Today, David Cronenberg stands as a contemporary director in the pantheon of auteurs. Having a process in at least directing and writing or producing many of the works that have earned him this title, (“Stereo,” “Scanners,” “Videodrome,” and “eXistenZ,” to name a few) Cronenberg’s name calls upon images of human disfiguration, odd forms of sex, and strange worlds inhabited by even stranger people. Cronenberg’s 2002 film “Spider” is both a departure from previous works while simultaneously remaining familiar.
Dennis “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) has just been released from an asylum and takes up residence in a half-way house. While there, Cleg begins to drift back and forth between his memories as a child and his current real-world experience.
“Spider” does contain sex and violence but they’re not what’s to take away from the film, surprisingly. With “Spider,” Cronenberg is more interested in memory and the way we remember the past, as well as experience it. To that extent, “Spider’s” narrative is filmed in a more interesting manner: the narrative doesn’t simply jump between the audience experiencing Cleg’s past through the eyes of Cleg as a child but instead Cleg as an adult is there himself, within the past, watching it along with us.
As if watching a film he’s already seen multiple times and knows all the lines for, Cleg does exactly that and finishes people’s sentences alongside them. And it is also through Cleg’s lines of dialogue that “Spider” gets its own Cronenberg quirk. Cleg is constantly speaking throughout the film or rather muttering and for the most part, outside of times when he is finishing other people’s sentences, is nearly incomprehensible. Cleg also wears an overcoat over the same shirt worn thrice and Fiennes does a fantastic job at bringing out these various quirks. There’s a look of constant distance, confusion, and child-like curiosity within his eyes as he stumbles across his own memory or the current reality of the half-way house and its urban surroundings.
Peter Suschitzky is “Spider’s” cinematographer and is also majorly responsible for the film’s identity as a Cronenberg film. Lighting throughout “Spider” is sparse and while the film isn’t plunged into complete darkness, the dimness of the rooms gives “Spider” a foreboding atmosphere. The café, hallways, and streets which Cleg drift along are all shot to seem cramped, despite the wider area of distance that surrounds Cleg. Suschitzky, Fiennes, and finally Cronenberg all come together to craft not only a film with a fitting atmosphere but also a film that’s more than fitting to stand alongside Cronenberg’s best science-fiction work.