Naked Lunch Movie Review
If you recalled fondly the line that Nelson said in an episode of The Simpsons after Bart uses a fake ID to get into this film ("I'll tell you two things wrong with that title"), then you're like most of America. I knew a little bit more coming in: that it was based on a novel by William S. Burroughs that is the quintessence of non-linear narrative and that it was directed by David Cronenberg.
On the way out, I know precious little more.
Naked Lunch is one of those films that is so mind-blowing that it is baffling. So intelligent that it feels idiotic, and so strange that you wonder if you took something beforehand and forgot about it. Yet it was one of those movies critics loved.
In the movie Contact, James Woods asks "Why is it always the opinion of the egghead set that aliens are friendly?" Although the answer Jodie Foster gave back was sufficient, it should have been a more callous response: "Because we don't fear what we don't understand." However, among the intellectual set, things go one step further. Among the intellectual set, heresy is saying "I don't get it", and thus hidden meanings that weren't there in the first place are put into books and movies. The entire business is subjective, we will not know the metaphors placed into them unless we know their makers, and thus everyone is afraid to say "you're wrong" about what the meaning is.
The unknown doesn't scare us. Admitting we don't know it scares us.
Naked Lunch, like so many movies, has no real point to it. However, because it is so weird and so out of our heads it is the automatically taken position of the intellectual set that "if I don't understand it, it must be good." Two things come out of this. The first is the comedy when someone tries to give an idiotic explanation of what something means in the midst of ignorance (i.e. the man who thought "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" was an expose about Bill Clinton). The second is the tragedy when people keep their mouths shut, not brave enough to say what is on their mind.
What is on my mind, and the mind of just about anyone who has seen the film, is "what the hell?" You have no idea what is going on in the movie, and by the end you still have no idea what is going on in the movie. Yeah, you've seen a lot of weird sights (the transvestite drug dealer, the roach-centipede intelligence war, the cannibalistic typewriters), but you're no closer to understanding what went down than anyone else is.
There is a word for this, intellectual elite: incomprehensible. I know that it is the "I" word and that you're not supposed to say it in class or conversation, but that's what Naked Lunch is.
But, you know what, it isn't just the intellectuals who do this.
The debate over whether Naked Lunch is genius or simple lunacy begins anew with Criterion's DVD release of the film. Two discs of material and a weighty little booklet ought to help you through the battle over Naked Lunch, including a Cronenberg commentary, a documentary following the making of the film, a special effects illustrated essay, and countless archival materials. Hands down, it's the best DVD with an anthropomorphic typewriter ever.