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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, funny, horrific and intriguing
I'm both a Cronenberg fan and a Burroughs fan, so maybe my review of this film lacks objectivity. That being said, I think Naked Lunch is quite an achievement, not only visually (Chris Walas' creatures are wonderful, Denise Cronenberg's costumes are elegant and authentic to the film's period), but in terms of screenwriting and in the realm of ideas. Burroughs' novel...
Published on April 7, 1999

15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Makes about as much sense as the book
Although I was fascinated with the disturbing and often obscene imagery that Burrough's painted in his book Naked Lunch, I found the book itself barely comprehensible and hard to deal with. The book itself feels like one big wild hallucinogenic tangent with only the skeletal remains of story locked deep inside. Is the book hellish? Yes. Is it well written, yes. Is it...
Published on June 8, 2005 by Kolors

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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, funny, horrific and intriguing, April 7, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Naked Lunch [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I'm both a Cronenberg fan and a Burroughs fan, so maybe my review of this film lacks objectivity. That being said, I think Naked Lunch is quite an achievement, not only visually (Chris Walas' creatures are wonderful, Denise Cronenberg's costumes are elegant and authentic to the film's period), but in terms of screenwriting and in the realm of ideas. Burroughs' novel could be said to be about a number of things, but I believe the film is mainly about how our appetites and urges manifest themselves if they are not acknowledged. Bill Lee, the protagonist in the movie, spends much of the first part of the film avoiding his need to write. After he flees to Interzone, he begins to hallucinate that his typewriter is a giant talking bug that orders him to compile "reports" on various and sundry people and subjects, such as his sexual proclivities, his relationships with friends and acquaintances as well as his need to have a reason to create. Much is made, subtly about the connection between mental imbalance, orgasms and the creative process.Cronenberg has picked up on a theme that runs through all of Burroughs' writing, namely the consequences of living in a society that labels immoral all healthy forms of personal release. For Burroughs, and by extension Cronenberg, this includes sex, artistic expression and liberated use of language. In the novel, being denied these outlets leads people to all kinds of perversions of personal power, drug addiction and insanity. Cronenberg uses different means, but shows his audience the psychic toll of denying one's deep personal needs.In all, a fantastic hallucinatory ride, with a great cast (especially Peter Weller, who has never been better chosen for a role) and a whole feast for discussion by thoughtful filmgoers everywhere.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a literary high, November 25, 2003
This review is from: Naked Lunch (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Cronenberg's version of Naked Lunch is a brilliant combination of Burroughs' novel and Burroughs' life. He blends the true story of Burroughs life (and his reason for writing) with the surreal dark-comedy 'routines' of the novel until they become one story. The story is a quiet hallucination featuring exterminators, addiction, typewriters in the form of insects, typewriters that grow genitals, a global conspiracy of intelligence agents, the drug trade, homosexual ambiguity, writer's block, accidental murder, and literary paranoia. None of these elements is explored completely. Instead, Cronenberg touches on each one until they form some strange, underlying logic.
This edition of the DVD has enough extras to make it the only version of Naked Lunch you'll ever have to buy. (They won't release a bigger, better edition later.) The BBC documentary is okay. It's about 45 minutes long, giving Cronenberg and William Burroughs a lot of time to speak. (Burroughs is particularly good, with a dry sense of humor and a habit of saying obvious truths that make people uneasy.) The second disc also has stills from the special effects team, showing how the various creatures and organic typewriters were developed.
But it's the first disc --- the movie itself --- that makes it worth buying and watching. The special audio track, shared by Peter Weller and Cronenberg, adds a lot of useful background information. The film itself is bright and sharp, a perfect example of DVD clarity. I highly recommend this DVD to anyone who is interested in the best films of the 1990s. Naked Lunch didn't make as big an impact in theaters as it did in book stores, but it should have.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fitting Tribute to Burroughs, March 20, 2000
This review is from: Naked Lunch [VHS] (VHS Tape)
As a devout Burroughs fan, of course I was a little hesitant to view this movie initially. And having read the book "Naked Lunch" prior to watching the film, I was at a loss as to what I expected. Certainly there was no way this book could translate into a movie...even "The Wall" director Alan Parker would have been lost.
