Sunday Double Feature: Naked Lunch

Our summer Sunday film reviews wind down with Movies on Drugs.

Naked Lunch isn’t SF but, chances are, you’ll find it in the SF/Fantasy section of your local video store, and it is fantasy of a sort. Based on William S. Burroughs’ memorable experimental novel (available at or, the film depicts the writing of that novel, adding some order to the chaos of the non-linear book. The viewer enters Burroughs’ mind, during a time when he was addicted to heroin. Drugs aside: if you can stomach it, this film may be the best ever made about the creative process.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by : David Cronenberg

Written by William S. Burroughs and David Cronenberg.


Peter Weller as Bill Lee
Judy Davis as Joan Frost/Joan Lee
Ian Holm as Tom Frost
Roy Scheider as Dr. Benway
Nicholas Campbellr as Hank
Michael Zelniker as Martin
Julian Sands as Yves Cloquet
Monique Mercure as Fadela
Joseph Scoren as Kiki
Peter Boretski as Voice of Creature/Exterminator #2


After the accidental death of his wife, a drug-addicted exterminator, troubled by guilt, paranoia, and questions about his sexuality, visits “Interzone” and writes a novel.

High Point:

I cannot think of a single point. Rather, several elements work together to create the paranoiac, drug-influenced, sex-and-insect-filled alternate reality into which Bill Lee slips. The first major slip, in particular, will be remembered by most audiences.

The film softens or excises the novel’s most disturbing scenes, but it makes Lee/Burrough’s experiences very clearly a metaphor for the act of writing/creating.

If I had to pick one terribly amusing moment, it would be the clearly-labelled bus that apparently takes Hank and Martin into Bill’s hallucination.

Low Point:

I have watched this film a few times, and I’m still unclear on the ending. I don’t know what I’m expecting, but it doesn’t satisfy. It’s redeemed somewhat by Bill’s response when the border guard asks him if he can prove he’s a writer.

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6. It’s an adaptation, but it’s a highly original adaptation of a highly original book.

Effects: 5/6 The effects are good, and they form a significant part of the story. They are not, for the most part, scenery-dressing.

Story: 5/6. The ending always loses me somewhat, but it’s a fascinating, disturbing trip.

Acting: 5/6: The actors do an extraordinary job, and even the special effects creatures perform well. Weller manages to convey a range of emotions while remaining understated. Monique Mercure is effective, but overdoes her part.

Production: 6/6 The look and sound of this film, the cinematography, the design and the music, work exceptionally well. Even the obviously artificial elements can be explained as part of Lee’s hallucinations.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Overall: 5/6. I also recommend the novel which inspired it but, again, it won’t appeal to all tastes

In total, Naked Lunch receives 36/42.

An Amusing Side Note

I can excuse this film’s classification by most stores as SF because, hey, it has an alien-looking creature on the cover, it is fantasy (therefore, genre, as we like to say here) of a kind, and it otherwise confounds classification. However, don’t rent it if you’re expecting conventional SF or fantasy.

Other questionable videostore classifications just boggle my mind. Despite the publicity that attended The Cable Guy, I have seen it on the “Family” shelves because it features Jim Carrey. Being There, an American-made film based on an American novel by a Polish-born American writer, set in the U.S. and featuring Peter Sellers as an American, I have seen classified as “British Comedy.” The aggressively Canadian Better Than Chocolate I once saw classified as “Foreign”—in a Canadian videostore. My prizewinner? The lesbian romance When Night is Falling I saw shelved as a “thriller.” Why not? It has “night” in the title and sexualized imagery on the cover. That makes it a thriller, right? I actually called this one to the attention of the clerk. Some months later, I happened to be in the same store. The video remained in the same section, but someone had slapped a “thriller” label on it.

3 replies on “Sunday Double Feature: Naked Lunch”

  1. Amusing Side Notes
    I once went to a suburbian videostore that did not have a sci-fi section… but it had a “wrestling” section!

    And people wonder why I despise suburbia?

  2. Miscatagorized Movies
    My favorite misclassification of a movie was a local video store. While browsing with my daughters, I saw “Animal Farm” sitting happily amongst the kids movies. Why not? It’s got talking animals right? The family that rents that expecting something like “Babe” is in for a big surprise.

  3. the ending
    the role carachter is a real nutcase. and his life goes in circles. when he has to prove he’s a writer he recollects the reason why he started to be one. (for shooting his wife) in his twisted mind (caused of the drugs) he repeats the shooting and makes things “ok” – the solution is the one thing he referes to, and since he’s lost his mind there’s how it goes

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