Thursday, March 06, 2008
Spider: A Tangled Web of Reality and Fantasy
by Alicia Benjamin
If you want to take a look at a strange film that explores the schizophrenic mind of a man who can’t distinguish between reality and delusion, order Spider from Netflix or check it out at Blockbuster.
The film, directed by David Cronenberg, was made in 2003 and stars the very fine British actor, Ralph Fiennes, in a role that is vastly different from anything I’ve ever seen him in – and that’s saying a lot when you consider the broad range of characters that this man has played, from the evil Nazi commandant in Schindler’s List, to Jennifer Lopez’s love interest in Maid in Manhattan.
In Spider, Fiennes plays Dennis Cleg, a paranoid-schizophrenic man who has been released from a mental hospital. We discover through a series of flashbacks the extent of Dennis' illness and the level of violence that his life was before his confinement.
We, the audience, can’t quite distinguish reality from the delusions that cloud Dennis’ mind as we see the memories of his life with his mom and dad unfold on the screen. Dennis, the man, mirrors Dennis, the 13-year-old, who seems to be tormented by what he perceives as domestic anxiety and betrayal.
Did his dad actually kill his mom when she discovered the father with a neighborhood tart, or did something more tangled happen? We don’t know if Dennis’ dad is really as sinister as Dennis remembers or if his father’s obscene cruelty is just one of the delusional bits from the mentally ill son's imagination.
Spider is filled with luscious bits of acting from Fiennes, Miranda Richardson (who plays both Dennis’ mom and the foul-mouthed mistress), and Lynn Redgrave, who plays Mrs. Wilkinson, the landlord who oversees the drab and run-down halfway house where Dennis resides after his release from the mental institution.
Fiennes doesn’t talk much in the film but he mumbles brilliantly. Through his indecipherable articulations, Fiennes shows us just how warped and tortured Dennis is. You’ll find yourself laughing at some of the characters in this tragedy, but isn’t that the way life is? Even through the grimmest of times, comedy finds a way to peek through the gloom. The way Dennis scuffles and mumbles along will make you guiltily giggle a little.
Terrence, one of Dennis’ mates at the halfway house, has one of the funniest lines in the film. When Mrs. Wilkinson asks Dennis if it’s really necessary to wear four shirts all at once, Terrence answers for him: “Of course it is Madam. Clothes maketh the man. The less there is of the man, the more the need for the clothes.”
If you’re looking for a stimulating, mysterious, and slightly eerie movie, see Spider. You might not know what’s reality and what’s delusion by the end of the film, but isn’t that also true in life?