A Psychoanalytical Reading of Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom'
Updated: Aug 22
Following a recent day trip to The Freud Museum in London, including watching the movie, Venom, at the nearby O2 Centre, I felt inspired to offer a psychoanalytical interpretation of the said film.
Venom sticks. It is not just a creature or a separate being in its own right. Venom is a substance which attaches, clings, sticks, rips and squeezes its host. Venom is partly an infection for which there is no treatment or cure, but is negotiable and even sociable. The obvious interpretation of Venom in Freudian terms is to call it the id. The id is primitive, selfish, self-seeking and violent. Invisible, it is no less influential. In a stable society there is little function for Venom. Venom is like a disease: a substance committed to its host body to the point of extremes. At the same time, Venom is necessary: it confronts evil, inspires fight in its host and does not let a little thing like incest get in the way of justice. Venom restores order after causing chaos. In that sense it steps in when individuals are too weak or self-seeking to do the right thing.
San Franscisco in Ruben Fleisher’s Venom is not functioning: there is no discernible backbone or principles shown by people in the city. San Francisco needs Venom; it needs something which sticks. For instance, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), dumps her long term boyfriend, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), because he loses his job as a journalist. She returns the engagement ring: why should she, a middle class doctor, stick by her journalist boyfriend now that he is unemployed? Men are dispensable to her; if her domestic provider loses his job, replace him with another. She soon moves on to Dr Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), a metrosexual colleague who sickens with his congeniality. There's no future in it. A status-conscious sycophant, Lewis is unlikely to satisfy Weying’s childish whims during a time of stability ,never mind a crisis.
Eddie Brock is fired for daring to ask inventor, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), about his corruption, but Eddie cannot provide a single fact to make the accusation stick. And his boss, Jack (Ron Cephas Jones), is quick to terminate employment since journalists are apparently not supposed to ask awkward questions. Jack does not stick to principles of journalistic free speech anymore than his friend and colleague. Nothing sticks in San Francisco. In some form or another, the emergence of the id is inevitable.
Freud claimed that a strong ego was necessary for the development of a stable individual. The ego mediates the desires of the id (the pleasure principle) and the moral conscience of the superego. A strong ego develops through the resolution of developmental stages in childhood. Without a strong ego the individual regresses to their pre-ego state. Anxiety, hysteria and irrationality result from a weak ego; it allows either id or superego to dominate. In a collective society a strong ego is defined by principle and a sense of stability. When people believe in core values they have the basis of a mature society which everyone can understand. The id has permission to play, but must behave itself.
In Venom, San Francisco is populated by weak egos. Eddie Brock is devoted to his maternal girlfriend Anne Weying to the extent where he is ready to obey on command: he is a weak child and is buying time before she dumps him for some arbitrary reason. Scientist Carlton Drake makes his way through one human guinea pig after another (normally chosen from the poor) in his quest to create a ‘symbiote’ from the venom in his laboratory. Drake is the boyish child who finds himself in power: a sort of Western Kim Jong-in, excitable and petulant. Meanwhile, Brock’s rocker neighbour, like the overgrown child, won’t turn his music down. After rebellious researcher, Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) offers to assist Brock in exposing Drake, Drake catches and castigates her (she is the disobedient daughter) before his venomous strain penetrates her as punishment. Skirth is the dawdling child, aware that she represents a corrupt leader, but without the fortitude to act in a measured way. She makes a hash of whistle-blowing and is executed by venomous insemination.
If Venom is the id it is hardly surprising that it can so easily run riot, since San Francisco’s good and bad guys equally lack principles and control. In Marvel comic fiction a superpower is needed when society fails, when it loses credibility and structure. The role for Venom is necessary: to reinstate order through wilful destruction and gratuitous, self-fulfilling violence. Venom is revolutionary but, like the movie more generally, has no ultimate motivation or narrative. When Drake’s own Venom strain is destroyed, Brock’s Venom has no meaning left, other than to take vengeance on gun-wielding shoplifters.
Still, Venom is disciplined when order is restored, when Drake is confronted and when Brock is reinstated to his journalism role. It is not the ego which reinstates control, but the id. In hosting Venom's twisted desires, Brock and Weying have to grow up, abandon their infantilised behaviour and confront Drake. When Brock faces execution, Weying’s aggressive French kiss penetrates Venom back into Brock’s system so that he can fight his executioners. Without Venom, Brock is dead; without his maternal girlfriend’s penetrating tongue, Brock is finished. Later the two ex-lovers awkwardly discuss their kiss and reason that it was necessary. Venom fancies Weying and when Brock cannot take control of his own life, Venom will do it for him. Venom sticks: it sticks to the task, sticks to the incestuous tongue of the mother and sticks a fragmented society back together.