Spanking The Monkey is the
debut feature film of first-time director David O. Russell, a man
who has put some wicked backspin on the "teenager-comes-of-age"
film by having the youth commit incest. Suburbia is the backdrop for
this demented story of one young man’s struggle to resolve the conflicts
between his familial obligations and his human desires when he’s forced
to forfeit a lucrative internship with the surgeon general in order
to spend his summer taking care of his attractive, bed-ridden mother.
This psychologically dense dark comedy is a well-crafted film that
raises many interesting questions about families, sex, Freud, and
life in the suburbs.
MM: I expected Ray to complete the Oedipal equation. Why didn’t he?
could’ve killed either of his parents; after all, it’s a classic
formula for tragedy when you violate a taboo like incest. You’re
messing with the Gods, and you’re not supposed to do that. When
you do, something really bad has to happen; in the film something
does, it’s just not murder. In one draft I had him and the father
get into a fight, but if he killed anybody it would’ve been too
depressing. There are films where people do that, and I guess I
was going in that direction but I didn’t want it to be that depressing.
MM: Throughout the film there is a tangible sense
of tension that almost insists to the viewer on a subconscious level
that Ray and his mother will have sex. Was this intentional?
the transgressions start out small but the movie sneaks up on you
as the little transgressions lead to the big ones. My real intention
was humor, but I see the film as a crucible; it’s boiling and something’s
gotta break, like an existential logjam. People want the release
from the tension, and if you take this cosmic taboo and put it in
this banal, suburban setting it’s bound to create absurd humor because
it raises shameful hypothetical questions like "What do you
do after you sleep with you mother?" Well, you go to the doctor,
yor chit-chat with the neighbors. It come across as being funny.
Denial is inherentli, funny.
|Russell enjoys sharing a good yarn.|
MM: The father seems repulsed by hi family and he’s in very few scenes
in the film, ye his character has a big impact on all the action
where did he come from?
was exactly like my father an( all the fathers I knew; they didn’t
le themselves be vulnerable in their marriages I think people find
when they’ve beer married they don’t just get a lock on thi relationship
thing, you have to keep doinl it. You have to make yourself vulnerable
o: the passion dies and some people never fin( it again. That’s
where he’s at. He’s beer married for 20 years, has a kid, but he’s
los that vulnerability. That creates thi; emotional vacuum, this
libido vacuum, anc libido follows vulnerability and keeps thing
growing instead of festering. I mean, yot can get it up for a one-night
stand without big emotional investment, but in order tc sustain
that level of interest you must have an emotional investment.
So the house has this vacuum
and in a weird way the sex is a liberating, enlivening factor. Something
has to give. It’s like everything’s frozen and by having this bizarre
sexual relationship they explode into the next phase of life. So
it’s destructive, but sometimes you have to be destructive in order
to move on.
was your budget?
cash in hand was $80,000 of NEA and NY State Arts money. Then we
went through the painful process of asking everyone we know for
money and got some private investors. That’s all we had in production,
so everything was bartered. The crew agreed to defer their salaries,
we made a deal with the motel to shoot an industrial promotional
video in exchange for the rooms, and once we had it in the can and
were cutting it, the guy who produced Hairspray came along
and gave us $130,000 for postproduction costs. That’s what you
need in order to make a film; it’s what everything costs at the
end of a day. We finished it just in time to get it to Sundance
and kept our fingers crossed that we’d get a deal and we did.
a low-budget film…
look that way, does it? What you need to do is find a story that
fits a cheap aesthetic. I wrote a screenplay that takes place almost
entirely in the house and that enabled us to make it cheaper because
we used only two or three locations. We also knocked ourselves out
getting a great crew. And the acting was great. Acting is what makes
a lot of low-budget films look bad.
next for you?
writing a comedy; I hope to get a real $5 million budget and an
ensemble of very talented actors.
Pete Sheehy is a freelance
writer who contributes to a variety of Northwest publications. He
specializes in film and music reviews.