Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Madness is full of mischief and when the truth becomes distorted, reality has no meaning. A question hangs in the air: "What reality?"

This is a courageous film, bravely performed. David Cronenberg has made a name for himself as a controversial director (Crash, Naked Lunch), who is attracted to the dark side (Scanners, Videodrome).

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Spider is the story of a child, driven insane by emotional duplicity, who grows up in mental institutions, only to be released 20 years later, unprepared, into a frightening world. Surprisingly, it is one of Cronenberg's least odd movies, which may sound contradictory, as Miranda Richardson plays two-and-a-half roles.

Ralph Fiennes turned his back on Hollywood after Schindler's List and The English Patient, in order to appear in films like this that demand serious effort from an actor. His performance makes Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump look cute and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man self-consciously mannered.

Told through the mind's eye of a schizophrenic, Spider teases the audience with intimations of reality, as the man struggles in vain against the iron discipline of Mrs Wilkinson's (Lynn Redgrave at her withering best) halfway house in London's East End.

He revisits his 10-year-old self (Bradley Hall), loving mother (Richardson) and plumber dad (Gabriel Byrne), who spends his evenings at the pub, flirting with the busty flamboyant Yvonne (Richardson). The boy's life changes forever when this tarty good-time girl replaces his mother in the family home and he decides to take matters into his own hands.

In many respects Patrick McGrath's novel is too subtle for cinema, as it investigates the damage done to a young mind by trauma and heightened imagination. Fiennes remains locked into the mumbling, shuffling shell of a man who has never known freedom of expression, except when scribbling insect words into a notebook.

Richardson is magnificent in all her manifestations, while Byrne has the hardest task of appearing villainous and normal at the same time. Cronenberg is not playing tricks, neither does he indulge in horror.

What you see is not the same as what there is.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2002
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A man undergoes a mental collapse.
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Read more Spider reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ****
Jennie Kermode ****

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Patrick McGrath, based on the novel by Patrick McGrath

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig, Cliff Saunders, Tara Ellis, Sara Stockbridge

Year: 2002

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada/UK


EIFF 2002

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