Size / / /

I’ll be honest: Venom isn’t a particularly deep movie when it comes to its plot or narrative choices. At best, it’s what I would term a “paint by numbers Marvel property,” part of the newly launched Sony section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But its frankly formulaic plotline brings together a set of ideas that are more complex than I assumed at first glance: melding a queer superhero narrative (as noted by Kate Garner here), with racism, national hierarchies of power, class structures, a fundamental and deep-rooted dis/ability narrative, and a larger overarching narrative of consumption (linked to physical consumption as well as ecological consumption).  To be clear, none of what Venom does is particularly good or new in the grand scheme of things, but the film’s mobilisation of these narratives together offers a way to think through how often these ideas intersect and are in/visibilised.

Venom follows the fairly standard narrative plotline of a white man (here Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy) whose poor decision-making results in the loss of his job as an investigative reporter, as well as the loss of his relationship with a white woman (here Anne Weying, played by Michelle Williams), when he decides to go after the shady practices of a millionaire brown man Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed, but an obvious reference to Elon Musk). The viewer is given to understand that Drake’s plan to merge with alien symbiotes in order to survive in outer space, and eventually colonise new planets, is repugnant, particularly given that his system for conducting this experimentation is to lure poor or homeless people into signing away their (cut-short) lives to experimentation.

However, one of the lead scientists at Drake’s Life Foundation, Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), has ethical qualms about this and sneaks Eddie into the Foundation so that he can take down the corrupt enterprise—as well as redeem his career in journalism. Inevitably, things go wrong: Eddie becomes host to one of the alien symbiotes, Venom, and learns that the symbiotes, far from just being mobilised by Drake’s intention to save humanity with interstellar colonialism, are a vanguard that came to evaluate Earth with the intention of bringing billions more of their kind to do the same to humanity. With only two alien symbiotes left of this early vanguard, Riot (in Drake’s body) and Venom (in Eddie’s body) fight to the death. At the end, only Venom—who has been recently convinced of the fact that Earth may offer him something that its invasion would not—and Eddie survive, and they come to a comfortable—if largely amoral—coexistence.

The film opens in Malaysia, where one of Drake’s Life Foundation spaceships, carrying alien symbiotes sourced from a comet, has crashed. However, one of the alien symbiotes (later introduced as Riot) has managed to meld with the body of an astronaut (Chris O’Hara), keeping them alive only long enough to jump into the body of the ambulance driver who responds to the scene (Michelle Lee). This Malaysian woman then appears to lose all sense of self, becoming merely a host for Riot and, following the crash of the ambulance, walks into a Malaysian market and massacres everyone there, before purposing another body, this time of an older Malaysian woman (Vickie Eng). To my memory, none of these female characters speak, beyond screaming or begging, either before being attacked or after being taken over by the symbiote. The old woman, who once needed a cane, is immediately able to walk in clearly abled comfort the moment she is possessed by Riot, suggesting that as much as the symbiotes destroy the bodies they possess, particularly if they are not a good match (more on this later), they can also “heal” them.

It’s notable in these sections in Malaysia that not only does the symbiote immediately take over the person’s body, but also that no part of the person remains in control. If this is contrasted with later depictions of symbiotes taking control of bodies—whether Eddie’s, Anne’s, Drake’s, or even the relatively anonymous (but white) Isaac’s—we see that all these people retain control of their own bodies and human perception. They all speak and retain some amount of agency. This suggests not only a vehement racism, but also a nationalist privileging in which American Anglo-centric identities will retain selfhood when seemingly compromised, but Malaysian identities, which are already othered within these conceptions, have seemingly no self to maintain, making them easy to take over. Given the implications of taking over Asian bodies and Malaysia’s histories of neo/colonisation, the film’s construction of agency and selfhood here are indisputably racist (even with Drake’s identity as a person of colour, as this plays to nationalised hierarchies of race).

