- Ralph Fiennes as Dennis ‘Spider’ Cleg
- Miranda Richardson as Mrs. Cleg/Yvonne
- Gabriel Byrne as Bill Cleg
- Bradley Hall as Young Spider
- John Neville as Terrence
- Lynn Redgrave as Mrs. Wilkinson
With Spider, David Cronenberg takes the viewer on an intense and psychological journey through the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic as he begins to remember important events from his childhood. Deftly told and powerfully acted, Spider is a film that gets you tangled up in its web and just when you think you’ve figured it out, you see something unexpected and you’re left flawed.
The film begins with an excellent tracking shot through a London station as passengers disembark a train. When the camera finishes gliding through the crowd, we finally get our first glimpses of the title character. He is unkempt, often stoops, mutters to himself and has a haunted expression. In these opening moments, we get a distinct picture of Spider and how his behaviour that will influence the events of the film. He has just been released from an asylum after treatment for schizophrenia and now is to live in a dilapidated halfway way house in the East End. He arrives and is greeted with the cold, unfeeling Mrs. Wilkinson, but is helped by an old man called Terrence. It is here that Spider’s memory begins to unravel and he begins to literally relive his key ‘moments’ from his traumatic childhood whilst revisiting his childhood haunts. The most prominent events revolve around his caring mother and his drunken father, who seems to be having an affair with a local hooker. But as Spider descends deeper into these memories, his mental state begins to deteriorate, even as he begins to put the missing pieces together. Throughout the film, the audience is left with an interesting question, Are the memories that he is reliving real or the result of his paranoia? That is for the audience to decide as the film takes on numerous ambiguous meanings and connotations.
As the title character, Ralph Fiennes delivers a powerful and committed portrayal that lets the audience experience the living nightmare he endures. He lets his body do most of the talking, capturing the nervousness, jittery movements and awkward gestures that say so much more than speech can. It is through Spider’s eyes that we see the ‘events’ that befell him as a child and how the repercussions have deeply and emotionally scarred him. He is excellently portrayed as a child by Bradley Hall, who boasts an eerily resemblance to Fiennes. Miranda Richardson delivers knockout performances as two women who although they were at different ends of the moral spectrum, each had a huge impact on the boy’s psyche. She embodies both characters, Spider’s saintly mother and Yvonne, a vulgar, loose living prostitute, with a deft skill that is amazing to watch and remarkable in clearly showing the differences in the women. Gabriel Byrne exudes menace as Spider’s abusive father, whose dalliance with Yvonne led to terrifying consequences. And Lynn Redgrave is suitably chilly as the unfriendly and beady-eyed Mrs.Wilkinson.
Credit must go to the screenplay that blends the lines between past and present with a haunting skill. This use of narrative further challenges the audience to decide what is in fact real and imaginary. The set design impeccably displays the dark and dingy area in which Spider grew up and the various incidents that shaped his existence. As with most of Cronenberg’s films, Spider isn’t the most pleasant thing to watch but regardless of this, is an exceptionally evocative and chilling account of the repercussions of memory and the tenuous link between past and present as it overlaps. The film boasts many interpretations that rise from small events that you may have to view again to get a better understanding. If its psychological drama that you want, watch this underrated film that will leave you flawed by the time it ends and thinking about it for days after.