Naked Lunch (1991)

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Released 9-May-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Director David Cronenberg
Interviews-Crew-Producer Jeremy Thomas
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 110:28 (Case: 113)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Cronenberg

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Peter Weller
Judy Davis
Ian Holm
Julian Sands
Roy Scheider
Monique Mercure
Nicholas Campbell
Michael Zelniker
Robert A. Silverman
Joseph Scoren
Peter Boretski
Yuval Daniel
John Friesen
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music Ornette Coleman
Howard Shore

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch is a terrifying journey into the disturbed mind of an artist. Scholarly film critic Robin Wood once proclaimed all artists live within their art and for author William S. Burroughs, his seminal novel Naked Lunch cumulated from the shock and the devastating guilt he harboured over his participation in the death of his wife, Joan Vollmer.

Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch is not a direct adaptation of the controversial novel which is structured as loosely related vignettes. Instead Cronenberg opted to select events from the novel as well as from the life of Burroughs to create a hybrid of fiction and memoirs. Like the novel, the film adaptation of Naked Lunch could be dismissed as an irrelevant drug induced story by a delusional addict, however there is no denying the visions of the extreme and the tales of the obscene, became an awful reality for Burroughs.

Set in New York City in 1953, Bill Lee (Peter Weller)1 is an exterminator who discovers a large amount of his lethal insecticide is stolen. His wife Joan (Judy Davis), later reveals she consumes the yellow powder, in search of the ultimate high.2 Lee is also a writer and he is intrigued when Joan tells him consumption of the poison achieves "… a very literary high. It's a Kafka high. It makes you feel like a bug." Lee begins to share his wife’s addiction much to the knowledge of his friends Martin (Michael Zelniker) and Hank (Nicholas Campbell).3

Lee is later reluctantly interviewed by the police who are investigating the “missing” insecticide . The police test the yellow powder by leaving a giant cockroach in a pool of the substance. Alone in the interrogation room with the dying cockroach, the grotesque creature tells Lee that his wife is a secret agent and it is his mission to kill her. Terrified, Lee tries to kill the bug by violently slamming his shoe against the shell of the creature. Lee then speaks to fellow exterminator Dr. Benway, (Roy Schneider) who introduces Lee to a new drug to cut the bug powder with, the black meat of the aquatic Brazilian centipede.

Lee and Joan later inject the exotic drug and in a moment of madness they perform the William Tell routine. Lee aims his revolver at the glass on his wife’s head but devastatingly misses, shooting his wife in the head.4 Having unintentionally completed his mission; Lee escapes to the Interzone in an attempt to exorcise his demons and deal with his guilt.5

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan's death... I live with the constant threat of possession, for control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and manoeuvred me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.”6

Lee’s life continues to spiral out of control as his drug addiction begins to overwhelm him in the Interzone. Lee spends his days trying to write what would become Naked Lunch but the typewriters have now morphed with the monstrous bugs and Lee is advised by the terrifying creature to seduce his deceased wife’s doppelganger, Joan Frost (Judy Davis). Meanwhile Lee’s drug dealer Hans (Robert A. Silverman) feeds his fear and fellow writer Tom Frost (Ian Holm) watches Lee’s downward spiral, understanding the torment of the creative process.7

Like Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, these semi-autobiographical tales do not exist to advocate drug culture and use, rather they are warning signs of the pain and suffering of the drug addict and through the use of fiction and satire the authors liberate themselves perhaps consciously and subconsciously. Cronenberg has bravely chosen not to distinguish between the grim reality of the addict and the fantastic hallucinations of the addict, thus the fantastic becomes the reality, and the audience experiences the terror and shock alongside the protagonist. Naked Lunch is not an easy film to view, similar to the film adaptations of A Scanner Darkly and Fear and Loathing; these films present an oppressive journey for the audience as subtext of American consumerism and excess, drug abuse and the overall human addiction to control reveal a desperate futile society.

All the actors excel in their roles and it is terribly hard not to sympathise with Peter Weller's dead-pan characterisation of Burroughs, despite the immorality of the character. As with all Cronenberg productions, everything is meticulous as Carol Spier's production design exudes the rich, vibrant and exotic, while Peter Suschitsky's photography and Denise Cronenberg’s costume design is influenced by the highly stylized visuals of 1940s film-noir. The special effects and animatronics team responsible for designing and creating the creatures at Chris Walas Inc. have done an incredible job, they have produced not just bizarre creatures but characters with personalities. Naked Lunch is Cronenberg’s taut nightmare; it was an ambitious project on release over fifteen years ago and today it is still eerily relevant and disturbing.

1 - Pseudonym for Burroughs.

2 - Burroughs was once an exterminator and the job may also be a reference to his past as a drug-dealer.

3 - Martin and Hank are pseudonyms for Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

4 -This event is drawn from Burroughs’ life; Burroughs accidentally shot Vollmer in Mexico City. Burroughs’ fled Mexico City after being released on bail and was convicted in absentia of culpable homicide.

5 - The name 'Interzone' may have been derived from the 'International Zone' in Tangier, Morocco, which became a haven for criminals, artists, drug smugglers and tax-evaders. Burroughs wrote most of what became Naked Lunch in Tangier.