Moreover, the film sets up deliberate parallels between the scenes in which the unnamed, infected Malaysian ambulance driver eats a live eel while searching for sustenance and the one in which the infected Eddie consumes a live lobster—both pull these marine organisms out of their holding tanks, to the horror and confusion of a gathered audience. Notably, however, in the scene in Malaysia, the alien symbiote named Riot (more on this name later) kills all the unnamed Malaysian onlookers in visible and bloody ways, except for one older woman into whom he then transfers himself; in contrast, once possessed, Eddie is controlled and removed to a hospital with no injuries to any onlookers. Thus, the scene is not only about Asian people reduced to bodies that are easier to control and empty of self, but also about whose deaths are to be made visible, used to underscore unthinking violence, and seen as disposable in mass quantities. These deaths function only so far as to emphasise the danger Riot poses; the audience is not meant to mourn these lives or know the names of these people. As such, Asian bodies in the Global South are merely narrative props for a larger discussion of power that can only ever be located in the Global North and illustrated with white saviours.

This is further underscored by the manner in which Riot, now in the body of Carlton Drake, attacks a room full of scientists who question his plan to unilaterally pilot an untested spaceship. The audience watches as only one single white man is killed. Despite being unnamed, this man is positioned as a martyr and someone who was trying to do the right thing (by putting in the code for the abort sequence). In contrast, while men do attempt to stop Riot in the Malaysian market (while he is possessing the female ambulance driver), they are shown as armed with guns (therefore indicating the possibility of gang affiliation) and looking to end a threat that threatens their own power. They are not to be identified as heroes by either viewers or Riot. Heroism or martyrdom is thus defaulted to whiteness here again.

Even in hierarchies of nationalism that cross racial lines, the Malaysian women all remain unnamed, whereas U.S. national Carlton Drake is named and retains selfhood. Yet, even while retaining his selfhood and the ability to communicate, Drake not only cannot turn Riot from his goal of bringing further alien symbiotes to Earth, but does not want to. We are informed by previous events that Drake has no humanitarian ethics and will willingly kill as many people as it takes to ensure his dream of space colonisation, and this is placed in parallel with Riot’s purpose. Even as we are meant to imagine the rampant lack of ethics prevalent in systems of medicalisation and corporatisation (and the links to Musk), these are evoked in the film’s North American global consciousness through the figure of the untrustworthy brown man who may be brilliant but is inevitably morally lacking. And notably, given our knowledge of Riot’s purpose and his choice to rapidly consume the bodies of his hosts, we are simultaneously to believe that brilliant, amoral Drake, who has years of experience negotiating the success of the Life Foundation, must inevitably be easily gulled. As such, Drake is simultaneously intended to be brilliant and foolish, a master villain and a willing sidekick—in effect, this parses the contradictions in colonial race discourse which position non-white subjects as simultaneously threatening as well as too foolish to manage themselves (and thus necessitating intervention by colonial powers).

This becomes even more evident when, in contrast, Venom finds various similarities with Eddie Brock and decides to help him stop Riot. The two decide their distinct purposes will be served by the same end and willingly go up against insurmountable odds (and win). Thus, the recognition of a seeming equal by an alien symbiote happens only between Venom and Eddie (with Venom articulating this as them both being “losers”), and Venom shows a growing regard for Eddie’s ex-fiancée, Anne, as well. This is placed alongside Riot’s lack of recognition of his (largely non-white) hosts. In effect, the ideas of negotiating power and equality in this film only occur when U.S. white cis masculine identities are in question. Eddie is not only shown as determined above all else to do what he perceives to be “the right thing” (over and above ethics, and in obvious parallel to Drake’s own narrative), but his reasoning is convincing to Venom.

There’s something disconcerting in the fact that Riot primarily seeks to control the bodies of people of colour, with the single exception of a young white girl (Zeva Duvall) at an airport. The figure of the young girl is clearly intended to be a statement about which/whose bodies are marked as unthreatening when crossing national borders, with a white, blonde, young girl seen as “innocent” through years of colonising discourse. Henry Jenkins notes in The Children’s Culture Reader (1998) that “our modern conception of the innocent child presumes its universality across historical periods and across widely divergent cultures,” (p. 15), pointing out the falseness of this universality through the fact that the innocent child as a figure is a myth that “has a history,” a “palimpsest of ideas from different historical contexts.” [1] I’d argue that the child figure here draws on these socially constructed ideas of the “universal” child to serve as a figure of contrasts—simultaneously a marker of innocence (before her assimilation by Riot) and of monstrosity (after this assimilation occurs)—that then works to play out various specific narratives.

