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Naked Lunch - Blu-ray Review

5 beers

Welcome back to the Interzone.  This is not a place for those unfamiliar with the lasting effects of strong narcotics and paranoia.  It is a place for the sad and lonely or quite possibly the sad junkie walking around wounded in an uncaring world.  He strolls the streets in avoidance of the guilt he feels.  Visionary filmmaker David Cronenberg gives William S. Burroughs – a writer the late Roger Ebert once described as “pathetic” – the deluxe treatment with his adaptation of his bugged-out classic book, Naked Lunch.  Symbolic hallucinations rarely get this brilliant.

It is both a film and literary work that out creeps Franz Kafka at his own suspicious game.  It is also – as an adaptation – quite well done.  Naked Lunch features the absolute best performance from Peter Weller (Robocop) and, made on a $15 million budget, has a slimy style that is both evocative of the repressed 1950s and the bizarrely erotic poetry of Burroughs himself.  Tweaked out and spellbinding, Naked Lunch is another in a long line of classic Cronenberg films.

William Lee (Weller) is off the sauce.  He’s a recovering writer – a stand-in for Burroughs himself – who works as an insect exterminator and doesn’t seem to mind a wordless life.  Complications quickly arise; however, when he consistently finds himself low on bug powder.  His darkly twisted wife Joan (Judy Davis) has been injecting herself with the powder.  With a needle, she pumps it straight into her breasts.  His friends know of her habit.  He does not.

What does he do when he discovers her shooting up?  He joins her and, soon enough, his fragile world falls apart.  In a freak drug-induced accident, Lee shoots and kills her while they are recreating the William Tell stunt (echoing the life of Burroughs).  It is to the Interzone where he flees from his guilt and spies; a world of insects, gay hustlers, and typewriters that quiver in ecstasy at the power of naked imagination.

Naked Lunch and its lively sphincter is delectable madness.  Shot by Peter Suschitzky, the grit of the imagined world is an effectively moody affair where Weller – in a flat voice – and his frayed expression match wits frame and frame again.  There is an independent loneliness that Weller and Suschitzky capture.  Void of emotion, the elements work together to open an unyielding pit of paranoia and bizarre eroticism.

Cronenberg is to be praised for finding Naked Lunch’s storyline - hidden inside Burroughs’ own prose – and bringing it to the surface without compromising its integrity.  Previous to this picture, the book had only been mined for the namesake of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s band, Steely Dan.  Sure, the unapologetically challenging film isn’t for everyone but its artistry and certainly what Cronenberg brings to the odd material – as well as over-the-top performances from Roy Scheider, Julian Sands, Ian Holm, and Monique Mercure – creates a madhouse of invigorating nightmares.

Lunch goes nude.  Crazy gets creative.  Drugs grow buggy.  Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch – newly remastered for Blu-Ray from the fine folks over at Criterion - is a crash course in Burroughs’ brilliance.


[tab title="Details"]

Naked Lunch - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: Rated R for heavy drug content, bizarre eroticism, and language.
115 mins.
: David Cronenberg
: David Cronenberg
Cast: Peter Weller; Judy Davis; Ian Holm; Roy Scheider
Genre: Drama
The book was banned. The film should never have been made. Too late.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to."
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Official Site:
Release Date: December 27, 1991
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
April 9, 2013

Synopsis: After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.


[tab title="Blu-ray Review"]

Naked Lunch - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - April 9, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
: English SDH
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: Locked to region A

Criterion ports their two-disc DVD edition of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch over to Blu-ray, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc. This transfer is presented in 1080p.  The same master used for the DVD appears to have been used here. It would usually be disappointing when a new Blu-ray edition uses a ten-year-old high-definition transfer but it’s certainly held up well and definitely not an issue here. Coming from a 35mm print, the transfer presents a remarkable amount of detail in every shot. Despite the rather bland colour scheme (brown is just about the only color present) they still manage to pop. Black levels are okay, with some mild crushing in darker areas at times. Damage has been just about completely removed, with only a few minor knicks remaining. The mix sounds about the same but the DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround presentation does deliver a noticeably sharper experience. The surrounds are quite active in presenting various background effects that are clear and distinct, and the jazzy score beautifully makes itself around the environment. Overall sound quality is crisper and more natural with rich, intelligible dialogue and no distortion or noise present.



  • Featuring Peter Weller and David Cronenberg, Naked Lunch features a strong commentary track.  This one finds the two recorded separately. Cronenberg as usual is very informative on his style, creative choices and is not afraid to explain what is going on, making sense of what is from what book by Burroughs and what is based on Burroughs’ life. Weller also does the same, talking a lot about Burroughs, the novel, and drug addiction, also offering his own thoughts on the meaning of the film.

Special Features:

Criterion manages to move everything over from their 2-disc DVD edition for this release.  The big one would be the making-of documentary called “Naked Making Lunch”, which is a 48-minute documentary that appeared on British television. This one goes fairly in-depth into the making of the film, gathering interviews with the participants, Cronenberg getting the most time, and looking somewhat at the effects, as well as Burroughs' life and novel.  The second best supplement would have to be William S. Burroughs reading segments from his novel. The remaining supplements are a little disappointing, sticking mostly to simple text notes and galleries.  Special Effects Gallery provides text, still shots, photos, drawings, and storyboards for various effects throughout the production.  Another stills gallery presents publicity shots, behind-the-scene photos, sketches, and more.  A theatrical trailer, 2 TV spots and a 5-minute featurette rounds out the collection.  Criterion has also included a large 39-page booklet that includes essays on the film, Burroughs, Cronenberg and even one by Burroughs himself on Cronenberg.

  • Naked Making Lunch (49 min)
  • William S. Burroughs Reads Naked Lunch (64 min)
  • Special Effects Gallery
  • Film Still and Design Sketch Gallery
  • Marketing (10 min)
  • Photographs of William S. Burroughs by Allen Ginsberg


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