Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider
Written by: David Cronenberg, based on Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Directed by: David Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: R for heavy drug content, bizarre eroticism, and language
Language: English
Running Time: 115
Date: 27/12/1991

Naked Lunch (1991)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Down in the Burroughs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

David Cronenberg adapted the unadaptable novel for his 1991 masterpiece, Naked Lunch (1991), taking elements not only from William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch but also from other Burroughs writings and his life story.

Exterminator Bill Lee (a perfectly cast Peter Weller) accepts a mission and travels to Interzone, where he writes his famous novel, though what you actually see onscreen may be interpreted in other ways. Cronenberg moves the film with a deadpan dream logic and avoids the swirly colors and nauseous tilting of other "drug" movies, staying in touch with his slender narrative thread. As such, the film ends up celebrating writing, Burroughs himself and anyone who dares to look beyond the obvious.

Judy Davis turns in a delirious supporting performance as both Lee's wife Joan and her Interzone doppelganger. Ian Holm appears as a trippy older writer, Roy Scheider fleshes out Burroughs' infamous Dr. Benway, and Julian Sands represents Interzone's large gay pretty-boy population. (Ms. Davis played a similar role the same year, in a somewhat similar movie, Barton Fink.)

I've seen the film several times, and it stands up as a true cult classic, a hilarious comedy and an example of astonishingly beautiful, personal filmmaking all at once. It's certainly one of the greatest films of the 1990s, and a candidate for one of the greatest films ever made.

Peter Suschitzky provided the trippy cinematography, and jazz legend Ornette Coleman joined composer Howard Shore on the musical score.

For their 2003 DVD release, the Criterion Collection presented this magnificent film in a package worthy of its greatness. Cronenberg and Weller provide a commentary track on disc one, while disc two contains Chris Rodley's Making Naked Lunch and tons of other stuff. In 2013, Criterion issued a superb Blu-ray edition.

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