Spanking the Monkey

David O. Russell’s prize-winning Spanking the Monkey manages the difficult task of treating the taboo subject of mother-son incest with such acute observation and dark humour that is suspends any moral qualms. Russell says he was inspired by that combination of emotional intimacy and sexual tension which can develop when young men and their mothers are cooped up together for long stretches while father is away on business. Just such a situation provides the basis for this bold but never sleazy or exploitative Oedipal drama set in suburban Connecticut.
Ray (Jeremy David) is a smart young medical student with a prestigious internship lined up for the summer months. But Ray’s plans are ruined by a tyrannical father who forces himm to take care of his mother, Susan (Altreta Weston), who is confined to bed with a fractured leg. The film is very funny in its depiction of Ray’s sense of powerlessness as his father dictates a list of loony instructions, which include regular cleaning of the family dog’s sensitive gums. Russell makes excellent comic use of the dog. A German Sheperd that adds to Ray’s growing frustration by continuously distrupting his attempts to find relief by ‘spanking the monkey’ (masturbating).
One of the film’s great strenghts is its attention to detail, wheter it be Ray’s housekeeping chores or his increasingly intimate contact with the intelligent, sensual and manipulative Susan.
Basically Ray’s feelings of entrapment and lack of control are increased by his stories outside the family home. He makes a half-hearted attempt to establish a sexual relationship with a local teenage girl, only for his dismal failure to land him back with the woman who understands and shares his needs.
Spanking the Monkey works very well as a black comedy, but it should be said that the humour in no wa makes light of the subject of incest and its dangers. Significantly, Ray is almost driven to mudere and suicide.

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