Friday, February 25, 2011

Naked Lunch - Disturbing Cronenberg Imagery

Naked Lunch is a disturbing Neo-Noir directed by David Cronenberg (1991). The story follows William Lee (played by Peter Weller) who is a bug exterminator in the 1950's. While dressed in a fedora, Lee narrates the film in a noir style characterized with little emotion. When he discovers his wife Joan (played by Judy Davis) is using his bug powder as a drug, he reluctantly joins in with the fun and spirals into a hallucinatory world filled with sex and violence. Lee is given missions by the Mugwumps to infiltrate Interzone. As Lee gathers intelligence on the evil corporation, he believes he's sending typed reports back to the Mugwumps. However, he is really writing a story that his sober friends are intercepting to compose a novel called Naked Lunch. The further Lee gets involved with the drug-induced underworld, the more he becomes lost.

Based on his earlier work like Scanners and Videodrome, David Cronenberg is the king of disturbing images. Naked Lunch is no different. A few examples include:
  • The Yellow Bug Powder - Although it is supposed to be a lethal chemical that exterminates cockroaches, the characters inject it, smoke it, eat it, and even make love with it to enter the world of Interzone.
  • In Interzone, the Bug Powder is represented as a narcotic drug derived from black centipede meat. You see these giant creatures being sliced and diced into a bloody mess.
  • The Mugwumps employing Lee are horrific bug creatures.
  • Lee writes his reports on LIVING typewriters. They resemble beetles that advise him through his missions and speak through their anus (I know, it's hard to believe until you see the movie).

Naked Lunch is based on the novel by William S. Burroughs. I don't know much about him other then he had homosexual tendencies. This element is reflected upon in the film as Lee has to sleep with the enemy (who were dominantly male) in order to get information. One person he encounters is the leader of Interzone (played by Roy Scheider) who dresses up as a woman. However, the most disturbing thematic characteristic is how the Mugwumps are imprisoned. By restraining them, a white substance of ecstasy can be excreted from their bodies by sucking it out from the tentacles on their heads. Even though Lee is encountering this in his drug induced mind, in reality he is physically living on the streets. Who knows how he is really encountering this in the real world...

This film will definitely need a second watch. During this first viewing, I was more shocked by the imagery and was unable to decipher everything that was going on. There is a lot of symbolism, so I'm not entirely sure what's real or what's the effects of his "bug powdered" mind. Along with the story and characterizations, the sets, score (a jazzy saxophone theme), and costuming keep you in a dark and mysterious mood.

So based upon this initial viewing, on Death List Five, Naked Lunch ranks #3.

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