss Richardson is like a chameleon, she is nice, creepy, slutty, wretched, and devilish. She is both the ideal of Dennis’ mind and the nightmare he wishes to escape. Mr. Fiennes is stuck within the cage of his mind, and his slowly decaying body shows as much. His fingers are tinged yellow from nicotine use, and Mr. Fiennes plays Dennis as someone whose mind has been permanently tinged by forces beyond his control. The performance of Mr. Fiennes is very tactile, and there is a powerful force behind the way he touches items. When he writes in his journal he presses on the paper in a way that conveys Dennis’ belief that the harder he presses the more what he writes will actually become truth. Mr. Fiennes does this while barely speaking, but his physicality makes it so that he doesn’t need to speak that much.
All the while Mr. Cronenberg helms the festivities with an assured yet restrained hand. He doesn’t need to make the film fantastical or outlandish, the inner workings of Dennis’ mind are fantasy enough. Mr. Cronenberg stands back and allows for his actors to make their mark and for the tangible qualities of the story to come to the forefront. Together with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky he creates a drab and dreary world. However, it is a world that is full of a chaotic life, the sort of chaotic life that is to be expected from a damaged and disturbed mind. The chaos of Spider is beautiful, and the directorial choices of Mr. Cronenberg are smart and on point.
Spider is a great watch throughout, I found the mystery of Dennis’ mind to be a mystery I couldn’t peg down. I have written this review as if the film were about the mind of a madman, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe Spider is about something completely different and I am way off in my reading. That is a very real possibility, but in the world of Spider it’s next to impossible to know what is real and what isn’t. It’s clear that the rest of humanity has left Dennis alone and isolated, they have passed him by. It makes sense that those of us who consider ourselves sane wouldn’t be able to accurately decipher the inner workings of a mind we can’t understand. I do understand one thing, Spider is a great film, I have no doubt about that.