98 minutes – Drama
Release date: February 28, 2003
DVD release date: July 29, 2003
Canadian distributor: Odeon Films
Screenwriter Patrick McGrath’s novel on which this film is based is set in the 1930s and 1950s. In the film, those decades have become the 1960s and 1980s. By moving the story forward it has more impact on a contemporary audience who must confront the possible reality contained in this work of fiction. For example, Spider is the nickname of the main character, Dennis Cleg played by Ralph Fiennes. We first see him as a grown man prematurely discharged from a mental hospital. Today`s audiences are all too familiar with people who have been dumped back on the street who might be better off if still under some care. We learn that Spider is still too fragile to handle the demands of the community, of a city, of life outside a sheltered environment. This vulnerability is what will eventually condemn him to unravel once he is back on the streets of London where he grew up. Called Spider because of his fascination with the web-spinning arachnids, he suspects that his father (Byrne) killed his mother (Richardson) so he could replace her with a whore (also played by Richardson). Released from hospital, Spider attempts to retrace the path of his youth, descending deeper into madness with every step. The viewer sees everything through Spider’s eyes, which makes for an unsettling experience. Fiennes and Richardson give tour-de-force performances in a cast that is uniformly excellent. The film is starkly austere, and asks the audience to question what is fantasy and what is reality as it moves to its shattering conclusion.
Northernstars.ca chose Spider as one of its Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade in December 2009.
Also see: Stripped to the Bone: David Cronenberg’s Spider by Maurie Alioff.