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Film / Spanking the Monkey

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Spanking the Monkey is a 1994 Black Comedy film and the directorial debut of David O. Russell.

College student Ray Aibelli (Jeremy Davies) is preparing to leave on a prestigious medical internship when his mother Susan (Alberta Watson) breaks her leg. His father Tom (Benjamin Hendrickson), a travelling salesman, makes Ray stay and take care of her for the summer. Then things get weird.

Contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Alberta Watson was only 14 years older then Jeremy Davies, who played her on-screen son.
  • Annoying Patient: Susan
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ray's dad Tom makes an unannounced home visit in the last third of the film, appearing very angry with Ray. It seems that he found out about Susan and Ray, but it turns out Tom is just irritated because Ray let his aunt inside the house and caused his father's dog to run off.
  • Bathtub Bonding: A strange example. Ray has to help Susan into the shower, leading to the awkward intimacy required to take care of a semi-invalid. Later revealed to be intentional on Susan's part and part of her scheme to seduce her son by having him physically tend to her regularly.
  • Bridal Carry: Ray does this for Susan, helping her to and from the bathroom, foreshadowing what's to come...
  • Covers Always Lie: This 90's indie film has a cover depicting the typical twenty-something slacker known to star in this sort of movie, making it seem to be a Sex Comedy in the vein of Clerks, possibly about having masturbated. In reality, it is a Dark Comedy about Parental Incest.
  • Disappeared Dad: Downplayed. Ray's father travels on business most of the time, which is why Ray becomes a sort of stand-in. He reappears for a few days later in the film.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Aibellis (of course). The dad is almost constantly absent and cheats on his wife (and apparently he's not on speaking terms with his own sister), the mom decides to manipulate her son into having sex with her. Ray himself isn't really a bad person per se, he just has the rotten luck of living with these people.
  • Eye Scream: Toni gets a scratched retina due to Susan hitting her.
  • Education Mama: Susan pressures Ray's academic achievements, because she wasn't able to become a doctor as she wanted. Tom makes Ray stay and take care of her for the summer so he doesn't need to and then costs him his internship to suit his own needs.
  • Faking the Dead: Ray fakes his death at the end of the movie, to get away from his family.
  • Family Versus Career: When Ray tells his mother that she could go back to medical school, Susan admits to Ray that his father Tom didn't want any children, and gave her a choice of either becoming a mother or continuing her career; she chose the former. It's easy to see why she's such an unhappy person, but this makes her actions all the more selfish when she later seduces her own son.
  • Girl Next Door: Toni is this to Ray, being a sweet and approachable girl from the neighborhood who is the only real person he can talk to aside from his mother.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: The title refers to a slang term for masturbation.
  • Internal Reveal: Towards the end, Tom discovers that his wife and son are having sex when Ray tells him so over the phone, but he barely pays any attention to it and responds with minor annoyance before going into a meeting.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Ray attempts to hang himself to get out of the abusive sexual relationship with his mother. She interrupts his attempt when she notices the belt sticking out of the other side of the door.
  • Likes Older Women: In a twisted example of this, Ray ends up becoming infatuated with his own mother. His awkward smile after Susan jokes about slipping in the bathroom makes him seem like a schoolboy with a crush. Of course, if her "boner boat" comment earlier is true, Ray's always been attracted to her.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Susan is quite good at manipulating people. After assaulting a neighbor's daughter, she keeps her father from pressing charges by sympathy baiting. However, the worst example is revealed later on: Ray takes Susan to see the doctor and discovers that she could have had her casts removed weeks ago. This strongly implies that rather than it being a spur-of-the-moment mistake driven by lustful circumstance, she decided to seduce her son into a sexual relationship all along, showing a level of premeditation that makes her truly irredeemable.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Ray is a Hormone-Addled Teenager who repeatedly attempts to masturbate, but he keeps getting interrupted by the family dog. His attempt to have his first time with the cute Girl Next Door goes nowhere either. This sexual frustration has disastrous consequences.
  • Momma's Boy: Ray is far closer to his mother than his father. Perhaps a little too close.
  • Ms. Fanservice: A shrewd, scheming bitch she may be but Susan, as played by Alberta Watson, is still a very beautiful woman, the shower scene hammering this point home.
  • Parental Incest: Ray has a distant relationship with his frequently absent and overbearing father Tom, and a codependent relationship with his mother Susan, which eventually becomes sexual, causing him much mental anguish and confusion.
  • Parental Neglect: Tom isn't close to either his wife or his son. According to Susan, Tom didn't want Raymond in the first place. Even at the end, when Ray reveals what he and Susan have been doing in order to get his father to intervene and let him leave the home, he just dismisses Ray and tells Susan to get him professional help.
  • Sarcastic Confession: After an interrupted suicide attempt, Raymond kisses, then tries to strangle his mother Susan. One of his friends peeks through the window, asking what's going on. Raymond casually notes that he tried to kill his mom, which his friend takes as a joke.
  • Sanity Slippage: Ray goes through this over the course of the film due to his dad being verbally abusive and almost constantly absent and cheats on his wife (and apparently he's not on speaking terms with his own sister) while his mom decides to manipulate her son into having sex with her and increasingly becoming a Clingy Jealous Girl. Eventually he oscillates between rage and sexually assaulting his mother and is eventually Driven to Suicide.
  • Stacy's Mom: Ray's friends certainly thinks Susan is this trope, and she plays it up to pull a Mrs. Robinson on her boy in a rather dark example.
  • Their First Time: Subverted. Raymond and the cute Girl Next Door are making out for the first time, but since they're both too inexperienced and don't really know what they want he's too gentle at first and then too aggressive when she tells him to be more rough with her, so they both stop. This contributes to Raymond's growing sexual frustration and the later sexual encounter he has with his mother.