Notably, though the child/Riot was clearly previously accompanied by a parent, once she emerges from the airport we see her walking alone, presumably making her way to the Life Corporation and Drake (as her intended point of contact/ target). When we see her next, she has not only managed to access Drake’s secure facility but this happens abruptly, and we are reminded of this juxtaposition between innocent (as Drake perceives her) and threat (as per the knowing audience’s perception). Significantly, the child speaking is the first time Riot names himself in the film, and this creates a sort of narrative hierarchy in the bodies possessed by Riot: the unspeaking Malaysian women who we only see as terrified and then monstrous; the young white girl whose terror is absented and whose death we assume but do not bear witness to, and whose body is the first one that offers speech; and then Carlton Drake, who is a speaking brown U.S. national (Ahmed himself is British-Pakistani) who appears to have the most agency when dealing with Riot in the film.

This suggests a sort of hierarchy wherein Global South nationality denotes nonspeaking monstrosity or terror, a white girl child (from the Global North) is defaulted to an innocent or hidden monstrosity with the seeming further agency of speech granted, and then Drake (whose identity is situated at an intersection of race, class, and nationality within the Global North—and who is already unethical and monstrous in human form) merging with Riot for a shared purpose. In this way the film privileges not only whiteness, but places the selfhood of people of colour that can identify as North American over and above the silenced Asian Other. It’s clear here: whiteness and American identities are self-possessed, heroic, and capable of choices. All others are not.

It is notable that the association of the name “Riot” with person of colour bodies (the majority of whom are just that, bodies) carries distinct connotations when viewed alongside the film’s other markers: Riot is far more violent and militarised than Venom, he has more weapons, he is determined to complete his mission to the exclusion of all else, and will not be swayed or persuaded by the small pleasures of the planet he is on. Venom, meanwhile, occupies white Eddie and white Anne’s bodies, both of whom retain agency and identity throughout. Additionally, Riot is created to look less visually appealing than Venom, suggesting a corruption that seemingly coincides with the corruption at the heart of Drake’s ventures at the Life Foundation, melding these two such that Drake and Riot seem to share the same intensity of purpose that will ensure the destruction of our world. I’ve previously made links to the manner in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is tying together the Greatest Generation myth, the golden age of comics, and 9/11 narratives—and Venom’s choice to indicate a colonisation of mind over body indicated through non-white host figures, the name “Riot,” and the claim to destroy/remake the entirety of our world in their interests, is not a subtle statement in the least, even with a morally ambiguous super(anti)hero at its helm.

All of these (racist) signifiers mark particular parallels in Venom’s larger narrative. The alien symbiotes’ consumption of human organs and bodies is placed alongside humankind’s consumption of our planet’s resources; Drake’s intent to colonise planets in space is placed alongside the alien symbiotes’ plans to colonise Earth; and the idea of the seemingly weaker underdog who can think for themselves (Venom) versus the physically violent fundamentalist who values the plan above all else (Riot) is placed in parallel to the narrative of (white) Eddie versus (brown) Carlton Drake. These parallels then take us into the manner in which this discussion of colonisation, consumption, and bodily integrity open into an allegory of bodies as mental and physical spaces, illness, dis/ability, and medical treatments. In Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (2013), Kathryn Allan builds off Marlene Barr’s assertion that SFF, even while futuristic and fantastical, can “reflect existing conditions in the author’s empirical environments,” thereby reflecting day-to-day biases and stereotypes. As she terms it:

While the settings and temporal framework of SF may differ dramatically from our own current reality, the way in which disability and people with disabilities are represented— as well as the technology that is used to contain or cure them—often directly reflects present- day biases and stereotypes (p. 3).

The link between the superhero genre and studies of embodiment, ideas of dis/ability, and non-normativity is a long-standing one, with Jose Alaniz’s Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond (2014), Kate Ellis’s Disability and Popular Culture (2015), and Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives (2016), edited by Chris Foss, Jonathan Gray, and Zach Whalen, as a small sampling of books already on the market which expressly explore this topic. Moreover, the MCU itself has numerous properties that likewise depict the manners in which the dis/hyper/abled body, medical treatments, human and alien biology, and race coincide—from Phil Coulson’s narrative arc of being resurrected between the events of The Avengers (2012) and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-present), Jessica Jones’s narrative of IGH and their potential medical experimentation creating Inhumans, and more.