In essence, Cronenberg didn't attempt to recreate the book verbatim. Instead he deftly interwove Burroughs' life with some of the routines and rants from the book. This movie is not for the fainthearted as it shows man-sized mugwumps and talking typwriter/insects who are really operatives for a covert attempt to penetrate Interzone, using a hapless writer, Bill Lee, as their chief spy.
Definitive moments in Burroughs' life, such as his relationship with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and the death of his wife Joan at his own hand are featured in the movie. It also gives a surreal biography to the birth of the writer in Burroughs as he attempts to write his way out of the guilt of his wife's death and the drugs that numbed the difficulties of his life.
Those who think that this movie had no real plot or if they did think there was a plot that the plot wasn't linear, then they can't be that big a fan of Burroughs. His life was not normal, his fans are not normal, and his mode of thinking was, frankly, insane. Cronenberg does a brilliant job getting inside the mind of the writer, the genius, the man, William S. Burroughs. Take a trip into his mind, ladies and gentlemen, and be changed forever.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Kafka high., February 17, 2000
This review is from: Naked Lunch [VHS] (VHS Tape)
David Cronenberg has done something very interesting in his film version of the book by William Burroughs. Attempting to faithfully follow the book's plot would have been a hopeless enterprise (and an X-rated movie); instead, Cronenberg wraps short sequences from the novel and intertwines them with Burroughs' own life. This is not only completely appropriate for this unique author, but also conveys the tone and structure of the book. In this respect, although the 'plot' of the book is not followed with slavish respect, this is one of the most successful book-to-film translations.
There are interesting (if brief) portraits of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac (although in the movie Ginsberg is portrayed as pursuing Burroughs, when in fact Burroughs was in love with Ginsberg). The film also shows the accident in which Burroughs shot his wife, and his meeting with Paul Bowles in Tangiers. In the plot of the movie, Bill Lee is instructed by giant insects to infiltrate Tangiers and write 'reports' which eventually become the text of _Naked Lunch_. All of the events of the movie are shown from Bill Lee's drug-altered perception, so that most of the film's scenes have to 'translated' from the metaphorical to the actual by the viewer. In spite of other reports, the movie is quite coherent and linear, detailing Bill Lee's emotional recovery from drugs and the death of his wife as he becomes a writer. Perhaps 'recovery' is the wrong word; what Lee learns is to use them as material for his writing.
One warning: Cronenberg's decision to use elaborate special effects to show Bill Lee's reality works brilliantly, but it can be quite disgusting. The movie is not for weak stomachs (which again fits both the book's title and content exactly).
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb., December 3, 2000
This review is from: Naked Lunch [VHS] (VHS Tape)
David Cronenberg's dazzling sci-fi imagery meets William S. Burroughs' dark humor in this bizarre cult film. Peter Weller plays William Lee, an exterminator who can't seem to keep track of his bug powder. His writer friends hint that it may be a `domestic problem.' Indeed, he finds that his wife is stealing his bug powder for its narcotic effects.
At a party with two friends (meant to be Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg), Lee nods to his wife and says, `About time for our William Tell act...' Joan balances her highball glass on her head and closes her eyes. Bill isn't such a good shot that night, and accidentally shoots a hole through Joan's forehead. The glass falls to the floor, intact.
Soon the police are after Lee. They lock him in a room with a giant bug, who tells him his real identity. It starts him on his journey to Interzone, a strange hallucinatory world inhabited by talking insects, living typewriters, and alien/insect mugwumps that secrete intoxicating juices from the penises on their heads.
Lee has a long strange trip in Interzone. His insect typewriter sends him on missions where he meets strange people and even stranger creatures. And all the while he is still on the run from the police.
David Cronenberg's screenwriting and directing skills were in top form for this movie. Once called `the king of venereal horror,' his trademark grotesque sexual imagery and bug obsessions, as seen in Videodrome and The Fly, have been honed to give the perfect nightmarish effect. Surely there couldn't be a better man to bring Burroughs' Interzone to the big-screen.
