Naked Lunch

Julian Sands as Yves Cloquet, Joseph Scorsiani¹ as Kiki, and Peter Weller as Bill Lee in Naked Lunch(1991)


After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in an Islamic port town in Africa.

Release Year: 1991

Rating: 6.9/10 (19,721 voted)

Critic's Score: 67/100

David Cronenberg

Stars: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm

Not an adaptation of beat writer William S. Burrough's novel but a mix of biography and an interpretation of his drug- induced writing processes combined with elements of his work in this paranoid fantasy about Bill Lee, a writer who accidentally shoots his wife, whose typewriter transforms into a cockroach and who becomes involved in a mysterious plot in an Islamic port called Interzone. Wonderfully bizarre, not unlike Burrough's books.

Writers: William S. Burroughs, David Cronenberg


Peter Weller

Bill Lee

Judy Davis

Joan Frost
Joan Lee

Ian Holm

Tom Frost

Julian Sands

Yves Cloquet

Roy Scheider

Dr. Benway

Monique Mercure


Nicholas Campbell


Michael Zelniker


Robert A. Silverman


Joseph Scoren


(as Joseph Scorsiani)

Peter Boretski

Creature Voices
Exterminator #2

Yuval Daniel


John Friesen


Sean McCann


Howard Jerome

A.J. Cohen

David Cronenberg and William S. Burroughs invite you to lunch.

Release Date: 11 March 1992

Filming Locations: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Box Office Details

Budget: $16,000,000


Gross: $2,541,541

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


As the film couldn't be filmed in Tangier because of the war in Iraq, the film was shot completely in Toronto. As a result of this, some trans-light panes were used to represent the exotic backgrounds seen through windows. Trans-light panes are large translucent enlargements of a photo.


[first lines]

Bill Lee:

User Review

A masterpiece of interpretive surrealism for Burroughs fans

Rating: 9/10

Lots of people will hate this film, and some will love it.

The bottom line is, if you enjoy, respect, or feel that you understand
the work of William S. Burroughs, you should see this film. If you
don't know what I am talking about, you should probably not see this

The following pedantic and potentially inflammatory review, like this
film, pulls no punches and makes no apologies for itself. Read on if
you dare.


If any three of the following conditions apply see Naked Lunch:


1. …know what the term "visual metaphor" means.

2. …are a Burroughs, Kerouac or Ginsburg fan.

2a. …are not a fan, but know and respect Burroughs, Kerouac or

3. …can't see how the book Naked Lunch could make a good film.

4. … believe that Peter Weller is an underrated actor.

5. …thought any of the following films were 'lightweight': Lost
Highway, Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, The Last
Wave, Heavenly Creatures, Dead Ringers.

6. …have lived in the New York area for 15 or more years.

7. …know the relationship between improvisational jazz, poetry, and
modern art.

8. …think you understand what Andy Warhol was trying to do.

9. … are curious about what the process of writing a novel is like.

10. …spend a lot of time arguing with inanimate objects.

11. …without knowing the content of this film, can see a potential
relationship between sexual ambivalence, guilt, paranoia, addiction,
typewriters and over-sized talking insects.

You should NOT see this film if any of the following apply:


1. …consider homosexual love to be evil, wrong, and something you can
not sympathize with or understand.

2. …use the phrase "he's on drugs" to explain behavior and ideas that
do not make sense to you.

3. …do not like or respect Burroughs, Kerouac or Ginsburg, and you
know who they are.

4. have a concept of challenging literature as the latest John Irving
novel (no offense to Mr Irving intended – he's easily as great as
Burroughs, just sort of mainstream and pop).

5. films which you can walk away from easily.

6. …don't want to see any film which requires a second viewing to
feel as if you've really got any of it.

7. …view films strictly as a form of entertainment.

8. …without knowing the content of this film, you can not imagine a
potential relationship between sexual ambivalence, guilt, paranoia,
addiction, typewriters and over-sized talking insects.

9. …don't care to understand most of the following review.

10. …consider ambiguity and loose ends in a film to be "plot holes"
and consider any film which has them to be 'flawed'.


William S. Burroughs is widely regarded as one of America's greatest
writers of fiction. A friend and mentor to Jack Kerouac and Alan
Ginsburg, Burroughs helped to create the genres of 'beat' – American
literary high modernism, and/or post-modernism. He provides highly
tactile ironic, seductively repulsive descriptions of the everyday
which are at once accurate, fragmented and surreal – in other words –
Burroughs recreates the feeling and mood of his time and his experience
with hermeneutic precision.

Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is an amalgamation of Cronenberg's
interpretation and experience of reading Burroughs, Burroughs own life,
and Burrough's legendary novel, Naked Lunch. There are six or more
plots operating in six or more interacting layers throughout the film,
and the action centers exclusively on Burrough's alter-ego, Bill Lee,
as he attempts to discover the relationships between all of these
plots. The plots I identify (and an interested viewer will generally be
able to identify many more that this) are Burrough's relationship with
Joan, Lee's relationship with Joan, Lee's drug addiction, Burrough's
drug addiction, Lee's investigations into the secret society of drug
trafficking at the edge of the world in Interzone, Burrough's struggle
to create/discover himself. However, the theme of the film is more an
issue of the Lee/Burroughs character trying and, in the end, failing,
to make sense of the connections between these plots.

It is a very self-conscious, personal, brilliantly developed and
visually intense film. Yet, despite its self-exposure and openness, the
film maintains a certain distance from its audience, as if it has taken
on the life given it by Cronenberg and Burroughs and established its
own unique personality, which will keep its audience at a certain
distance. To really appreciate this, you must watch the film at least a
few times.

It is especially significant that Burroughs gave his approval for this
project. Burroughs' writing is intensely personal and artistic, and his
willingness to allow Cronenberg to position himself and his experience
of Burrough's work within the film, and to decenter Naked Lunch is as
powerful a testimony to Burrough's own integrity as an artist as it is
to Cronenberg's vision.

Most of the people who acted in this film really wanted to be involved
in it and it shows. Ian Holm and Roy Scheider are always great. Peter
Weller, a big Burroughs fan and a severely underrated actor gives what
may be the performance of his lifetime, Judy Davis and Julian Sands are
both perfectly cast and powerful in their roles.

This films imagery is necessarily disturbing, disorienting, and, at
times, quite comic. Very much in keeping with the feel of Burrough's

See it. You don't have to like it to respect it.