David Cronenberg’s SPIDER is a brilliant, grim, and deliberate observation of a schizophrenic’s attempt to return to society after having been institutionalized since childhood. Society in this case is represented by a halfway-house lorded over by a relentless Lynn Redgrave. It is located in a seedy, rundown section of London across the street from the desolate local gasworks. From there “Spider” Cleg, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes, ventures out to relive (or to use a better term, re-imagine) critical events from his childhood and his relationship with his working class parents (played by Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne).
This is a Cronenberg film that concentrates on guilt, damaged personality, and memory, rather than on body parts, wounds, or fleshy organic objects, as in past Cronenberg films. It succeeds admirably, but the viewer is warned that it is a grim reality that is presented here, one that will not appeal to all tastes.
As a character study it is probably the best thing Cronenberg has ever done. Despite its grounding in a seemingly real world, it still stretches our views of what is and is not real. This Cronenberg accomplishes with a masterful hand (and with superb assists from his cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and music director Howard Shore).
The featurettes on this DVD are spare and focused explicitly on making the film. They are short but instructive. Cronenberg’s commentary is interesting and provides a great deal of explanation about character and story but rather little about the production itself which, according to one of the featurettes, was very difficult to finance.
Visually, this film is arresting, despite the grim visage on display for both interior and exterior views. The London presented here is nearly unpopulated which emphasizes Fienne’s character’s isolation. Colors are natural by day with subtle lighting effects and angles representing different mental states. It is an understated and cold world that emphasizes character, memory, and isolation.