The acting was also superb. Wearing a fedora and an anonymous tan overcoat, and speaking in Burroughs' low monotonous drawl, Weller is a very believable William Lee. Judy Davis was also excellent, bringing to life the most three-dimensional portrayal of Joan Vollmer Burroughs ever.
The fabulously surreal special effects are sure to draw in Cronenberg fans, and fans of Burroughs will be equally entertained by samplings of the original book's `routines' and parallels to Burroughs' own life. However, Cronenberg isn't known for making accessible movies, and when coupled with Burroughs' characters, this certainly isn't a film for everyone. Rated `R' for heavy drug content, adult language, and `bizarre eroticism,' there are scenes portraying bug powder injection (a heroin metaphor), typewriters with genitalia, and a gay sex scene in which Julian Sands turns into a parrot. But for all the "adult" content, this is a very intelligent, complex, and inspired movie that its viewers will not soon forget.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very strange, but in a good way!, October 5, 2006
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This review is from: Naked Lunch (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
I just finished David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. It was released in 1991, and is based on the William S. Burroughs novel of the same name. I've never read any of Burroughs' work, but now, I wouldn't mind researching it.

This film is about an exterminator named Bill Lee - who is played here by Peter Weller of RoboCop fame. Bill is an ex-junkie, and is thrown back into drug addiction once he finds out that his wife is addicted to the bug powder that he uses on the job. He tries it once, and becomes hooked. He starts hallucinating. Giant bugs start spouting conspiracy theories to him. A giant alien-like creature, a "mugwump", has a conversation with him at a bar. Sounds weird, huh? It only gets weirder from there on out. And I mean WEIRD. One night, he and his wife decide to play a random game of William Tell that goes horribly wrong, in that he accidentally shoots his wife in the head, and she dies. He flees the scene, and heads off to the "Interzone," an exotic city that may or may not exist inside of his head. He starts to write a novel, a novel that will eventually become the book Naked Lunch. While he is in the "Interzone," his hallucinations get worse. They become so surreal and weird, that it is hard to differentiate between what is real and what is not. I don't have time to explain it all - some of the hallucinations were so strange, that I can't print them for fear of offending someone - however, one thing is certain: this is definitely a film that requires a second viewing.

The character William Lee is loosely based on author William S. Burroughs. Burroughs really did shoot his wife during a game of William Tell, and this novel was written shortly after that incident. It may help to know that he was addicted to heroin at the time that he wrote it, which would explain all of the strangeness in the film.

I DO NOT recommend this to everyone. It is most definitely not a film for anyone under the age of 17, and contains some shocking material. However, if you are in the mood for something different - and I stress the word DIFFERENT, then you may want to check this out. You may not understand all that is going on the first time around, but the point of the film is to make you feel as though you are on drugs yourself. I still don't know what to think about it. It certainly does stay with you afterwards, and it is very thought provoking. David Cronenberg is one of the best directors out there. After all, he gave us last year's classic, A History Of Violence. If you are familiar with Cronenberg or David Lynch, and you've enjoyed their previous offerings to cinema, then you'll probably want to see this. You may want to follow this up with a similar, albeit less trippy film named Barton Fink, which was released the same year, and also stars Judy Davis in a supporting role.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Homebrewer, February 17, 2005
This review is from: Naked Lunch (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
The idea of bringing the novel Naked Lunch to the screen is a monumental undertaking. It was a task that could only have been executed well by a truly innovative director like David Cronenberg. Instead of attempting a literal depiction of the book, which would be all but impossible due to its stream of consciousness style, Cronenberg instead paints us a picture of what it might have been like to have been in the head of William Burroughs while he was writing it. The film can be considered a surrealistic biography; elements of Burroughs's life are melded with images and characters from his novels. Peter Weller plays the part of William Lee, Burroughs's alter ego, perfectly; with the right degree of apathy, detachment, and despair. Burroughs himself commended Cronenberg and Wellers on the accuracy of their depiction of his ideas. The supporting cast is also wonderful, giving life to an array of colourful Burroughsian characters.

