Naked Lunch (1991) Review


Naked Lunch (1991)

From the director who brought you “The Fly” (1986), David Cronenberg’s attempt at adapting William S.Burroughs’ controversial novel from 1959, the story of an exterminator living in the 1950’s who starts to hallucinate over time as he’s exposed to his own bug powder (pyrethrum) . A strange case of double identity, told to the exterminator-turned-junkie by an oversized talking roaches tell him he’s actually an undercover agent.

Promotional movie poster

The film combines elements from various works by Burroughs (most notably, “Exterminator!” and “Junkie”). The protagonist of our film is played by Peter Welles, known best for his role as the super-human cyborg, RoboCop, plays an exterminator named William Lee (a pseudonym Burroughs used when he wrote “Junkie”), who finds his wife, Joan, injecting herself with his bug powder in order to get high (his boss was not happy to hear he ran out of bug powder in the middle of a job either).

“It's a literal high...a Kafka high”

Later, he is arrested by the police who question his real purpose of having bug powder with him. This is when the film starts to become weirder: he hallucinates and is told by a giant cockroach (who even asks him to rub some bug powder on his “lips”) that he is a secret agent and that his wife is actually not his wife (nor is she human!), whom is also a secret agent from a rival organization. He disregards his “case officer” and flees the room. Nonetheless, he inadvertently kills his own wife, forcing him to flee to Interzone, according to the bug: “A notorious free port on the North African coast. A haven for the mongrel scum of the Earth…an engorged parasite on the underbelly of the West.” , where he must finish his “report” on his “mission”.

A lot of these scenes in the film...

I will not get into details of what happens, but there are themes of lust, a question of sexuality, a wander into an outer world, and a border crossing between reality and surrealism. The music is baffled and fitting to the film’s atmosphere of being “lost” in the drug. Howard Shore composed the scores, while Ornette Coleman, a major free-jazz innovator, contributes to the music with his saxophone riddling. The grosteque alien nature of the puppet or animatronic (it is not specified) are believably realistic, including the mugwumps (watch the film and you’ll find out what a Mugwump is).

I recommend this film due to its eccentricity and weird factor that tends to make us go, “What just happened?!” fans of Cronenberg will not be disappointed by this piece!

Word of warning to anyone who plans to watch this: Unless you’re brave enough, don’t eat right before watching this film.

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4 Responses to “Naked Lunch (1991) Review”

  1. I have heard it is a strange film but I have never seen it.

    • The film’s tone is watered-down, compared to the book it’s adapted from. Not sure if it’s due to limited capabilities, technology, funds, or just too much content.

      You could actually read the book in any order of chapters and it wouldn’t matter.

      William S. Burroughs’ works are based from his experiences (he used to have a job as an exterminator!) and he did have a wife…whom he claimed was killed by the same way you’ll see in the film (and novel).

  2. nidaitmcontest2…

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