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Released to a halfway house on the seedy side of London, a mentally disturbed outpatient (Ralph Fiennes) finds the ghosts of his traumatic past rising before him, in Cronenberg's moody adaptation of the novel by Patrick McGrath.
Adapted by Patrick McGrath from his novel of the same name, Spider is told from the skewed perspective of Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes), a mentally disturbed outpatient now inhabiting a London halfway house. Aimlessly roaming the desolate streets, Spider finds himself assailed by memories of his traumatic 1950s childhood, including the ostensible murder of his mother (Miranda Richardson) by his father (Gabriel Byrne), and her replacement by his father's mistress (also played by Richardson). Though presenting yet another of the director's isolated, alienated protagonists in Spider (wonderfully played by Fiennes) and continuing his fascination with doubling, twisted sexuality and the fine line between reality and illusion, Spider represents another important transitional point in Cronenberg's oeuvre. Though never entirely absent from his previous films (just think of The Brood), Spider's prominent thematic focus on the family lays important groundwork for A History of Violence. Furthermore, while Byrne's vicious patriarch fits the mold of Cronenberg's previous demonic fathers, the greater role accorded Richardson's victimized wife indicates a new engagement with the feminine that, aside from certain particularly strong female characters (Geena Davis in The Fly, Geneviève Bujold in Dead Ringers, Jennifer Jason Leigh in eXistenZ), had been largely absent from Cronenberg's work to that time.