"If nothing is true, everything is permitted"-Hassan I SabbahDavid Cronenberg films the un-filmable and arguably makes his definitive masterpiece, while doing it. Though almost nothing like the book the title gets it's name from it's nonetheless an excellent film about the life and works of author William S. Burroughs. Like "I'm Not There", "Naked Lunch" takes a fragmented persona and mixes autobiography into fiction, and cuts them together. So it helps to know a few things about William S. Burroughs before going on (Burroughs is also one of my favorite authors and I owe this film for introducing him to me so many years age). Things like he "accidentally", shot and killed his wife in Mexico while trying drunkenly to perform this films William Tell Routine (a trick the couple often did at parties), a tragic event which would start Burroughs in his successful writing career(William and "Tell" being a strange coincidence for a writer named William).
He was addicted to various drugs til his death in his 80's, heroin longer than any, he did once work as an exterminator. He also spent a good deal of time in Tangiers and North Africa after the shooting, and was monotone voiced and was always dressed in suit and hat, long after it went out of fashion.
Though the film shows him as more bi-sexual than gay (he had several children with his wife), but was overwhelmingly gay (read a few of his books and you will get the overwhelming part; the phrase "quivering anus" is used almost as punctuation).
He was also an expert marksman, a gun enthusiast, and afraid of/obsessed with centipedes. His friends in the film(who help get his book published) are supposed to be young versions of "Beat" writers Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg.
If you look closely you can see that several different places are built out of the same sets, as the protagonist Bill Lee, doesn't really go anywhere, but into his head.
But does any of that really explain why the type writers are insects who speak out of their assholes? Well the asshole story in the car ride, is a "routine' he used to do at dinner parties, as well as the asshole in general being both for Burroughs as a gay man a place of desire(or desires not spoken) and a social symbol of everything in life we avoid or would rather not say.
This is most clearly stated as Bill Lee, drives through a dark highway, and tells a story of a man who taught his asshole to talk, and was slowly replaced by it: "Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. This asshole talk had sort of a gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.
This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called The Better Ole that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, "Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?" "Nah I had to go relieve myself." After a while the asshole started talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his asshole would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time. Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy in-curving hooks and start eating.
He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags saying nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him, "It is you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don't need you around here any more. I can talk and eat AND shit."
After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole's tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body.
He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have have amputated spontaneous - except for the EYES you dig.
That's one thing the asshole COULDN'T do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn't give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off.
For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes WENT OUT, and there was no more feeling in them than a crabs eyes on the end of a stalk."
As for what the title "Naked Lunch" means, it's the point during a meal when one looks down they're fork and realizes what it is they've been consuming all this time.The moment when the true nature of the meal, reality, and what you are really made of deep down is revlead. In other words, "You are what you eat".
Without any of that information and before I started reading Burroughs, I had no idea what was going on, in this movie save something about drug addiction, sexual identity confusion, and paranoia , which it is as well, but watching again after reading more of Burroughs work and biography, I was amazed at how much David Cronenberg was able to bring together.It's not really an adaptation of "Naked Lunch" the book, but a Burroughs inspired film about Burroughs, that uses the techniques, preoccupations, and ideas of the author and his life to tell a Burroughs story.As critic Jonothan Rossenbaum writes, "The central tenet in Naked Lunch is that Lee needs his wife in order to live and needs to kill her in order to write, and all the film’s transactions and transformations derive from this appalling fact. He literally has to kill his wife again and again in order to keep on writing, and this condemns him to perpetual psychic imprisonment."And I should add that this nature of imprisonment of needing to kill what you need to live and needing to live off the thing you kill, is the parasitic and paradoxical position of the psychology of addiction, a thing Burroughs was able to understand and explore on physical, emotional, political, sexual, and literary levels. This is why I think his best work was done after "Naked Lunch", when he was less hung up and strung out on specific drugs, and more interested in the nature of addiction and it's horrible two headed sister; submission and control. And still, lines like "Just remember this. All agents defect, and all resisters sell out. That's the sad truth, Bill. And a writer? A writer lives the sad truth like anyone else. The only difference is, he files a report on it. ", are for me personally anyway, genuinely moving and oddly compelling, in spite of, or maybe especially because their coming from a half-dead insectoid type-writer.Because any type of literal adaptation of the book would probably be banned in every country on Earth...well maybe not Japan where incidentally you can buy the insect/asshole type writer. Who can say Christmas wish?So yeah if you like "weird movies" you'll like this, if you like William S. Burroughs or David Cronenberg you should like it, everyone else though, approach with caution, even for surrealist drug cinema, there really isn't anything like this.
"Hustlers of the world there is one mark you cannot beat, that is the mark inside"-William S. Burroughs