Naked Lunch (1991)

Hmmm... is that a talking bug?

Hmmm… is that a talking bug?

I was never able to finish reading William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Perhaps I was too young. More likely, I just didn’t have the patience for a book that seemed to go nowhere and made little to no sense. Usually my patience is equally short for films that go nowhere and make little to no sense, but my soft-spot for Cronenberg and weird shit in general trumps that here. I didn’t love it, but the film Naked Lunch is beautiful, strange and compelling.

One might wonder: “how can you film Naked Lunch?” The answer

Yep; that's a large, talking bug.

Yep; that’s a large, talking bug.

is, you don’t. What Cronenberg does instead is take elements from the book and pair them up with Burroughs’ biography. The result is a hilarious, weird, bugged-out noirish mystery about addiction, paranoia, sexuality and creativity.

Plot is secondary, but let me try to recap: Bill Lee (Peter Weller, who is awesome in this by the way) is an exterminator in New York City, and his lovely wife Joan (Judy Davis) is addicted to his bug powder. Bill is arrested and thrown into an interrogation room, where he meets a talking bug who convinces him his wife is a secret agent working against him. Bill is directed by this bug to kill her and go to Interzone to submit his report.



Bill does kill his wife, though accidentally during a botched game of William Tell (which actually happened to Burroughs). He runs off to Interzone and starts typing up his report, on a typewriter that seems to be a large, talking bug with a keypad, of course.

Bill meets some strange characters in Interzone, but more importantly is confronted with a lot of his own personal issues, such as his sexuality and his addiction to drugs. Throughout the film Bill evolves from “hell no I’m not gay” to having a near-permanent male squeeze named Kiki by the end.

Hell of a typewriter.

Hell of a typewriter.

Somewhere in the middle, Bill’s friends show up and start gushing over the pages of the novel he’s working on. Bill claims he’s not doing any of the writing. If he is, it’s not really him doing it – it’s the drugs and the typewriter. His friends tell him well, whatever works – you’ve got to finish this thing. And so Bill plunges deeper into the world of Interzone.

Do I totally get it? No. Does that bother me? Yes. Am I supposed to totally get it? Eeehhhhh, that’s up in the air, but I don’t think so. During the first few scenes I asked “what’s going on?” Q says: “Don’t worry about it, just go with it.” And he was right. It looks good, it’s weird and gooey, and I’ll say it again: Peter Weller is totally awesome in it. Shit, it even has interesting and important things to say, so stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy the ride.


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