The plot is essentially as follows... William Lee, having long given up writing as "too dangerous", lives a comfortable if morose life as a pest exterminator. His wife Joan, however, introduces him to the pleasures of his bug powder, as a powerful narcotic. Soon, Bill's world begins to unravel; the narcotic squad is after him, and at the behest of a talking typewriter/cockroach, Bill and Joan play "William Tell", leaving Joan with a gunshot wound to the head. After shooting his wife, Bill escapes to the hallucinatory world of Interzone, where he begins writing reports; again at the request of the talking typewriter/cockroach. The reports he writes end up becoming the novel Naked Lunch.

This film certainly isn't for everyone's taste, but it is a must for any Burroughs fan, and for anyone interested in surrealist existentialism. Now go out and purchase a copy of Naked Lunch 'ASAP', they don't make movies like this anymore (you will need a nap after you watch this movie). Enjoy kiddies!
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the peak of Cronenbergian weirdness, May 23, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Naked Lunch [VHS] (VHS Tape)
David Cronenberg, one of the last surviving geniuses in the modern film industry, has always made uncompromising, nightmarish films enmeshed with meanings and messages that lie under the celluloid surface, waiting to be dissected. As a filmmaker, he relies (to a certain degree) on the audience's imagination to be at work once the end credits are done rolling, and his adaptation of William S. Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" is no exception. While it should be made clear that the movie (according to other reviewers) is more of a document of the events leading up to the novel's publication rather than a flat-out adaptation, Cronenberg does a brilliant job capturing the sheer hallucinatory tone of the author's scatterbrained prose.
From the darkly comic image of mutated insects talking through their scphincters, cannibalistic typewriters, and the accurate, amazing creation of Mugwumps, it's clear that most of "Naked Lunch" is Cronenberg's film (not to disrespect Burroughs, of course). The story begins in New York, where William Lee (an appropriately deadpan Peter Weller), an exterminator, and his wife Joan (Judy Davis) are building a steady tolerance to bug powder (cooked and shot up like heroin, of course); when a shooting accident puts Lee on the lam, he winds up in Interzone and is drafted as an agent. Needless to say, Cronenberg employs this simple, back-lot setting as an atmosphere to create some of his most audacious, hallucinatory imagery to date (including a typewriter that sprouts sexual organs and an aristocrat who mutates into a beetle). He also uses deliberate lighting effects to display a character's narcotic-aided state, usually zeroing in on the eyes (very well-done).
Like the novel on which it's based, "Naked Lunch" truly relies on the viewer's willingness to be sucked into the story without any guarantee that a sensible, "perfect" end will be reached. Fans of Cronenberg (or even David Lynch, for that matter) will know what to expect, while the more casual filmgoer may want to tread more lightly. That being said, I must admit this is probably the director's most easily accessible film, second only to his ultra-mainstream, FX-laden remake of "The Fly."
The performances are great, attaining a sweet level of oddness that at least matches the novel's nothing's-shocking delirium. Weller and Davis are excellent, cast very much against type here; Ian Holm & Julian Sands, as two eccentrics subject to their own strange behaviors, showcase an ominous normality; and Robert A. Silverman (who also appeared in Cronenberg's "Scanners" & "eXistenZ")--as a scary little man with a strange accent--is amazingly comic with his ill-timed, inappropriate laugh.
"Naked Lunch" is a fitting epitaph for Burroughs, and simply one of the best films David Cronenberg has made to date. Lay down your reservations and give this film a chance, you won't be disappointed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Develop a Case of Insanity, January 12, 2004
OverTheMoon ( - See all my reviews
This review is from: Naked Lunch (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is possibly as close as you will likely get to an adaptation of any of Burrough's books. Cronenberg has mostly derived his own version of the Naked Lunch here and a lot of the original book's elements are missing and Cronenberg has come up with some new entries of his own. However this very loose adaptation can be forgiven and if you have read the book then you are probably more than well aware that the vast majority of it is incoherent and devoid of anything you can call structure or plot but it does have a narrative and this can be found here.
