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Spider (2003) The Missed Fundamentals of Story Telling

Updated on April 23, 2012

99 Minutes of Self-Flagellation

Ralph Fiennes as Our Protagonist
Ralph Fiennes as Our Protagonist

I just suffered through the entire length of a motion picture titled "Spider" directed by David Croneberg. I do not use the term "suffered" lightly. At about the 15-minute mark I was strongly tempted to turn off the DVD, as the opening was so slow, empty, and excruciatingly uninteresting.

Things didn't get better one-fourth into the film ... I kept an eye on the time-lapse line that is visible if you use Rhapsody as your media player. But, I held on despite my instincts, which turned out to be a bad call. I had no one else to blame but myself. Have my movie watching habits drifted into the territory of masochism?

The Positive

The movie had this going for it: Fine acting, good photography, and a somewhat dull sense of mystery. The movie also has a plot although it unfolds at a snail's pace. There was enough material to make an hour-long TV drama.

The Deception

The description provided by NetFlix suggests the film is an "unsettling psychological thriller." This label is certainly mis-applied.

The Premise

Ralph Fiennes plays a psychologically broken, mousy man who seems to be trying to piece together the events surrounding the death of his mother. We see events through his eyes both as an adult and as a child, and as an adult observing himself (and family) as an adult.

Using the psychologically collapsed character of Fiennes as the lead character and story mover was an awful mistake. This is no failing on the part of Fiennes who portrays the character with skill and finesse. The failing is that the viewer feels that the advancement of the story is a terrific drag because the character can barely speak, rarely communicates, wanders about picking up twigs and pebbles, mutters constantly, writes pure gibberish into a journal, and generally works through his psychosis in the most tedious way possible.

A better interpretation would have portrayed a psychologically weakened man (not crippled) who is aware of his own illness but presses on despite it. But, what the viewer is offered is such a crushed individual, it's nearly impossible to identify with him or to feel a sense of compassion. Instead of empathy, the viewer just feels a sense of irritation.

Simply Lousy Story Telling

Sniffing About for Recollection
Sniffing About for Recollection

Herein is where the story tellers lose their sense of fair play with the audience. One of the cardinal rules of good story telling is that there is at least one character with whom an audience can identify. And from the get-go, "Spider" can only offer up a tiresome head-case. As I mentioned previously. The Fiennes character is not just disturbed but so utterly shattered that all that is left is a remnant of a human being. One can feel sorry for him for five minutes or so, and that's really about it -- because we don't even witness this mashed cookie struggling toward anything. He is apparently trying to remember or reconstruct events surrounding the death of his mother, but he doesn't do much of anything actively to achieve his goal -- rather, we witness a psychological projection of his incremental ability to make things fit in his mind.


Webs of the Spider
Webs of the Spider
Drip by drip we start to see him connecting the dots, then the last few minutes of the film show that his discovery/resolution/reconstruction may be/probably is utterly upside down. The surprise twist would cause any sensible viewer to groan -- either out loud or inwardly. The movie is noteworthy for giving a new meaning to the word "tedium."


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