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Screenshot Saturday

Screenshot Saturday: David O. Russell’s Spanking the Monkey (1994)

If Raymond (Davies) ever thought that life was fair and family was important before all else, he is about to have a rude awakening. Just before he leaves for a prestigious medical internship, he is called home to tend to his physically wounded and suicidal mother (Watson). His father disappears from the scene and Raymond is left to deal with his crumbling family and his own shattered expectations. As Raymond struggles with his too-intelligent and too-overbearing mother, his life, particularly his sexual life, falls apart around him. Although it’s his mother who is bed-bound with a broken leg, it’s Raymond who is imprisoned in the home, trapped between his mother’s demands and his father’s absent dispassion. After a few too many gin and tonics, Raymond wakes one day with the worst morning-after regret in the history of American independent cinema.

Billed and advertised as a comedy, Spanking the Money is actually one of the most woefully heart-breaking films of the Sundance era. All of the masturbation puns and incest-jokes in the world can’t keep Raymond’s story from being painfully genuine and hopeless. At the end, after everything has been taken from Raymond by his selfish family, there are only two choices, both very difficult: to live, or to die.

Spanking the Monkey is clearly not an easy film. It’s difficult to think of another early indie loaded with so much frustration and suffering. With most American films, even the ‘dark comedies’, typically loaded with the language of the family (“love is all you need! Family first! Blood is thicker than water!”), Spanking the Monkey is a harsh dose of reality: sometimes mom doesn’t know best, and sometimes abandoning your family is the only way to save yourself.

Britta R. Moline  3/3/12

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