Peter Weller is impeccably cast as Bill Lee who is sort of a reworking of Burroughs himself. He plays a writer employed as an exterminator who finds out that his wife is addicted to his bug powder. Under the prying eyes of the drug enforcement agency Bill escapes his life to work for a beetle-typewriter (you have to see that thing!) as an undercover homosexual agent who travels to a place called the "Interzone" to write up daily reports there.
The film is provocative and thoroughly insane in every department. The monsters all look genuinely disturbing but even more so when the characters interact with them in the most indescribable of ways. There is a doctor called Benway (Roy Scheider) who appears to be helping Bill to get through his problems of drug addiction and yet turns up later in the film in the most startling of scenes. For a man who once played the lead in "Jaws" it will certainly blow a few minds to see him unzip his breasts. Judy Davis plays Joan Frost and Joan Lee who appear in both the real world and the fantasy world as wife and curiosity of Bill Lee. Davis is on flying 1950s form as usual. Ian Holm plays a man called Tom Frost and you are completely unsure of what he does, but rest assured by the time the credits close you will not care either. Julian Sands plays Yves Cloquet, a very disturbing homosexual monster centipede!
Cronenberg has gone out to make the insane and he has succeeded in every department. DO NOT EXPECT A COHERANT MOVIE! This is just all out insanity and fantasy played to a 50s era beat. This is Bill Lee's world and you have not seen anything like it before nor will you ever see anything like it again - so if you like the obnoxious, the extreme, the mad, the unorthodox, the unconventional, the vulgar and the chance to see Peter Weller in a role he was born to play then look no further.
This is outstanding cinema and thank God that Cronenberg is around to fill that empty niche nicely. You can say that this film is just incoherent and confusing, but you can not say that it is not original, imaginative, creative or artistic. It is all that and then some more.
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35 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It's time to do our Wiiliam Tell Act", May 2, 2002
This review is from: Naked Lunch [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Talking slithering strangely sexual typewriters, addicts of cockroach-exterminating pyretheum powder (who like to breath on cbugs and watch them die while on it), thick-fluid sipping mugwhump creatures, an assortment of strange parasitic characters to represent the sinister parts of you you never knew ere there, and a high as a kite protagonist to narrate it all. What more can I say? This is both a brilliant representation of William S. Burrough's no-holds-barred dark imagination and director Cronenburg's as well, both with the twisted audascity to take all these horrific atroscities of reality and fantasy and breath eroticism & mystery into them...
Impossible to describe or even explain (almost but not quite as incomprehensible as FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS), the movie is not exactly a telling of the book Naked Lunch (even though some characters, namely the vile mugwhumps, show up) as it is a telling of Burroughs writing the book and what he may have imagined while writing it.
THe film starts out with the main character William Lee and his even more "creepy" (if anyone in the Burroughs line ever wanted to label what's inside themselves) wife, Joan, are addicted to the roach powder pyretheum, which Lee obtains thru his job as an exterminator. After playing a drunken William Tell act with his wife and blowing her head off so to say (which actually happened to Burroughs and his wife, and is said to have sparked the writing of Naked Lunch), he escapes to Tangiers, Mexico (with a "ticket" which actually appears to be a syringe). There he flows into a seemingly hallucinatory Interzone--a place populated by all the things mentioned above and tons more weirdness. He also meets the wife of a bisexual author who looks almost identical to his wife...and they engage in a particularly freaky sexual practice in which a typewriter tries to join in. If I say any more, the plot will be totally given away, so just watch, and compared to all the elaborate twists and turns on this unreal path to hell, I've said very little.
Great performances from Roy Sheider (who plays Dr. Benway, another character direct from the book), Paul Weller as Lee, Judy Davis as Joan and the other Joan, and Robert A. Silverman as a truly unique black centipede meat salesman with a disquieting manor (the black centipede meat, as well as Burroughs' thoughts on how centipedes controlled many Interzone lives, were from the novel). You'll either be completely confused or completely tripped out of yr. mind, but you won't leave the film unchanged...just like Burroughs' writings.
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Naked Lunch (The Criterion Collection)
Naked Lunch (The Criterion Collection) by David Cronenberg (DVD - 2003)
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