Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Naked Lunch

Cinema Monolith: 2/10
IMDb: 7.1/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: *** out of 4

Released on December 27, 1991
Rated R
155 minutes

Directed by David Cronenberg

Written by David Cronenberg, from the novel by William S. Burroughs

Cast: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Peter Boretski, Sean McCann, John Friesen

Well, where to begin? This review is going to be about as screwy and pointless as the movie was, so please bear with me. (And, at any time, if you feel like baling out of this review, please feel free to do so…I won’t mind one bit). Besides Naked Lunch, I’ve now seen three Peter Weller movies (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Robocop, and Screamers) and five from director David Cronenberg (including Scanners, The Dead Zone, and The Fly), and I can say with the utmost sincerity that Naked Lunch is the weirdest, most confusing, most uncomfortable, most perverted, and by far the least enjoyable of the bunch.

I thought I might take a stab at describing the story without the benefit of checking IMDb, Wikipedia, or any other sources for assistance, and I purposely steered clear of reading any reviews of this film, whether by professional reviewers or by blogging amateurs like myself, so I could relate my own unadulterated take on the twisted plot elements and happenings on-screen without their influence. So what I’m about to describe will probably be way off the mark, and will no doubt be ridiculed by those who understood and enjoyed the film, but I’m okay with that…it’s a cross I’m more than willing to bear.

From what I could ascertain, Weller plays an insect exterminator in 1953 New York City, who one day discovers his wife shooting up with the roach powder he uses on the job. He’s then arrested for possession of drugs, he’s introduced to a large beetle-like bug who speaks to Weller from an orifice on its back, and he’s soon involved with even bigger bugs, recreational drug use, homosexuality, an organization of secret bug agents, a murder, an odd fascination with typewriters…lord, never mind. I had no idea what was happening, and probably never will. This was without a doubt the most bizarre film I’ve ever seen, and as you’ve guessed by now, I didn’t understand one minute of it. Not ONE.

I’d read beforehand that Burroughs’ 1959 novel was unfilmable, and though I’ve never read the book, I’d have to agree; it’s not only unfilmable, but it still is. Admittedly, I’m probably not the right audience for this film, nor the right person to write a review of it and expect others to follow my lead. I’m oftentimes quite literal-minded when it comes to watching movies, and I take things as they’re presented to me, and not as a metaphor, or a veiled representation of something else, or in this case, as a nonsensical nightmare posing as some sort of abstract reality.

And perhaps that’s what happened to me here (tenfold, I might add). At one point while I watched, I began to wonder if Naked Lunch was autobiographical, and was merely the author’s drug-induced thoughts and writing experiences expressed in cinematic form. Well, trust me, if I took some of my half-whacked dreams and turned them into a two-hour film, I’m quite sure no one would garner any entertainment or educational value from them either, save for maybe my brother, whose dreams are often as off-kilter as mine. The thing is, we get a kick out of sharing them with each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean friends and family—and audience members—want to be subjected to them as well.

So in the end, did I find anything worthwhile about Naked Lunch? Not much, but if I were to rate it categorically, I’d say it gets an 8/10 for Cronenberg’s direction, a 9/10 for the bug effects, and a 10/10 for the cast and crew having the guts to make the damn thing. But from a straightforward movie-watching standpoint, I’m giving it a 2/10: I did not enjoy the experience, and I would not recommend the experience to others. Years ago, I saw an episode of The Simpsons where Bart and his friends saw Naked Lunch at a theater, after which one of them stated, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.” Well, trust me, I can think of at least two dozen things wrong with this movie.  (2/10)

20 comments on “Naked Lunch

  1. geelw
    7/14/19

    Oh, let some of Cronenberg’s later work get a hold of you and you’ll forgive him for NL. I found it bizarre as hell, but I kind of knew it was going to be after reading some of the book and later, reading how the film was vastly not like the book.

    Anyway, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence come recommended. I also say Dead Ringers was a winner (it’s sort of loosely based on a true story and Jeremy Irons is fantastic in his parts, but it might be tough to watch in a few spots for some folks).

    • Todd Benefiel
      7/14/19

      Hey, Greg! Yes, I’ve seen A History of Violence (it was one of the two ‘seen’ Cronenbergs I didn’t mention), and I really liked it…probably my favorite of his films so far. And I’ve been wanting to see Eastern Promises, so that’ll be borrowed from the library at some point, as well as Dead Ringers. I think Videodrome was one I’ve seen, but I may be wrong, so I’m curious about that one, too…especially for how Deborah Harry is used in the story.