I found Schalk’s construction of “bodyminds,” in her 2018 monograph Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction, particularly helpful when it came to constructing the body and mind collusion/divide in Venom. Far from traditional Cartesian dualism, the film insists that the coexistence of bodies is, in particular cases, the coexistence of minds (except when applied to non-U.S.-ian identities) with the two overlapping in certain cases. This is most evident in the scene in which Eddie first sees Venom—as his own reflection in the window of a car—and carries on a conversation with this being that simultaneously is and is not part of him. Following this, Eddie repeatedly informs other characters that he has a parasite, a term Venom finds offensive, the assumption here being that Eddie believes the body they inhabit to be his primarily, with Venom as an interloping biological system (that can fully detach but is rapidly unable to survive in Earth’s environment outside of a host body)—whereas Venom believes they coexist in the space of the same body. Venom is clearly more than just an alien consciousness, once absorbed: his body becomes present in moments of hyperability or through the negotiations of its needs; for example, alien symbiotes are unable to survive on conventional cooked food and need to consume the organs of living beings. If a symbiote’s host body is unable to consume living organs, the symbiote feeds on the organs of its host, resulting in the host’s eventual death. Thus, we see frequent references to organ failure caused by Riot and Venom (Eddie feels betrayed by the knowledge that his heart has been degenerating as a result of (unwillingly) hosting Venom) —which links medical experimentation, host and vector (as pathogen or parasite), and disability. [2

The deconstruction of this false mind/body divide allows issues of race, gender, and nationality to become immediately evident. Moreover, the reasoning provided for Venom changing his mind—about both assisting the colonisation of Earth by his race and his attack on Riot—appears to be predicated on the fact that he is seen as “a loser” by other alien symbiotes; thus, if he were to be the only alien symbiote on Earth, his primacy and superiority through perceived hyperability—a factor that exists only so long as he is not placed in contrast with other members of his species [3]—would remain unchallenged. Venom’s need to create a situation in which his power and nonspecific gender (which is most often coded as masculinity through his mental voice and social perception of self) are unchallenged, at the seeming expense of others (regardless of how monstrously they are constructed) ties together narratives of masculinity, monstrosity, ableism, and colonialism all at once.

Venom’s narrative regarding bodies and medical intervention is one that emphasises exploitation. This ranges from Drake’s recruitment of late-stage cancer patients for his medical trials (and their subsequent, carefully, and legally, papered-over deaths); to the alien symbiotes’ colonisation and consumption of human bodies; to a larger superhero genre narrative wherein enhanced bodies are often the result of medical intervention or scientific experimentation (examples including Captain America, Iron Man, and The Hulk). One of the scientists at the Life Foundation notes that the alien symbiotes appear to require biological matches, “like an organ donation,” with the human body needing time to adjust and equalise afterwards, linking the idea of a transplant (the insertion of a foreign body, though without immunosuppression for either the human subject or the alien symbiote in this case) to that of this procedure—and creating this as monstrous. Implicit within Venom’s ableist narrative is thus the sick or compromised body constructed as monstrous, and the fear evoked by medical procedure (or medical experimentation), particularly when figured as bodily invasion. When Isaac, the initial test subject chosen by the Life Foundation, screams, “Oh god, where is it?!” as he searches over his body for the alien symbiote that has absorbed itself into his chest, the idea of bodily integrity is breached. This is placed in parallel to the machines which record Isaac’s internal vitals, suggesting another way of visually breaching the embodied concept of inside and outside, therefore marking these as permeable not only to the alien symbiote but also to medical technology and consequently linking the two in monstrosity. As the analogy of a transplant plays out further, we are led to note that unlike traditional transplants, in which both bodies are affected by a rejection, the human host body is affected but the alien body is not. Implicit here is an additional fear: in a question of which body is the host to be preserved, and which body is the rejected interloper, the answer is clear. And in case we were to somehow miss this, Drake later openly states that the human subjects of his experiments are by far less valuable than the alien symbiotes.

