Waxing poetic on David Cronenberg's 'Naked Lunch' and a writer's inescapable need to create

Filmmaker Michelle Latimer reflects on the lasting influence of Cronenberg's masterpiece in honour of National Canadian Film Day.

Filmmaker Michelle Latimer reflects on the lasting influence of a CanCon masterpiece

Naked Lunch. (eOne)

This is part of a series of essays by Canadian filmmakers on the homegrown cinema that influenced them, in honour of National Canadian Film Day. 

It's been 14 days since I've slept. 14. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm really alive. Where am I? The cracked blue screen of my phone never lies.

"Winnipeg. Minus 21."

And under that, a picture of a snowflake and some swishy lines. Maybe the tendrils of atmosphere, but more likely the subtle tracks left behind from those who wish to exterminate me. Welcome to Interzone. The windy city. The In Between Place where nothing is true and everything is permitted.

This is hard for me to put into words. I'm being forced to tell you and I'm terribly uncomfortable with that. My typewriter is an eight-eyed, pulsating beast. I am his prisoner. And I need what he's got.

I press the keys into my flesh and, oh, it's a release like no other. A wheel of exotic colour.  A matter of catharsis where I can say the most horrible things I think of. It's beautiful until it moves into something else. But that is life, no?

So here I am, spewing my guts on the pavement.  And I'm afraid it's not subtle. But I am not alone. As I walk among the ash, the jaundiced agents follow me, waiting for my DNA to reveal my secrets.

Something strange is happening. I am under attack. My body aches and my eyes ooze liquid. I am hungry but I can't eat. My arms itch all the time. Sometimes I scratch until I bleed. My skin is cracked.

I drip and burn. I leak. Out. There is no such thing as privacy in this world.

I don't know how I got here. My mind flickers like an old clicking film projector, one frame at a time.  A slow excruciating imagining back through time, as the glow brings me her face, from the darkness. It is a party trick. Not meant to harm. But the bug powder is powerful medicine.  It eliminates the mind, leaving only shards of reflective glass. The mirror buried in the rubble.

Exterminate all rational thought.

My typewriter is an eight-eyed, pulsating beast. I am his prisoner. And I need what he's got.- Michelle Latimer, filmmaker

I met her in the morning. Standing by the hotel breakfast buffet. Her hair was matted and she smelled like hash and Listerine. I watched her steal an orange and then load her pockets with tiny, plastic creamers. I think she saw me see her. I followed her down the escalator, beneath the hotel and into the underground.

And who can blame her? At minus 21 degrees, everything is frozen shut. I vow to stay below the surface.

A world of tunnels where hospital light reveals grey faces. Chewed fingers clutch coffee cups. Freshly inked serial killers and Vatican popes stare out side by side, as the threat of nuclear mushroom clouds loom over the fatty heads of a white men. The centipedes are getting downright arrogant.

Up ahead I see the matted woman from the hotel breakfast bar. She weaves through people as if invisible. It's hard for me to keep up. Everything smells like vomit. I wonder if she smells it too?

I taste metal. I shudder and burn with itch. It's worse today. My eyes focus on the invisible matt of hair before me. Her flesh invites me somewhere I've not been. I can smell her, taste her molecules in the back of my throat. But I can't hold onto it. It's hard when everything blurs, rings and spins.

A yellow dog in a security guard uniform sniffs the air suspiciously, waiting to bark. The agents are everywhere.  I promise you.

But this is my rebellion.  These words, my story. I won't be extinguished, exterminated, erased. I promise you.  

The yellow dog watches as the matted woman turns and locks eyes with me. She sees me see her.

And just like that, my stomach tightens and my body folds. I wretch a loud, heaving sound. People turn to look. Small clown children cry, as my jaw unhinges and my tongue grows thick. Loud and violent, I wretch, writhe, swallow and gape. Liquid explodes, pooling onto tile floors. Green and brown stenching mud collecting into clumps. Sweat drips. Spit hangs. People stare in silence.

And just when I think I have nothing left to give, little wet pieces of paper fall out from me. A thousand oozing endings congeal before my eyes.

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About the Author

Michelle Latimer

Michelle Latimer is a Toronto based filmmaker, producer, programmer, actor and activist. Most recently, her films chronicling the resistance movement at Standing Rock premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Her films have screened internationally at such festivals as Sundance, Toronto International, Cannes, Oberhausen, Rotterdam, Hot Docs and ImagineNATIVE. Michelle is currently working on her first dramatic feature The Freedom Project, adapting Thomas King's bestselling novel Inconvenient Indian for screen, directing a short doc for Laura Poitras’ company, Field Of Vision, and showrunning and directing the Indigenous Resistance series RISE for Viceland. She programs for Hot Docs Film Festival and the Dawson City International Short Film Festival.


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