      And now, the big question: was the book better or worse than the movie, in your most humble opinion?

      • geelw
        7/16/19

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naked_Lunch The book is excellent, but you’ll need to have quite the open mind to its language use and themes. It’s also not like the film in many respects as Cronenberg’s adaptation uses lots of material based on Burroughs’ life. Amusingly enough, I found Drugstore Cowboy a fantastic counterpoint to this film because of its more straightforward narrative about drug addiction and yep, that cameo by Burroughs as the aging junkie who *really* knows his stuff.

        Videodrome is weird as hell, but I do like it mostly because of Ms. Harry working her part even though James Woods’ role is more important to the work. As for other Cronenberg recommends, Rabid is great (but quite depressing), The Dead Zone is mostly superb (and shockingly timely), Shivers (or They Came From Within) is appropriately icky (I liked it a lot, but I can tolerate its content more than others) and has Barbara Steele in a too-brief part. eXistenZ I need to see again, but I didn’t care for it much the first time (that may change). M. Butterfly requires you to go all in on the plot (some reading beforehand helps), but it’s a pretty good film. Spider is great (but quite bleak), I loved A Dangerous Method – it’s sort of half biopic half fiction and the performances are excellent. Cosmopolis is pretty grim, but very well made, as is Maps to the Stars. Um, Crash is Crash (it’s a love it or hate it film for many people).

        That said, I think you should track down 1979’s Fast Company, as it’s going to surprise the heck out of you on a few levels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_Company_(1979_film)

      • Todd Benefiel
        7/17/19

        Thanks heaps for the input and recommendations, Greg! I just now watched every trailer for every film you mentioned, and excluding The Dead Zone (which I’ve already seen), the ones that interest me the most are Rabid, Shivers, Fast Company (William Smith and Claudia Jennings…straight out of the drive-in ’70s!), and Cosmopolis. eXistenZ looks too much like Naked Lunch for me to take a chance on, and the subject matter of M. Butterfly and A Dangerous Method just doesn’t grab me. And I remember when Crash came out, and even back then I thought the story was strange and off-putting.

        Watching the trailers, it was interesting to see certain actors appear again and again…but only in groups of films that were released during particular time periods. James Woods from the ’80s, Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon from the 2000s, as well as Stephen Lack, Jeremy Irons, and…wait, Marilyn Chambers appeared just once? Outrage!

        And Mike suggested I check out The Brood, so I’ll add that one to the Cronenberg list as well. And why hasn’t he directed anything since 2014? (And I’m referring to Cronenberg, not Mike). According to IMDb, he’s got nothing in the works, either.

      • geelw
        7/17/19

        Amusingly enough, I’d avoided A Dangerous Method because I wasn’t interested in the subject matter either, but it was in rotation on cable at the time and I just so happened to turn the tube on as it was starting and figured, eh, what the heck, if I hate it, I can at least say I saw it and hated it, lol. It’s quite a solid film and had me reading up later on some of the real people represented in it (some fell victim to not so good fates, sadly).

        Apparently, Cronenberg seems to be having trouble with studios financing his work these days, so I’ve read he may retire from directing, which would be a shame. Too many big studios want blockbusters and I guess his style has been supplanted by all those weird indie flicks that pop up all over Netflix and other streaming services. I hope he can make a comeback at some point.

      • Todd Benefiel
        7/18/19

        Well, if I happen to stumble across A Dangerous Method on cable, I promise you I might stop and give it a look! And thanks for the info on Cronenberg…that’s too bad that, in a way, he’s being forced out of a job by the studios. Kind of reminds me of what happened to John Carpenter; sadly, many of the directors whose films I grew up watching are slowly fading away.

  2. Not a fan of Cronenberg. Not to say I dislike everything he’s done but too weird for my taste. The only reason this was on my radar ages ago and I’m sure you can relate is that Roy Scheider was in it. I’ve pretty much wiped it from my memory bank. I’ll name The Brood as a flick I do like from my fellow Canadian. But then it does have Oliver Reed. 🙂

    • Todd Benefiel
      7/16/19

      Yeah, ‘weird’ is an apt term here, and it made Naked Lunch even more so when I found out Roy Scheider was in it. I’d considered checking out The Brood after seeing Scanners, but never got around to giving it a try. Perhaps I’ll give Mr. Cronenberg ONE more chance with that one.

