Webs of Time

The slow-moving pace of 'Spider' gives you a lot to think about besides the movie.

Did you ever wonder why socks are so popular? I mean, it's not like there's some law that says you can't put your shoes on over your bare feet, right?

Well, if you've never spent an hour or so wondering about this, or counting your teeth with your tongue, or trying to remember the names of all your grade-school teachers, you may not know how to get through the second half of Spider. But really, if you're going to see this film, bring something to think about. Or maybe a magazine.

Spider does have a lot going for it, including an interestingly over-blown performance by Ralph Fiennes as the titular Spider, a man who went insane from starring in Maid in Manhattan--I mean from witnessing the death of his mother. It's also got David Cronenberg directing, and Cronenberg is not only Canadian, he's also responsible for some of the best films made by someone from a country of socialist cowards who refused to take part in the glorious liberation of Iraq's oil wealth. Plus, there's Miranda Richardson, who's great in this film, but I can't say why she's so great without giving away the big secret surprise twist ending. Though really, if you haven't figured it out after the first half-hour, you're probably in the same IQ bracket as an average American Idol contestant or Fox News Channel fan.

The movie begins with the mumbly and deranged Spider showing up at a halfway house for movie stereotypes of crazy people. There he meets The Deranged Colonel, The Crazy Fat Guy and Mrs. Wilkinson, who should just wear a nametag that says "Nurse Ratched." Wilkinson is played by Lynn Redgrave, who's given some great performances. Here, she's not quite so generous, and merely hands out a respectable turn as the surly chief of the insane.

From here, Spider switches to a series of flashbacks, wherein the young Spider watches in anger as his beloved mother is ignored by his drunken father. Spider turns the Oedipus amp up to 10 when he sees dad making out with mum in the garden. How can this be, wonders Spider, when mom is supposed to love only me?

This leads to an elaborate fantasy that is slowly unraveled throughout the next 90 minutes. Which would be great, because it's a cool little mystery that hinges on an amazing performance by Miranda Richardson. Unfortunately, it's only about a 37-minute mystery, and so Cronenberg has to find some way to flesh out the remaining 53 minutes without relying on such trite and low-brow stuff as plot or action.

Nor can Cronenberg flesh out this movie the way he usually fleshes out a film, which is to say by literally fleshing it out, with lots of bodies opening up and disgorging lovely organs that twitter about and make merry havoc. See, for example, The Brood, wherein pustules take on criminal intent, or Videodrome, wherein the new flesh gets all post-modern and videotapes itself. Cool ideas, all, but a little too genre-oriented for the new art-house acceptable Cronenberg, who wants to think of himself as more than a horror director.

Which is fine, and he's already accomplished this with eXistenZ and Naked Lunch, but here, he doesn't even want the vestiges of his horror-movie self that made those films so interesting. Thus, Cronenberg eschews exploding heads in favor of a lot of shots of crackly wallpaper and peeling paint. I mean a lot of shots of wallpaper and paint. I don't usually go to the movies to stare at paint and wallpaper. In fact, in general, staring at paint and wallpaper is not the kind of thing I pay money to do, what with the world giving it away for free.

On the other hand, the world at large is not nearly as well-shot as Spider. Spider probably features the best shots of wallpaper and paint that I've ever seen, but that's like saying "Snotties brand tissues offer the best nose wipe you'll ever have." Sure, it's nice, but not so much that I'd pay $10 for the experience.

I think Spider would have been an excellent short film, or a really awesome Twilight Zone episode. Fiennes performance has a lot of schlocky appeal, as he basically does a crazy man version of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster act. The surprise twist is fun, too, though it gets played out way too early. I can't give it away, but remember how Anthony Perkins was his own mother? It's kind of like that. By the way, if I just ruined Psycho for you, well, Rosebud was his sled.

The best reason to see Spider, though, is for Miranda Richardson's acting and Peter Suschitzky's cinematography. And, of course, for the opportunity to take a nap in the lovely climate-controlled theater.

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