Naked Lunch

dir. David Cronenberg

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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David Cronenberg fused episodes from William S. Burroughs' notorious (and notoriously unfilmable) novel with elements from the writer's biography and his own unique imaginings to create this surreal, shocking, hilarious, poetic, conceptually and visually striking masterpiece.

Tackling the unenviable challenge of filming cult writer William S. Burroughs' notorious (and notoriously unfilmable) 1959 novel, Cronenberg combined elements from the book with fragments of other autobiographical Burroughs writings, certain details of Burroughs' biography, and his own unique imaginings to create this surreal, shocking, hilarious, poetic, conceptually and visually striking masterpiece. Peter Weller gives a deadpan-perfect turn as Burroughs alter ego William Lee, a drug-addled insect exterminator in 1953 New York who routinely mainlines his own bug powder with his junkie wife Joan (Judy Davis). After Lee accidentally kills Joan while showing off their "William Tell routine" to friends, he flees to the hallucinatory Interzone, where he encounters giant Mugwumps, insectoid talking typewriters, a doppelganger of his wife and other assorted oddities, while typing out "reports" that will later constitute a book called Naked Lunch. Paying homage to one of his most profound literary and artistic influences, Cronenberg in Naked Lunch does not adapt Burroughs but rather, as Jonathan Rosenbaum notes, "[absorbs] certain principles and texts from Burroughs into [his own] particular cosmology and style"; the result is simultaneously a brilliant tribute to a great American artist, a complex and disturbing meditation on the process of artistic creation and the sources of creativity, and a stunningly original cinematic tour de force.