  3. geelw
    7/17/19

    OOPS, I forgot to note that eXistenZ is closer to Videodrome in terms of content and story, so it’s almost a followup to that if you need to bookend two films of his that have similar themes.

    • Todd Benefiel
      7/18/19

      It sounds like all three films – eXistenZ, Videodrome, and Naked Lunch – would be part of a personal ‘so weird I don’t understand them’ trilogy. And after watching the trailer for Videodrome, I’m beginning to think that maybe I haven’t seen that one, either…at least not all the way through. So perhaps a masochistic night of ‘Three Mind-Bending Cronenbergs’ movie watching is in order.

  4. “I’d have to agree; it’s not only unfilmable, but it still is.” hehe too funny.

    “Well, trust me, if I took some of my half-whacked dreams and turned them into a two-hour film” I can only imagine it would be the Porky’s shower scene for two hours with cross universe 80’s actresses popping in to get really clean.

    Naked Lunch is another of those films (see soon to come post) that I always in my mind thought I’d seen. If anyone had asked I’d be sure I had. On reading your post I’m pretty positive I haven’t. I kinda feel like I need to see it now. Just to witness the crazy your brain had to endure. But I don’t mind FUBAR twisted up shit so it’s possible I may like it! Added to the watch list lol.

    • Todd Benefiel
      7/20/19

      If you end up watching Naked Lunch and come out of the ordeal permanently brain-scarred, I’m not taking responsibility! Perhaps Mill Creek’s ‘Too Cool for School’ set would be less traumatizing, and a hell of a lot more entertaining.

      Wait a minute…a two-hour shower scene with nothing but my favorite ’80s actresses? I…um…I… (Todd then falls out of his chair in a dead faint).

      • With you fainting and me brain scarred I think we both need to be sat down for a Mill Creek marathon! Jeepers I just looked it up. 12 cheeky movies and I’ve never seen any of them. I’m sure I will be eating my lunch naked at the end of of it!!! 🙂

      • Todd Benefiel
        7/25/19

        You’ll be doing EVERYTHING naked at the end of it! It’s actually a pretty cool set, if you like early-’80s teen sex comedies (and trust me, I do). I picked it up for $5…my greatest DVD investment ever. Of course, the films are mostly cheesy and lame as hell (though in a perverse way I do have a soft spot for Malibu Beach, Weekend Pass, and The Beach Girls), but they evoke the 1980s for me, and take me back to a time I really enjoyed. And yes, being teen sex comedies, there are high Visible Mammary Quotients to enjoy!

        If I’m ever out your way, or you happen to be in the Phoenix area, we’ll definitely sit down to a ‘Too Cool for School’ marathon viewing!

      • Haha I read these comments the wrong way round but I was close with the VMQ well I got the important bit right lol.

        I’m pretty sure those films never made it over here! So yes I better start saving for my flight to Phoenix. Maybe I can set it against my taxes, for historical educational purposes.

      • Todd Benefiel
        7/27/19

        Ha, you indeed got the important part right! And yeah, at the time of their release, I’m sure most (if not all) of those films never saw the light of day in the UK; however, thanks to Mill Creek and Amazon, you can now watch them there OR in Arizona! (And by the way, that would be historical sex education purposes!).

  5. Eric Binford
    8/8/19

    I’m a huge Cronenberg fan! Favorites: Videodrome, The Brood, The Fly and Dead RingersNaked Lunch is totally demented and lots of fun! 🙂

    • Todd Benefiel
      8/13/19

      Well, you and a few other Cronenberg devotees have mentioned The Brood, so I think I’ll have to give that a look, along with Videodrome. As far as Naked Lunch goes, I agree that it’s demented…but that’s ALL I’m going to agree with!

      • Eric Binford
        8/15/19

        LOL! Cronenberg IS crazy! But there is a “method to the madness.” Seriously, his parents battled long, debilitating diseases which explain his obsession with physical horror. Anyhow, I’m curious to read your reaction to The Brood… it’s probably my favorite Cronenberg movie.

      • Todd Benefiel
        8/18/19

        Interesting backstory to Cronenberg, which definitely helps clarify his ideas and choices! And The Brood it shall be, whenever I can find it…of course my library doesn’t have it, and with no video stores in town, I guess I’ll have to hope for a revival screening somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just call Cronenberg and see if he’ll send me a copy…

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