Drake’s belief that human beings are of “poor design,” and his specific focus on biotechnology as a means by which to “enhance” human bodies, is indicative of the links between the medical system, social welfare mechanisms (as he seeks ways to preserve the species), bodily interventions, and larger questions of ethics and humanity at the heart of medical trials. This indicates not only a history of medicine that has prioritised lives in the Global North over those in the Global South, as well as preyed on marginalised people ( homeless and sick people appear to make up the majority of Drake’s test subjects), but also the manner in which medicine, and particularly biotechnology, is increasingly capitalist (rather than humanitarian) and publicly positioned as a(n ableist) scientific search to eliminate what might be seen as genetic imperfection (such as disabilities). The idea of what constitutes imperfection is usually socially constructed and shifts with social perceptions, but relies in many ways upon abled colonial ideology at its roots. This is tied into not only an ecological narrative regarding contemporary consumption of planetary resources (a factor never explored outside of Drake’s power-hungry response), but also Drake’s deliberate consumption of people with compromised health or those that have been compromised by economic circumstance (such as the homeless woman Maria, who is played by Melora Walters) or by political circumstance (such as the whistleblower Dora Skirth who, once caught, appears to be forced to participate, either through threats to her own person or to her previously mentioned fear for her family’s safety). The film is not particularly subtle in the fact that it wants to connect this alien, parasitic consumption of our organs and selves, only to discard and move on to the next body, with the medico-legal treatment of people specifically, particularly poor and marginalised people, and the planet itself more generally. Unfortunately, the film is unable to sustain this because its devotion to this topic fails to extend to any actual exploration or resolution of these issues outside of using them as a template for villainy.

However, Drake’s use of biotechnology (his experiments aimed at merging human and alien life forms through technological mechanisms) indicates that the film intends to explore this biotechnology as what Allan might term a “(failed) cure” ( Disability in Science Fiction , p. 2), a factor itself divided along racial lines since Eddie and Venom survive their symbiotic cohabitation of Eddie’s body while all others perish. Additionally, in Drake’s choice to “fix” what he perceives to be human defects arising from poor design while specifically targeting poor and marginalised people—notably those who are homeless, ill, or near death—for his experimentation, this end system of “benefit” to the human race is interrogated: not only does  the utility of Drake’s own able bodymind act as a marker of a “quality” human being come into question given his seemingly limitless capacity for cruelty in the pursuit of his own goals; his actions also make evident systems of exclusion and oppression that deny humanity to his test subjects. [4

More complex, however, is the manner in which Eddie both conforms to ideas of the dis/abled mind and body, and undercuts these. There are numerous scenes in the movie in which Eddie, unaware that he has been infected by the alien symbiote Venom, is shown as performing impulsive and uncontrollable behaviour, spurts of confusion, and experiencing seeming auditory and visual hallucinations. This is produced as comedic for the film’s audience (who is aware that Eddie’s apparent hallucinations and erratic behaviour are the result of Venom’s integration into Eddie’s body), whereas characters within the film (particularly Anne and her current partner Dr. Dan Lewis (played by Reid Scott)) find his behaviour troubling. In this manner, Venom indicates different levels of reality or different realities that coexist: one in which Eddie is physically and/or mentally ill and requires medical attention, and one in which the audience is aware that this supposed disability will transition into hyperability later in the narrative. An understanding of the superhero genre allows us to bridge these realities easily, using the superhero’s outsider status to connect with the outsider status forced onto bodies constructed as non-normative by (ableist/sexist/racist/cissexist) society [5], though unfortunately in Venom this is then repurposed to solidify the primacy of the abled white cis male.

