M. Butterfly

For the first time since Fast Company, David Cronenberg made a movie that Fangoria magazine couldn’t cover. This one still retains his key themes: sexual confusion, bodily dismay, mental delusion, repression that is overcome (with disastrous results). A French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) falls in love with a beautiful Chinese singer who turns out to be not only a spy, but a male spy (John Lone).

This odd, measured, elegantly assembled film disappointed just about everyone — Cronenberg fans (many of whom seem to think that a Cronenberg film without goo and gore isn’t a Cronenberg film), art-house crowds (who’d already seen The Crying Game), and most critics (who found it boring). But Irons and Lone perform at their peaks, and Cronenberg brings out the lush, alien beauty in his subject. Cronenberg no longer needs slimy parasites or exploding heads; the human heart’s ability to fool itself is frightening and bizarre enough.

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