Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Naked Lunch

Canadian/UK movie (1991). First Independent. Pr Jeremy Thomas. Dir David Cronenberg (> SFE link below). Creature fx Chris Walas Inc. Screenplay Cronenberg. Based on The Naked Lunch (1959) by William S Burroughs. Starring Judy Davis (Joan Frost/Joan Lee), Ian Holm (Tom Frost), Monique Mercure (Fadela), Julian Sands (Yves Cloquet), Roy Scheider (Dr Benway), Joseph Scorsiani (Kiki), Robert A Silverman (Hans), Peter Weller (William Lee). Voice actor Peter Boretski (creatures). 115 mins. Colour.

New York, 1953. Would-be writer William (Bill) Lee – an early pseudonym of Burroughs – and wife Joan are addicted to the pyrethrum he uses in his work as a bug exterminator. Police arrest him; they leave him alone to test the powder on a Monster bug, which tells him it is his case officer and he is a secret agent countering the efforts of "Interzone, a notorious free port on the North African coast, a haven for the mongrel scum of the Earth, an engorged parasite on the underbelly of the West". Smashing the bug, he tries to flee with Joan, but accidentally shoots her dead in a drunken re-enactment of William Tell's feat with the apple (Burroughs indeed killed his wife Joan this way). In a gay bar a Mugwump (a bizarre, semi-insectile beast the size of a man) gives him tickets to escape to Interzone – although the tickets, shown to a friend, look like the phial of cut pyrethrum given to him by genial GP Dr Benway. In Interzone he is befriended by Hans, who introduces him to rent-boy Kiki, who in turn introduces him to expatriate writers Tom and Joan Frost; she is a Double of Lee's dead wife. Interzone, we find, is co-extensive with Reality; on rare occasion the camera allows us to see this, and even more rarely Lee sees it too. The rest of the plot is too complex for summary.

NL, full of Surrealism, is widely regarded as being even more incoherent than the book on which it is based, perhaps because of its use of a wide array of fantasy tools with which mainstream movie viewers are unfamiliar. But the notion of writers being the tools of typewriters rather than the other way around is hammered home perhaps too firmly, and the typewriters' sexuality, and that of the giant bugs (who speak through dorsal vents that are like puckering anuses), reflects a little too crudely the sexual Metamorphoses in progress in Lee's mind. [JG]

further reading: Everything is Permitted: The Making of "Naked Lunch" * (1992) ed Ira Silverberg.


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.