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Archive for October 22nd, 2019

by J.D. Lafrance

Widely regarded as unfilmable because it defied normal narrative logic and for containing some of the most perverse, often disturbing passages of sex and violence ever committed to the page, William S. Burroughs’ seminal novel Naked Lunch was the ideal project for filmmaker David Cronenberg. In many respects, the themes and subject matter the book explores parallel many of the preoccupations of his films: the merging of flesh with machines, human transformation, and secret societies. One only has to look at an early film like Videodrome (1983) to see Burroughs’ influence — the mix of pulpy exploitation with high concept ideas. The characters in Cronenberg’s films, like the characters in Burroughs’ fiction, are morally ambiguous. It is not as easy to identify with them as it is with characters in more mainstream entertainment.

As Cronenberg was the first to admit, a conventional adaptation of Naked Lunch is impossible as it would be banned in every country. So, he wisely merged key elements from the book along with bits and pieces from the author’s early novels, chief among them Junky and Exterminator!, with aspects of Burroughs’ life, tempered with black humor as we are taken to surreal places. The end result is a fascinating collaboration between two like-minded artists and a film that is ultimately about the writing process as it defines the film’s protagonists much as it did Burroughs – writing acts as a catharsis, a way of dealing with guilt.

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