This Spike Lee film examines the life of an aspiring actress in New York. She is upset by the treatment of women in the movie industry during one of her screen tests with 'QT'. Out of work ... See full summary »
A successful and married black man contemplates having an affair with a white girl from work. He's quite rightly worried that the racial difference would make an already taboo relationship even worse. Written by
Murray Chapman <email@example.com>
In his opening sequence to Jungle Fever, Spike Lee introduces the pervasive theme of the appropriateness of sex. Through the red haze of a Harlem morning, we are introduced to Flipper and his wife Drew in a very compromising position. Entangled in both the sheets and a moment of passion, the couple begin their morning in copulation, all the while trying desperately not to `wake the baby.' This `baby' could be a child who they've already produced or a child who is potentially in the making.
This notion of sex as a means of producing children runs throughout the film. We find that even after Flipper has begun his relationship with Angela Tucci, he would never think of having children with her. Flipper's fear of having mixed (`octoon, quadroon, mulatto') children is very high. We learn that his wife is mixed herself. Her father is white and her mother is black. During the scene in her office, we get a glimpse of the kind of heartache that she has suffered from her skin color, a result of the intermingling of the two races of her parents. This sex-and-its-aftermath theme manifests itself in the dysfunctional parent/child(ren) relationships throughout the film. Angie is tied to her father and two brothers as a sort of domestic slave. Not only does she have to work hard in a distant part of town all day, but she also has to return home to cook for and clean up after her three male family members. She seems to receive no financial or emotional support for her efforts either. This becomes very clear when her father beats her up after learning of her relationship with Flipper. We see a similar relationship develop with Paulie and his father. His father's constant nagging about the number of each of the periodicals that he orders on a daily basis coupled with his lack of gratefulness for the meals that he cooks for him each day drive Paulie mad. Though Paulie's father isn't as physically abusive as Angela's father is, we see his proclivity toward violence we he forces his way into the bathroom and whaps a teary-eyed Paulie on the head with a magazine. Eventually, Paulie is able to stand up to his father, telling him `I'm not your f***ing wife; I'm your son.'
The most powerful and destructive parent/child(ren) relationship that unfolds on the screen is that of Flipper's family, including his brother Gator and both of his parents. Lee's choice to introduce the reverend doctor and his wife as parents of Gator first necessarily colors our impression of them as good parents. What type of parents produce a crackhead? Certainly not the same type of parents that produce an upstanding architect, but maybe the type of parents who would rear an interracial adulterer. Other than Drew, who we really never see interact with her child, Gator's mother is the only mother to which we're physically exposed in the text. She loves both of her children and would rather not talk about the problems that exist in their relationships. Instead, she closes her eyes to the truth of Gator's drug habit and hands him money while he does the dances that she likes, and she would rather change the subject at the dinner table than broach the topic of adultery. This approach to parenting doesn't work any better than that of her counterpart. The reverend doctor doesn't ever want to really talk to his kids about their problems without using biblical metaphors. These one-sided diatribes seem to drown out any potential discussions just as much as the wailing of his favorite Mahalia Jackson records. In the end, he must kill his neglected son because he has deteriorated so extensively from crack use. The film's concluding sequence has brought us full circle. The framing of the newspaper landing on Flipper's stoop initially suggests that everything has returned to normal - that Drew has accepted her husband back into her life. Their daughter's smiles and giggles also point to the same conclusion. But we find, as Drew rolls over in bed and tells Flipper he better leave, that the sex is only a temporary fix for a desire for pleasure. The sex will not solve the problems that it has created. In the film's resolution, we see echoes of Paulie's father's former explosion in the bathroom: `All they think marriage is for is humping.'
The final, seemingly confusing line of the film - `Yo, daddy, I'll suck your big black d*** for $2.' - sums up this theme well. It both mirrors in video and echoes in audio an almost identical part from earlier in the film. When Flipper was walking his daughter to school, a crack whore approaches him with the offer, `I'll suck your d*** for $5.' By the film's end, the price has lowered, the sex has been cheapened, and the whore is addressing Flipper as `daddy.' In this final line, the importance of parent/child relationships is emphatic. Sex, a supposedly physical manifestation of love, often results in a product - a child. This child will then live in a society where sex and love is misguided or undirected altogether.
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