6- Burroughs proclaimed the traumatic event was the catalyst for his writing career in the novel Queer (Penguin, 1985 p.xxiii)

7- Tom Frost is a pseudonym for American author and traveller Paul Bowles.

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Transfer Quality


The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 16x9 enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen.

The local release has the same transfer as the R2 France - (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment) release.

Over a dual layer DVD, the film has been encoded at the average high bit-rate of 5.38 Mb/s which accounts for a pristine transfer free of MPEG compression artefacts.

The restored print is very clear with excellent shadow detail and very good black levels, for example the interrogation scene (9:48).

The picture is sharp and defined with a natural and bright color scheme, for example the lime green wall of the apartment (6:13).

This is an excellent transfer with only very minor positive and negative film grain and mild telecine wobble.

The subtitles unique to the film (dates and location) are burnt onto the print as intended.

There are unfortunately no additional subtitles available.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


Despite Magna Pacific’s website claiming the DVD contains a DTS soundtrack, the only soundtrack available on the DVD is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

The soundtrack remains clear and the sound design of the film is atmospheric, especially in the scenes which contain the protagonist’s hallucinations.

Dialogue remains clear and audible, with the menacing creature voices provided by Peter Boretski. There are no apparent lip synching errors.

The soundtrack has limited use on the surround sound but remains a tense experience due to Howard Shore's score performed by the London Philharmonic with alto saxophone solos performed by Ornette Coleman.

The original score weaves improvisational jazz and Middle Eastern influences into an erratic experience.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu

The main menu contains a still image similar to the cover art of the DVD and is accompanied with a section of Shore’s score. There are 16 scene selections and access to the special features available from the simple and practical main menu.

Interview with Jerry Thomas, conducted by UK film reviewer Jason Solomans (21:24) (1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced)

Jerry Thomas met David Cronenberg in 1981 at the Toronto Film Festival. Cronenberg revealed to Thomas his desire to adapt Naked Lunch for the screen and Thomas believed only Cronenberg would be able to make a film out of the unfilmable novel.

Thomas also speaks in length about the audiences’ expectations of the film, the special effects models and fluids in the absence of digital effects and the drug culture and its affect on literature.

Peter Weller’s physical similarities with William Burroughs are mentioned as is Cronenberg’s precise and controlled working methods.

Thomas believes the film would not be made in the current film industry due to the importance of marketing and commercial reception.

The question of whether the film advocates drug use is also discussed.

Director's Commentary

Cronenbergs commentaries are always a highlight. The director talks about the Saul Bass-inspired opening credits, his relationship with Burroughs and writing the screenplay as well as the on set technicalities (puppetry, background paintings, set design and locations).

This is a thoroughly engaging commentary as Cronenberg brings his own personal insight and understating of the scenes and he states exactly what he wanted to achieve creatively.

The only negative is after 70mins there is dead air. The reason for this may be the local DVD only contains the Cronenberg part of the original commentary which was recorded exclusively for the Criterion 2 disc set.

The commentary for the Criterion 2 disc set also included participation from actor Peter Weller and although the actor and director were recorded separately, their comments and observations were edited into one running commentary, with Weller's insight's towards the end of the commentary.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

R1 America - (Criterion Collection) and R0 Korea - (Dawoori) include the following extras not available on the R4 release:

Audio commentary by writer/director David Cronenberg and actor Peter Weller

Chris Rodley's South Bank Show documentary Naked Making Lunch (48:49).

The documentary features the participation of Cronenberg, Burroughs, producer Jeremy Thomas and the major cast members.

An extensive gallery of special effects designs (Introduction, Mugwumps, Mugwriter, Bugwriters, Sex Blob, Kiki and Cloquet, Fadela)

Promotional portraits of the cast and the production

Theatrical trailer (1:37) and two TV spots (0:31 each)

On-set B-roll footage (3:04)

Electronic press kit (6:11)

Excerpts from a 1995 audio book of Burroughs' reading Naked Lunch (63:04)

Allen Ginsberg's Photographs of William S. Burroughs.

The accompanying booklet reprints Janet Maslin's New York Times review and essays by Gary Indiana, Chris Rodley, and Burroughs which originally appeared in Everything is Permitted: The Making of Naked Lunch.

The local release includes an Interview with Jerry Thomas which is not available on the R1 or R0 releases. This interview appears on the R2 France - (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment) which also includes interviews with journalist Serge Grunberg and composer Howard Shore as well as the Naked Making Lunch featurette. It is a shame these extras did not appear on the local release.


David Cronenberg and William S. Burroughs invite you to lunch.

The local release includes a perfect transfer, however the selection of extras are limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Vanessa Appassamy (Biography)
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1910, using DVI output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE 700. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DSP-A595a - 5.1 DTS
Speakers(Front) DB Dynamics Polaris AC688F loudspeakers,(Centre) DB Dynamics Polaris Mk3 Model CC030,(Rear) Polaris Mk3 Model SSD425,(Subwoofer) Jensen JPS12

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