What a Tangled Web
No one said schizophrenia was fun
By Jon Popick

For all you math nerds: Draw a transversal, and find the measures of the other seven angles,
given that the lines are parallel and angle 1 = 60 degrees. Show all work.

Channeling Freud, Kafka, and Hitchcock, as well as various Oedipal issues, Spider is David Cronenberg's most restrained and most realized picture to date. It's like a David Lynch film, except you can understand it. It hooks you from the beginning, with opening credits juxtaposed against random images of faces where we expect to see Mary or Jesus (stains, chipped paint, etc.).

Spider's proper story kicks off with Dennis Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) stepping off a London train, armed only with the name and address of his destination. We understand immediately that all is not well in Dennis's head, as evidenced by his disheveled appearance, his shuffling and, most tellingly, his constant yet inaudible mumbling about who knows what. In other words, he's like Ozzy without the tattoos.

He's a thirtysomething schizophrenic who guards a tiny notebook full of crazy stuff and he's just been released from the institution he's called home for the last 20 years.

His destination? A halfway house for people in mental purgatory, just like Dennis is. The joint, which is located in the grayest, most depressing, and perpetually deserted area of East London, is run by a woman named Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), who has the uncanny ability to appear to simultaneously care for and loathe her boarders. One of them is Terrence (John Neville), a motormouth who Dennis ignores, like he does everyone else.

Most of Spider's story unfolds as Dennis wanders about the neighborhood-the same one he grew up in before being banished to the bin-and witnesses, via flashback, several integral moments of his youth. At first he just seems like a peeping Tom as he peers through a window at a family of three eating, but it quickly becomes clear that he's watching himself as a boy (Bradley Hall) interacting with his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson). Some of the flashback scenes, though seemingly banal on the surface, must hold great importance to Dennis because he often remembers his lines before his younger version is able to spit them out.

It's hard to get into the crux of Spider without revealing too many of its surprises. It does, however, involve murder, past and present, as well as revenge, some mother/whore issues, the wearing of many shirts at the same time and, sometimes, even wearing newspaper. There's also the Hitchcockian/Lynchian move of casting the same actress in very different roles with different hair color, as well as all manner of metaphors pertaining to the film's title, which is what Dennis's mother nicknamed him as a boy because of his penchant for messing about with string. He does it as an adult, too, and it's pretty creepy when offset against Dennis's Mobius strip of a life.

The only drawback in Spider is the realization that Dennis often flashes back to things he wasn't really around to see when he was little, but that's a minor quarrel that may even have been intentional (showing his memory to be fatally flawed). Cronenberg (eXistenZ) rights every wrong Ron Howard made with A Beautiful Mind, and Fiennes's performance is just as strong as Russell Crowe's effort in that film. He definitely looks more like a right buggerer than Crowe did, and we never once get the impression that Dennis will be cured (let alone win a Nobel Prize) if he's just hugged in regular intervals by a supportive wife.