Artificial Reality

David Cronenberg on madness.

Seated in Seattle's Four Seasons Olympic looking natty and rational, David Cronenberg explains how his movies are informed by his only LSD trip. "It's extraordinary how it changed the world: perception, colors, space, time. And you realize that if everyone had a gland that produced lysergic acid and was living in that LSD world all the time, they could function perfectly well once they got used to it. If you were born with it, it would seem like normality. Then you realize what an artificial thing 'reality' is. When I say Spider is not a clinical study of madness but a study of the human condition, that's what I mean." For him, Spider argues against the notion of the brain as a computer and in favor of the metaphor offered by Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman in Neural Darwinism. Says Cronenberg: "It's not like a computer, it's a jungleso many things going on that are unpredictable and different for each person. Even twins do not have the same neural structure. To see this and give it its full weight is what I'm doing in my movies. But you have to have extreme characters and extreme situations to jar the audience out of their mundane lives and show them what's really going on." Cronenberg guides us through the jungle of his hero's schizo brain via flashbacks to his young life. "We had three levels: memory, infected memory, and imagination. In 'memory,' Spider the adult is in the scene and so is the boy Spider. 'Infected memory' is him remembering himself as a boy when he was hallucinating. And then the third one is 'imagination,' where the adult Spider is there but the boy isn'tso Spider is basically saying, 'Well, this is what must have happened.'" Ralph Fiennes had no trouble keeping it all straighteach scene type was specified in the script. Miranda Richardson played her two rolesthe mother and the trollop Spider sometimes hallucinates her to beas distinct characters. But Gabriel Byrne had to struggle as Spider's father, who looks the same always but behaves on a continuum of strangeness. "He had the most trouble, because half the time or more he's playing a character who's a fantasy projection of another character [Spider]. He said it was the most difficult role he had ever played." Maybe what Byrne needed was an LSD flashback to put the fictional ones into perspective.

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