Naked Lunch: The Film

There is a common misconception that this is based on the William S. Burroughs novel of the same name. Actually it's a semi-fantasy based on Burroughs' life during the period that he was writing this novel, but not on the novel itself. Peter Weller (who is good at playing robotic characters; he was RoboCop) plays a character named Will Lee, who represents Burroughs (Lee is Burroughs' mother's maiden name, and he used this pseudonym when 'Junky' was published).

Now that that's been cleared up: I liked this film very much. David Cronenberg directed it, and he was the one who did that incredible remake of 'The Fly' with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. I didn't think 'Naked Lunch' delivered as much as 'The Fly,' but I admire Cronenberg more than ever for making this challenging and uncommercial film, and I found certain images in it brilliant.

There's the running bit, for instance, about typewriters coming to life as weird orgasmic insect-creatures who get sexually aroused when written well on. Will Lee and the character representing Paul Bowles are very possessive about their respective typewriters. Lee uses a Clark-Nova, Bowles uses a Martinelli, and one day Lee's Clark-Nova violently dismembers Bowles' Martinelli in a fit of jealousy. Bowles then claims Burroughs' Clark-Nova as his own, and when the Clark-Nova tries to run away it slams into a closed door with the sound of a carriage bar ringing.

The film starts with Lee/Burroughs working as an exterminator (which he did for a brief time). Characters representing Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg tell Lee/Burroughs that his wife Joan has been shooting up his bug powder. Soon the real-life tragedy in which Burroughs accidentally shoots Joan takes place (though here in New York instead of Mexico), and Lee/Burroughs escapes to Tangier. There he confronts a universe of insect-filled nightmares, disgusting desires and secret plots.

I could go on about what I think Cronenberg is trying to say with all this, and maybe I'll revisit this someday and do so. For now I'll just say that this is a thought-provoking and worthy film, though I don't see how somebody without a previous knowledge of Burroughs' life would be able to get much out of it.

Other Beat-related films

Literary Kicks
by Levi Asher