A Critical Review of David Cronenberg’s 2002 Film Spider

Spider (2002) Movie Review

Right from the beginning I could tell this would be a hard to watch kind of film, but once I was done it was definitely a “must watch” on my scale. You may purchase Spider Bluray/DVD, containing Special Features and Director Commentary directly from Amazon, unfortunately I couldn’t find any streaming options.

Spider DVD Cover

Setting the stage for gloom, we’re jolted right in on a train coming onto the platform on a cloudy afternoon in London. As the main character steps out and navigates to his destination address. Mr. Cleg, we presume, is played by Ralph Fiennes, of “The Constant Gardener” fame. Fiennes is definitely no constant gardener in this film. Instead he takes on a role of what looks like someone from the 1950s, bumbling around town, mumbling, disheveled, someone constantly rolling something that does not look like tobacco. You could see what I mean by “hard to watch”-as it is very hard to see someone in this condition.

It’s really a dreamy kind of film. I watched this movie the other night and rewatched it with the Director, David Cronenberg’s DVD commentary right after-a first in my lifetime. It’s remarkable to see the way the character is portrayed and how the cinematography accentuates his state of mind. While watching this movie you will have several questions which will keep you engaged-however some questions and many things you will completely miss until you rewatch it. Several of my own questions were answered while rewatching with the commentary on.

Obviously, you’re watching a film where the main character has schizophrenia, it’s mentioned in the plot summary of the film. They don’t specify this diagnosis in the film itself, which was purposely done. Cronenberg explains in his commentary that he did not want a checklist of medical terms and definitions to approach this film, instead he wanted it to be “a philosophical approach”. So much to that you don’t look at Mr. Cleg as an outsider but really become the character himself. It’s really commendable to watch as this character develops, aside from the subject matter of being a schizophrenic and constantly thinking “Could this be me?” throughout the film makes this relatable yet also a bit overdramatic.

Bradley Hall as “Young Spider” and Miranda Richardson as “Mrs. Cleg”

It isn’t until the 40 minute mark we are introduced to who “Spider” actually is, the childhood memory of Mr. Cleg himself. Along the way, “Spider” is living in a halfway house trying to solve some kind of puzzle, this “Spiderweb” that he’s made for himself that he’s stuck in. I may have given away some things about the film itself but I do have to say that you have to watch this to establish what a schizophrenic goes through on a day to day basis. Myself included, I feel like I’ve drawn myself into some kind of “web of things” over the past ten or so years. Something that I’m trying to undo, that really doesn’t require to be undone but causes this shift in your life that really slows you down. Although hard to believe, it’s quite possible to think that I myself, may have looked and stumbled around like Mr. Cleg. The film’s pace is extremely slow and you do need to bit melancholic to be able to watch this kind of movie (which I am most of the time, anyway).

Gabriel Byrne as “Bill Cleg”

If you’re not a Schizophrenic you still won’t be able to figure out who’s real and what’s happening, it will take some time to unravel what’s actually happening and why. As a schizophrenic, it is triggering but manageable as I am at this point in my recovery that it took me a day to reprocess everything and get back to my day-to-day life. Another thing I’ve gotten very good at, is hiding the fact that I am having symptoms.

Given the time and location the movie is set in, 1940s/1950s London, I don’t even think the term “the road to recovery” was something counselors tossed around-let alone if there was any therapists available. But to draw the parallel between what’s happening in the movie and seventy-years later-it surely is true that there are halfway houses (I know a few of them right here on Long Island), to know that you could end up on the streets, that thought and uncertainty that you may end up perpetually in a psychiatric ward is always there. You run into people all the time that you don’t know what they are dealing with or what battle they are fighting. Some people put up a front, some that you could even tell and most that you aren’t able to.

“Clothes maketh the man; and the less there is of the man,
the more the need of the clothes.” -Terrence

There isn’t much dialogue in the film, but when there is, it’s of much substance. The script was written by Patrick McGrath, the writer of the 1990 novel “Spider”. When Mrs. Wilkinson asks Mr. Cleg why he’s wearing so many shirts, its his roommate Terrance that responds by saying, “Clothes maketh the man; and the less there is of the man, the more the need of the clothes.” You will be thrilled to see Miranda Richardson and the several roles she plays, something for you to figure out on your own (Hint, hint).

At the time of writing, I’m waiting on my bluray to arrive to rewatch this movie with my wife (someone I know will initially ask me to stop this but will end up watching, most likely start crying throughout several scenes). As is always the case when we end up watching “A Beautiful Mind”- for the 45th time, which is another classic on our list that I had to cut class in 9th grade to walk out and watch in the movie theater, also insisted that my family watch it when it came out on DVD, not knowing that ten or so years later I would be one of those that would be labeled “paranoid schizophrenic”.

Miranda Richardson as “Mrs. Wilkinson”

It’s important to mention that “A Beautiful Mind”, as much love I have for that film, does overshadow “Spider”. “Spider” is a complete work of art of its own and it’s strange that it took me twenty-years after its release for me to watch it. I ended up discovering “Spider” while querying “Schizophrenia” at my local library to pick up material to give me some kind of nudge to start writing again- as you can see it sure did it’s job. I also ordered the book “Spider“, which the movie is based off of, and will be reading more of Patrick McGrath’s books. More posts and reviews will be forthcoming as well, not just of “Spider”.

Can’t wait for the bluray to arrive, order yours today and let me know in the comments what you think!