Spun Around and Falling Down:
The Economical Exploration of Repression, Obsession, and Sexual Aggression
Spun was directed by Jonas Åkerlund and portrays the trip of various characters through three days of life in a drug filled society. The movie utilizes every free second to explore social aspects and question current perspective views of society in general. Three dominating aspects of the psychological framework of the movie include the ideas of repression of ideas, obsessing over possessions or habitual actions, and the concept of sexual aggression. All of these motivating factors are driven, however, by the economical world and are driven by the factors of capitalism critiqued by Karl Marx.
The characters each have their own set of psychological problems that were the result of economical factors; the economical factors of their lives are also conversely affected by the psychological aspects. Of the psychological aspects that are most prevalent, Ross’s interactions during the movie resemble Sigmund Freud’s concept of manifest and latent content in the most ideal manner. Lois Tyson describes manifest content as the actual occurrences of a dream seen as disguised misrepresentations of the unconscious message; Lois Tyson refers to this unconscious message as latent content (Tyson 19). The dream-like effects experienced by the characters are externalized in material forms. As Ross approaches his “girlfriend” Amy to pay back money he has owed her for over a year, the background of the scene is filled with latent signs of chaos and confusion representational of Ross’s true subconscious inhibitions. The means of projecting the manifest form materialize as two street signs pointing in opposite directions with bold letters stating: ONE WAY. Additionally, various signs depict arrows suggesting not to turn to the left, nor to the right. In between all of the signs in the background is a no “u-turn” sign symbolized as a bent arrow with a red circle on it. Waiting for Amy to come, Ross spins every which way following the directions of the signs to no avail; he is “Spun” by the obsessions perpetrated from methamphetamine use. The street signs were rotated toward the camera perspective and not in perception of the drivers of the cars on the road in the background. This suggests that it was the director’s intention to project Ross’s subconscious into the material world as an obsessive chaos.
The obsessive nature of Ross is extended to an extreme as he ties and binds the striper April to his bed. During the course of their sexual intercourse he fantasizes various images representing the projection of ideals he obsesses over into a convoluted manifest format animated on screen. Throughout the three day adventure he leaves her tied up and only remembers her on occasion. He obsesses to keep hold of some female figure in his sexual life. Sigmund Freud might argue that this is because of his fear of abandonment (which Lois Tyson defines as “the unshakable belief that our friends and loved ones are going to desert us … or don’t really care about us,” on page 16 of Critical Theory Today). The obsession continues throughout the movie and even after he comes back to his apartment to talk to her, he chooses to leave her tied up again, bent on following the direction of The Cook who acts as a superior on the economical hierarchy in the small subsection of the drug world Åkerlund lets us view.
The chemical element added by the use of methamphetamine drug use complicates the psychological component beyond what Freud’s theory encompasses, yet at the same time highlights certain points of the psychological theory such as the recurring theme of the repression of emotions and the sexual repression. Ross often reacts edgy when touched by Nikki. The repression of his sexual inhibitions is the drive for his seeking out methamphetamine in order to release inhibition. This is even implied by Cookie, when she asks about his casual encounters with April. Ross acts very reluctant about the matter as Nikki teases him casually.
Nikki’s relationship is another instance of repression of emotions in the film. The callous and inappropriate derogatory remarks that the Cook makes not only exemplifies the destructive nature of the male gaze, it shows the low self esteem that Nikki must have. She continues to put up with the abuse while she stripped for money to afford an escape. Slowly she takes money from between her chest, and places it behind her. The Cook continues his job, ignoring her health while endangering them both. After the Cook orders an escort the emotional spiral begins. The release of repressed emotions spews out on Cook, who himself rejects that they are anything more than a result of her being “Spun.”
The repression of ideas is depicted in a deeper metaphorical sense as Cookie goes into the room to spray paint Loser on the Wall. She wishes to lash out in a way that can be seen, yet chooses to hide her expression of emotions from the people she wishes to lash out at. The foil to Cookie is Spider Mike whom chooses to repress his emotions in a different way. While Cookie seems to lie only to others and not herself, Spider Mike lies to himself and others as he “pretends” to “loose the shit” which he is inevitably seen pretending to hide off handedly as he gets caught off guard in the moment.
Åkerlund takes the idea of repression further and questions the perception of society of the viewer and asks what their own psychological repression of ideas manifests as. Throughout the entire move the cop characters may seem to be some what odd ball, but the view the individual has toward authority determines what repressed images the viewer has. For example when Spider Mike’s house is raided, the police officer casually picks up a game console unit and places it into his jacket. This scene and action is as visible as any other scene yet it is often not remembered because of our own subconscious repression of memories in order to feel safe with our current authority. Casually, the police officers also use the drugs which they seek to catch criminals manufacturing. This places the entire framework of their actions into a Marxist view as their need to control the means of supply is desirable from an economical standpoint.
A major prevailing psychological component of Spun was the sexual aggression perpetrated by Spider Mike, the Cook, Ross, the Neighbor and Angel. As the Cook comes into play for the first time he treats his girlfriend Nikki in a very objectified way. As their phone conversation peruses Nikki wishes to get back to the Cook because she misses him while he wants her to come back to him so he can, “lay a yard of dick on [Nikki].” The projection of the Cook’s sexual aggression is being displayed symbolically in the background on the television as wrestling between fighters in most of the scenes of sexuality between the Cook and Nikki. Additionally, the Cook demeans Ross for picking out a film that involves sexual ideas he does not like. Later when he returns to that porn shop he pushes the attendant for a small comment that he made jokingly. A subtle scene in the movie of importance is the conversation Cook has with Ross as it establishes exactly why Cook feels the way he does. The mistreatment his mother gives him is the reasoning for his hostility toward females.
The sexual aggression that Angel exhibits toward the two female ice house attendants is tied in with the aggression that Ross’s neighbor exhibits towards Angel as well as males in general. It is ironic for that matter that she is the phone sex attendant in order to fulfill the desires and needs of males, yet it goes back to the driving force of economical impacts in the psychological activity of individuals. Although from a standpoint of aggression, it could also be argued this is nothing more than her means of taking money from the weak and attempting to injure the male in some way. Angel’s exhibition of sexual aggression is mostly verbal and many of his threats he is too weak to carry through with. His main fear is a territorial concept; he wishes for the attendants to “stay away from Spider Mike’s place.” In a certain sense its questionable whether this is sexual or economic in nature and this ambiguity may be the justification Angel internalizes for slapping one of the two female cashiers. In response, Ross’s neighbor was already in place with a six pack ready to smack it in the face of Angel in the same manner that Cook had done earlier. This mirror action represents conveniently shows that Angel’s behavior is one of pattern and likewise gives the justification in hatred of men the neighbor has by proving that, “men are evil, they need healing.”
All of these psychological activities have the motivating factors based on psychology though all of the actions that occur in reality are motivated by economical factors. The drugs themselves are used to represent one form of money, while Åkerlund defines society as the materialization of manifest economical conditions representational of the latent psychological motivations in man. In doing so, he questions the current perceptions of society that all individuals have and gives a central meaning to a mixed message with content that has multiple interpretations. Through various recurring examples of obsession, repression, and sexual aggression, Åkerlund defines exactly what it is like to be misguided, manipulated, confused, and inevitably Spun.
“Spun (2002)- Full Cast and Crew.” Internet Movie Data Base. IMDB, Web. 6 Dec 2009.
Tyson, Lois. Critical theory today. CRC Press, 2006. Print.