I have a soft spot for movies that get away from their creators.1 I don’t think that Tony Scott, for instance, intended Top Gun to be a quintessentially gay movie. I think instead that he longed for a richer set of homosocial relationships, where men can like, love, hate, compete, fight, make up, and simply be close to one another all the time. Ancient people would not have questioned this, nor its obvious erotic overtones; the collective unconscious emerges.
Likewise with Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which I watched on a plane recently. One review called it a ‘buddy movie,’ but I think this misses what’s weird and rich about the text.
First, the characters essentially inhabit the same body, with one or the other in control of the levers at different points. When Eddie is at the reins, he hears Venom’s voice, and vice versa when Venom is in control. And, judging by how enthusiastically he encourages Eddie to get back together with Anne, it’s clear that Venom experiences Eddie’s pleasures. But Eddie never expresses any enthusiasm for Venom’s pleasure, which is eating brains. Eddie seems disgusted and horrified by the experience and sets strict rules on what brains Venom is allowed to eat because he’s scared of getting arrested.
In other words: Eddie does experience Venom’s pleasure, but it scares him and doesn’t allow himself to feel it. In Freudian terms, Eddie is the superego and Venom is the id. I think this model fits a lot better than “buddy movie.”
The weird turns is that Venom is much more emotionally well-adjusted than Eddie is. Venom is in touch with his feelings. Venom does not lie to Anne about what he wants and what he’s feeling, like Eddie does, and Venom is clear and consistent about when he’s hurting or when he’s sorry for his behavior. After Venom and Edie split, Venom’s reaction is childlike but not childish; he seeks validation from a crowd of partygoers and, in turn, spreads the good vibes back to them. Meanwhile we see Eddie miming adulthood: tidying his apartment, vacuuming, cleaning up Venom’s mess. But Eddie is inarticulate, incapable of expressing gratitude, pointless. He is fundamentally a lazy, vindictive man who be nowhere professionally without Venom’s superhuman memory and attention for details, and he ends the movie in a hotel bed watching a soap opera, a man who has failed to launch.
This is very strange behavior for a superego and an id. Rather, I think the best model for their relationship is that Venom has transcended traditional morality, and Eddie can’t handle it. The movie can’t endorse this position, or follow it to its weird, logical endpoint (Venom keeps trying to live an independent life, or Eddie agrees that eating brains is fun and they become The Lethal Protector in earnest). But Venom is clearly the protagonist, clearly the character with a consistent moral vision and lack of shame, clearly the only one you’d watch a movie about. (Hence why it’s called Venom.) A better movie would have just been about that, and what it would do to Eddie, rather than a meaningless conflict with an alien and two people whose motives and behaviors make no sense.
I also like when A-listers show up for bit parts in B movies, like Frances McDormand in Aeon Flux or Allison Janney in Ma.↩︎