Friday, July 25, 2014

Book versus Movie: Naked Lunch

This may contain graphic descriptions.

I don't think anyone truly realizes the work that I put into watching movies. Now, this could seem as a fish for a compliment—let's face it, it probably is—or some self-aggrandizing propaganda; but I would also like to say that I really enjoy all the makes me feel smarter. Whether or not that's the case, is another entry altogether.

When it came to "Naked Lunch", the David Cronenberg film, I was wary of it. I had seen "Videodrome" which I have a love/hate relationship with and can't seem to get out of my head. I'd heard the stories of the movie; but I refused to watch it until I had read the book...because that's just what I do.

With this particular case, the inspiration for "Naked Lunch" had come from four books by William S. Burroughs: Junky, Queer, Naked Lunch, and Exterminator. Naturally, I had to read all of them before I could watch the movie.

My own personal favorite of them all—Junky—was the least utilized in the film, a sore disappointment to me. Queer also was hardly touched. Naked Lunch  and Exterminator are really the two that should be read before watching the movie, though that may be a task that you find impassable.

Burroughs wrote with disturbing precision and frustrating vagueness. Everything was obviously intentional; but the scenes are so incoherent it feels like you're viewing a mosaic rather than reading a book. With Naked Lunch more so, because it has no cohesive narrative and by all accounts is the more disturbing of the books. Exterminator is an experiment if nothing else. Each chapter reveals a new set of circumstances and the book could be seen as a collection of short stories.

Still, since the movie is called "Naked Lunch", I will be comparing it to the book of the same name more than anything else.

Naked Lunch isn't a pleasant read, but it is an addictive one. Burroughs makes no qualms about depicting homosexual behavior, rape, orgasming, and death. The word "ejaculation" is used almost uncountable times as are scenes describing anal sex. It's a work in the human body; yet not in a pleasant way. Because he had written Junky before, I see Naked Lunch as a book warning against drugs—if you want to be so crass as to label the work. Well, not really warning against as showing you what happens when...

The junk user has no sex drive, something that Cronenberg was keen to put into the movie. There are no intimate moments in Naked Lunch, well, really in any of Burroughs' works. The only scene of the four aforementioned novels that has any resemblance to a normal romantic scene is in Junky and even that is a little odd, destroying any notion of intimacy. Burroughs uses his own sexuality to break the scene into an emotional travesty.

For instance, in "Naked Lunch", one scene shows two lovers—both men, as should be expected from the movie—in the bedroom. But instead of being intimate and sexy, the scene turns into something horrific as Cronenberg carelessly dispatches one of the men in a grotesque manner.

Decapitations, rape, and orgasms...Burroughs' book is a never ending sweep of madness.

But that's what I appreciated about it. It's obvious for his writing that Burroughs' time as a drug addict scarred him and deeply influenced his work. I see Naked Lunch, which the author tells all is a collection of his ramblings from when he was on junk, as a a ravenous exploration of the body. It's transformative and keenly evil towards the human body—that is what gives it its power. Incoherent hardly does it justice.

So when translating it to the film form, Cronenberg obviously took some liberties in creating a narrative. Instead of being a movie about how junk affects the body (or even the insect-like explosive nastiness of the book, directed towards the human form) the films gets inside the head of Bill Lee and it becomes more about the strenuous process of writing Naked Lunch.

The movie is about the book and the book is about the body.

That's the problem with the movie—it doesn't contain the sexual savagery in the film, which is fine because how could it? Burroughs himself made the comment that the movie is its own work, barely based on the book. They shouldn't be viewed as one preceding the other, the only similarity between the two is Bill Lee as William Burroughs.

For how different it is from the novel, Burroughs himself was a fan of the movie and liked how Cronenberg made it his own.

For me, the movie is a great accomplishment...then again, so is the book.

If you had to pick: Book.

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