In adapting Wiliam S. Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’, I feel David Cronenberg has created one of the most important works of film, at least in regards and our schizoid society. It’s about addiction, control, and our personal perspective of reality. It’s about Burroughs’ life, how he wrote the book, what his mental state could have been as he descended into his hallucinogenic delusions. It’s about the loneliness of writing.
It is this internal prison that I see in Cronenberg’s 1991 film. Rather than straight adapting the story of Naked Lunch, which mixes autobiography with fantastic satire, he juxtaposes Burroughs life story and writing (and drug ingestion) as a heroic journey, making Burroughs alter-ego William Lee into more of an archetype rather than actual person. Part historical, part fantasy, part hallucination induced initiation into artistic endeavor, this is Cronenberg’s take on Burroughs’ creative process.
Cronenberg definitely makes this movie his own, treating all of Burroughs life as the journey of one story. Although the story is of an exterminator and his junkie wife living in the city and writing a book while under the influence of all manner of drugs, a lot of what’s covered is based on actual events reimagined as hallucinations. It is as if within the other reality the future is being revealed to him, as people in his life become extensions of his own consciousness, aspects of his personality he is not able to accept.
The combining of addiction and writing is powerful, as I can feel the pull of writing, the downward descent into myself, even as I type this. It seems to also lead to wanting adventure, drama, in order to collect more information to write about.
The killing of his wife, a major event in Burrough's life, is the killing of the feminine that looses Bill into this world of sexual deviance, where he reinvents his wife as another man’s wife, an object of desire, a goal, an escape route from this decadent lifestyle. A metaphor for the cutting off of the outside world and going deep within yourself, to get in touch with your masculine feelings, but keeping a female form there as a reason to come back.
The typewriter is a symbol of his potency as an artist, and as a man, he must rescue the princess. Sexual slavery, in an alien format, Mugwump creatures being suckled upon. Dr. Benway, the doctor who tried to help William Lee, frees himself from Fedela’s (the dealer) identity, revealing himself as the villain, the mastermind.
Benway throws a cigar in a puddle. Both feminine and masculine in one, he is the combined sexuality that Bill can’t be. Offers Bill whatever he wants, and he wants Joan. A retrieval of the feminine from the grave. An underworld journey to rescue all that is good from the suffering of eternal torment.
In short, this movie is everything I think about every day. Writing, my identity, classic 50’s fedoras and suits, hallucinations, alternating points of view and perspective of reality, sexual identity and the creative process, the meaning of life, and the realistic look at the mark inside.