David Cronenberg’s resume shows that he never shies away from a challenging work. While “Spider” may not be his most difficult film, it certainly ranks up there with “Crash” and “Naked Lunch.” This is the film that “Shine” and A Beautiful Mind could not be, a story about schizophrenia that doesn’t neatly resolve its complex subject matter.
Ralph Fiennes plays Dennis Clegg, a schizophrenic man who’s released from the asylum back to the place where he grew up. For the remainder of the film, we watch Clegg weave a web of childhood memories rife with Freudian references. Strands of recollections show the relationships Clegg had with his mother (Miranda Richardson) and father (Gabriel Byrne). Confusion reigns as these strands try to interconnect. Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky filter almost all colour out of each scene, and Patrick McGrath’s scattered screenplay (adapted from his novel) functions solely because it’s presented from the perspective of a man affected by schizophrenia. Fiennes offers a brilliant performance that’s as enigmatic as the script. None of this should come as a surprise to Cronenberg’s fans. They know not to expect a neat resolution, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. This is a great Canadian director at the top of his craft.