Spanking the Monkey is a hugely significant movie in that it deals with a subject matter still so taboo that most directors won’t go near it. David O Russell however is no such director. Boldly going where few dare to go, he gives us his own Oedipus in the form of Ray (Jeremy Davies), a young medical student forced to ‘take care of’ his mother who is bed-bound with a broken leg. That’s right, this is a film about incest.
But before you turn away in disgust, it’s worth noting that the film does not exploit this controversial issue purely for shock value. Rather than going for cheap gags or vulgarity, Russell focuses on creating a tense and deeply uncomfortable atmosphere. Negotiating the difficult subject admirably, he produces a film which is darkly comic and surprisingly watchable.
Whilst not exactly fun-for-all-the-family, Spanking the Monkey is however intelligently written, well-acted and features excellent direction on the part of David O Russell. Smart, funny and very dark, this is American filmmaking at its bravest.
Spanking the Money (1994), directed by David O Russell, is released on DVD in the UK by Axiom Films, Certificate 18.