Naked Lunch (1991)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
No Top Critics Tomatometer score yet...
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. … More
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Critic Reviews for Naked Lunch
A challenge if you're expecting a forward-moving plot but there's also more than enough pitch-black humor and straight-faced madness to lighten the mood, especially since Burroughs' strange lingo and vicious knack for language are intact.
If you've yet to purchase this incredible mind-trip involving bug powder, Brazilian centipedes, typewriters turning into giant insects, and bumping into Mugwumps in bars then the Blu-ray release is well worth your hard earned money.
...very nearly accomplishes the book's goal of "extinguishing all rational thought."
a respectful fugue on Burroughs' life and art ... It can be forgiven its acolyte's soul, for it is willing ...to confront Burroughs' signature themes of addiction and control, and to meld them into ... an evocation of the master.
This is the only film in which a typewriter beetle kills another typewriter beetle for being a secret agent. I mention it only because of the relevance of the written word, and typewriters %u2013 portable ones in this case %u2013 are the medium of the mes
Given that nobody could really have adapted Burroughs' book in any literal manner, what Cronenberg does instead is predictably creepy, warped and dreamy.
There are no great scenes, just flat moments of weirdness with lots of schlorping noises.
One of Cronenberg's most difficult but deliriously clever and emotionally insinuating films.
Cronenberg's overly-ambitious attempt at filming the unfilmable.
At root the most personal mission statement of a vital cinematic voice.
Cronenberg is the right man for a very, very odd job.
A twisted, brilliant masterpiece. One of Cronenberg's best.
While certainly original, its hallucinatory terrain is basically weird for the sake of weird... and ultimately buckles under its own pretense.
Cronenberg's masterpiece and perhaps the best film ever made about writing
Some movies just try too hard to be hip, and David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch is certainly one of them.
Audience Reviews for Naked Lunch
A surrealist film from the debonair auteur with a flair for the unsettling: David Cronenberg. Adapted from the William S. Burroughs novel and starring the eccentric yet keen Peter Weller, there is a fine line between utmost devotion and utter loathing for this film. For me it wasn't exactly the realism in the fantasies as seen through the eyes of a puritanical junkie, but how these obvious hallucinations interacted with the fantastical plot and the cavalcade of characters. The film follows an exterminator named William Lee who becomes addicted to the bug powder he peddles, and starts having intense and very specific kinds of hallucinations that drive him to start a life of crime, insanity, and commonly talking to his typewriter. These hallucinations tell him that he's a secret agent, his wife is against him, and homosexuality is a sin but is essential in the line of duty. Throughout the film visions of talking cockroaches/typewriters, and out of this world octopus hybrids are seamlessly strung along the plot to encompass the true absurdity of the situation. William Lee is an interesting character on his own, without the eccentricities that being a junkie include. He's cryptic with his words, and the strange speeches he spills forth are slightly egomaniacal and very isolating. He still interacts with the populous while hiding in plain sight, but when he is alone it's a depth of darkness that has to stay hidden and leads to more egotistical rants by William himself. The reason this film is so unbelievably amazing to me is that he recognizes that these hallucinations are just that in the beginning, the fact that a bug was communicating with him was something that led to his mind expelling the beast. Still, his problematic brain and his dire reality fuse to become a powder keg of insecurities. He knows these things are in his mind, but he's not sure if he's replacing them with actual human contact or it's an amalgamation of the drugs and what we all call reality. It's the fact that we only see a small glimpse of truth, once during the film, and the rest is some dream sequence with no true parameters except a timeline, which makes this genius. Yes, the bugs and parasitic creatures are unsettling and have the same monotone, warbling voices, but they're all part of the mindset of a very imbibed individual. The one thing that perturbed me was the psychotic ending with the strange yet logical reveal. It was too crazy, too convoluted and intricate to be a hallucination. While this film is not for everyone, it does give a great interpretation of a comparatively half-real life, powered by a strong drug of choice.More
Bill Lee: America is not a young land. It is old and dirty, evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians, the evil is there, waiting.
"Exterminate all rational thought."
Beyond bizarre. So far beyond bizarre that it's hard to organize my thoughts about what I have just seen. All I know for sure is that in the end, I really didn't care for it.
For the first half hour or so, I was in love with the movie. I found the whole insect poison as a drug thing interesting. As the film went on, I started to fall out of love with it. Then altogether, I just lost interest in what I was seeing. The viewing experience is very much like getting high. At first your having fun, it is a great time; but you must come down, and I did... hard.
To explain more than a few details of this plot would be tedious. So I'll just keep it to the bare minimums. An exterminator learns that his wife has been stealing his powder and has been shooting it up. His wife then turns him, an ex-junkie himself, onto the drug and soon is just as addicted as his wife. Then he starts hallucinating. Bugs are telling him secret information about all sorts of wild stuff. For awhile, the bug scenes are incredibly interesting, but after the third or fourth one, they become boring.
I won't say that I hated this movie altogether. Maybe with another watch later in life, I'll enjoy the whole experience more. Cronenberg is just a weird director and that's what makes him so interesting. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of him, yet. I've only seen five of his movies and I have fallen completely in love with any of them. But one thing I will say is that the bizarreness of Cronenberg is much easier to watch and get through, than that of Lynch.
If this plot at all interests you, I would at least give it a shot. It's well made and big time fans of Cronenberg should love it. Even if you don't like it in the end; there's enough interesting stuff going on, that it won't feel like you just completely wasted your time. You are sure to see images that you have never seen in another movie.
Naked Lunch Quotes
- Dr. Benway:
- Speaking of new uses for old technology, we could use a man of your calibre. A 32, wasn't it?
- 2nd Exterminator/Creature Voices:
- Take it from me Bill, your not the first person to develop a bug powder problem....
- Joan Frost/Joan Lee:
- It's a literary high, a Kafka high. You feel like a bug. You want to try?
- William Lee:
- I don't know, our metabolism's are very different...
- Joan Frost/Joan Lee:
- You mean yours and Kafkas?
- Yves Cloquet:
- I've seen you around, but I had no idea you were queer.
- William Lee:
- Yes, the Lee's have always been perverts.
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