It’s Been 25 Years Since ‘Naked Lunch’ Premiered And It Still Doesn’t Make Sense!
How does one adapt the already insane Willam S. Burroughs novel ‘Naked Lunch‘? You don’t but David Cronenberg sure tried.
The story on how I first saw this movie is like many others. I was in film school, looking for obscure hits from a favorite director. Decided to give the movie ‘Naked Lunch‘ a try since Cronenberg has directed some of my favorites: ‘The Fly‘, ‘Eastern Promises‘ and ‘Videodrome‘.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into…
Expecting body horror and surreal moments like other David Cronenberg movies, it’s shocking to see how this movie pushes your limits. According to IMDB, the story goes as follows: “After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.”
Yeah, sounds ridiculous right?
‘Naked Lunch‘ is unlike anything you can imagine. Mixing the usual Cronenberg with bizarre or disgusting imagery is a lot to handle. But you add in an unpolished filmmaking style and this is still very unique, years after the release. Not many movies feature a typewriter turning into a cockroach.
The book is inspired by the life of William S. Burroughs and an extreme drug-induced representation of the writing process. Many believe that the subject matter wouldn’t transition well to the big screen. While it takes some liberties the source material, David Cronenberg made one of the most masterful shock movies ever. Dealing with the complexity of writing and drug addiction, there’s no room for much fun within this piece. It may become whimsical at times but it’s still too disturbing to be joyful.
“While I admired it in an abstract way, I felt repelled by the material on a visceral level.”
-Roger Ebert About ‘Naked Lunch’
But the disturbed nature and frank subject matter of ‘Naked Lunch’ is honestly what makes it so damn enjoyable. This is an example of an artist who created something so far removed from the Hollywood studio system but somehow manages to be found by a wider audience. It’s interesting because Cronenberg has always skirted the line between mainstream and independent perfectly. Following the success of ‘The Fly‘, Cronenberg should have followed it up with another mainstream hit. Instead, he went for two obscure films in both ‘Dead Ringers‘ and the even more bizarre ‘Naked Lunch‘. As soon as he had fame in his hands, he used it to show his transgressive work to a wider market.
On an estimated $17 million budget, ‘Naked Lunch‘ grossed only $2.6 million. With the limited released and fairly positive critical buzz, the movie should have initially done better but the subversive nature of Cronenberg scared off any casual cinema fan. Since then, its grown into a cult classic with only the strangest of viewers watching…just how David Cronenberg movies should be enjoyed.
Have you ever seen ‘Naked Lunch‘?
Let me know in the comments below!