Naked Lunch (1991)

naked lunch poster 1991 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Just weird, surreal fun

Don't expect to understand it

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Naked Lunch

Studio:  Recorded Picture Company (RPC)/Téléfilm Canada/Ontario Film Development Corporation

Genre(s):  Drama/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):  December 12, 1991 (Premiere)/December 27, 1991 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

naked lunch mugwump

Take the Mugwump’s advice and go to Interzone

William Lee (Peter Weller) is an exterminator and aspiring writer with a wife named Joan (Judy Davis) who has an addiction to his extermination chemicals.  When Lee accidentally kills Joan, he goes on the run to the African nation of Interzone where he discovers he’s caught in the depths of a drug war that has no winners.  Lee finds the intrigue has another effect on his life…he’s able to write and it could change everything.

Written and directed by David Cronenberg, Naked Lunch is a sci-fi drama.  Following Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers in 1988, the surreal film is a loose adaptation of William S. Burroughs 1959 novel and received mostly positive reviews.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #220).

I saw Naked Lunch in college with no background on the film…and was confused as hell as to what was going on.  Flash forward twenty plus years…I’ve read the book, have a better understanding of Burroughs’ style and writing…and still have no clue what I’m watching (largely).

naked lunch bug typewriter

The creative bug?

The movie is mostly surreal with much of what Lee is seeing as a drug fugue of addiction and insanity.  The book is also not very coherent and less of a story than a bunch of strangely connected essays…and this adaptation is probably as good as you can get.  The movie blends aspects of Burroughs life and has him involved in a drug war between roaches and centipedes and how the drugs lead to paranoia and creativity.  It is unnerving, but it also is intentionally nonsense.

The cast is good.  Peter Weller creates a real character in Lee (a stand in for Burroughs) and has a man both insanely creative but also monotone and flat from the drugs.  He takes all of the bizarre things he sees in stride and is rarely shocked by them.  Judy Davis plays his doomed wife (this did happen to Burroughs’ real wife Joan Vollmer in 1951), but she gets a second chance as Joan Frost.  In Interzone, you get a lot of sexual ambiguity with Ian Hom as a bisexual upper-class writer (married to Joan Frost), Julian Sands as a gay lover, and Roy Scheider playing a psychiatrist, drug dealer, and a woman (played by Monique Mercure)…it is as strange as you’d expect.

naked lunch roy scheider woman costume

Hey…I’m into some kinky stuff!

The movie has a lot of gross oozing special effects that isn’t really a surprise from Cronenberg.  There is body horror, but much of the horror involves technology rather than human mutations.  Machines like typewriters become alive as bugs, oozing mugwumps are dripping drug suppliers, and sex between a centipede and a human can be horrific…it isn’t anything you can expect or understand (but there are images in the novel that even more twisted).

Naked Lunch is just one of those weird trips.  It is a film that almost feels like the more adult version of something like Time Bandits or Brazil by Terry Gilliam.  It is just a film you have to watch and go with it…and it is surprisingly watchable.  You look for clues each time, but you don’t necessarily find them.  Cronenberg followed Naked Lunch with M. Butterfly in 1993.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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