Spider reminds me a lot of Shutter Island. More than featuring mentally ill characters clinging onto their own versions of the past (or in Shutter Island‘s Teddy Daniels’ case, his version of himself), both send that creepy, disturbing feeling when we realize something is wrong but we can’t still figure out what. The latter explains which is real and which ones Daniels just made up. We don’t get this conclusion from Spider. Instead we see how memories are often unreliable. We cannot dismiss them otherwise because oftentimes they can neither be proven authentic nor inauthentic.
I guess nothing can go wrong with Ralph Fiennes. He just transforms into every character he’s in. His role requires minimal actions and dialogues but his portrayal is nothing less convincing than him being a Nazi officer in Schindler’s List. Miranda Richardson is equally believable as the mother and Yvonne. Until halfway, I have not noticed that the characters are played by the same actress. To me, however, the standout performance is the child’s. It’s a little tricky because the young Spider acts perfectly normal but at some point something strange appears in his facial expressions. He almost always looks at things straight, without any show of emotions. So while I am waiting for that moment he finally breaks down and becomes insane, it has already begun.
The film is about the recollection of Spider’s childhood, particularly the period in which he has lost things – his sanity and possibly his mother. He is the only means in which we can gain access of his past. Even though he experiences most of them firsthand, his illness must have tainted his ability to recall things. The realization doesn’t sink in until later. At one point, I begin to think the same way Spider does. I get goosebumps seeing Yvonne as the landlady. I feel for the poor guy. All along, he has been staying in the same building with the person responsible for his mother’s death. What have you done? When Spider attempts to kill the landlady, those words that she mutters wakes me up. I feel cheated. I’ve been lead to believe that his detailed, linear recollections are true. I almost dismiss the chances his illness makes him an unreliable source.
Spider remembers events that he has not participated in. He hasn’t been there but he knows his father and Yvonne have killed his mother, for example. He mumbles a lot, and jots down what he recalls regarding events that have happened probably two decades ago. Isn’t it that if we want to remember events, we jot them down immediately after they’ve occurred and read our diaries afterwards? These are rather small details I find effective in setting that subtle unsettling tone.
Despite my love for psychological thrillers, Spider is my least favorite movie among all we’ve seen in class. But if there’s one film that best fits the idea of “being kidnapped by the cinema”, this is. It lets us step into his shoes, see what he sees, but it doesn’t entirely enclose us in the schizophrenic state of mind. Seeing Yvonne in the latter part of the movie, I try to recall how she looks like the first time we see her. And I think she isn’t the same person, but I begin to have second thoughts otherwise.