Despite Eddie’s outbursts, no physical harm comes to him (he is not attacked or subdued onscreen) and he is quickly granted medical care and attention. Venom rapidly shifts this narrative from that of seeming disability, where Anne and Dan worry about Eddie’s health and his potential mental degeneration (that is, the viewer is aware that Eddie is not mentally ill, but carrying the alien symbiote, while in-world characters, including Eddie, are not), to hyperability, as Eddie evades Carlton Drake’s private military force and discovers that his coexistence with Venom allows him to function in superhuman ways. As Sami Schalk has noted in Bodyminds Reimagined, “This quick transition from potential disability to super ability is common in speculative fiction, particularly within the superhero genre” (p. 71). Schalk goes on to ask whether these hyperabilities—usually repositioned and fixed on white, male, cis characters—would be distinct if made evident on bodies that are traditionally othered, and a reading of Venom makes evident that hyperability within these settings (non-white and/or non-male and/or non-U.S-ian) is to be viewed as threatening. Writing with regard to another property in the MCU, Kathryn Allan notes:

In another turn on the theme, where the disabled body cannot be contained, Iron Man 3 (2013) pits the technologically empowered Tony Stark against a league of “cured” disabled war veterans who have been literally—and problematically—turned into weapons of destruction. As the pace of advancements in prosthetic and other computerized assisted- living technologies quickens, we find ourselves faced with new possibilities, both mundane and transformative, for disabled bodies and embodiments (Disability in Science Fiction, p. 2).

It’s possible to apply Allan’s theorisation of the threat posed by the disabled body that cannot be contained to the old Malaysian woman who, once possessed by Riot, discards her cane and immediately becomes a figure of considerable menace as her disability is artificially resolved. This same menace of the “infected,” uncontained disabled body (and specifically an Asian body) is also aimed at a young white girl in a bathroom, presumably a space wherein safety and sanctuary is paramount, and is not without undercurrents of the threat posed by disease vectors in the Global South coming to affect the Global North, the threat of non-white bodies infecting white bodies, and the threat imposed by a disabled elderly population aimed at abled (white) children. As Bogi Takács pointed out during eir review of this point, this also echoes and directly evokes the framework of U.S.-ian Republican anti-trans bathroom laws that mobilise the (false) threat of the Other aimed at the figure of a young white girl.  [6]

The shift from disability to hyperability in the Malaysian women is to be viewed as a menacing hyperability that lacks self, whereas Drake’s hyperability, while retaining some sense of self, is also intended to be viewed as threatening when contrasted with Eddie/Venom. Additionally, the shift from disability to hyperability does not come into existence in all cases, as the single Black man in Drake’s lab (played by Martin Bats Bradford) is able to temporarily integrate with a symbiote but displays no sign of hyperability before his body is consumed (with no in-universe explanation for this distinction). This suggests that narratives of disability which focus on mental and/or physical health within Venom (and I would argue within U.S. media more generally) are to be confined primarily to white bodies when intended to engender sympathy or be seen as super(anti)heroic. Aside from the clear articulation of these racial distinctions, the confusing melding of the bodymind symbiote-human relationship produces complex spaces of dis/ability—bodies are simultaneously hyperable (such as the Malaysian ambulance driver/Riot, Eddie/Venom, and Drake/Riot) and yet medically compromised and thus increasingly perceived as disabled (as the alien symbiotes begin to consume the organs of their hosts’ bodies).

Given the manner in which the film associates parasitic control of the body’s systems with mental health, it cannot be a coincidence that an alien symbiote that takes over control of one’s body (and, in certain cases, one’s mind) is disrupted by the sound of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine. The symbiotes are fatally damaged by any sound that lies in the 4000-6000 hz range, and can be killed by fire. However, there are certain factors that are worth noting here: given the evidence that Eddie has no job, seemingly no savings, and is unable to pay his bills (many of which are past due), the fact that Dan is able to order an MRI and various other medical tests at the hospital without Eddie’s ability to afford these—and with no explanation of who would foot the bill for these procedures—makes a statement about class structures and the presumptions of who is narratively determined as deserving of care without such explanations being necessary or warranted. Secondly, the use of noise within that sound range is damaging not only to the alien symbiote but also to the host themselves. And third, when Carlton Drake is informed of this fact by a scientist, who produces a visual demonstration on the body of the same Black man (who has, throughout this project, been silenced and is unable to object to the tests being conducted on him), Drake immediately stops the test and chastises the scientist for damaging the symbiote. This is contrasted with a later scene wherein Anne and Dan are attempting to medically intervene with Eddie and use this knowledge of MRI noise to force Venom from Eddie’s system. There are specifically raced and classed narratives here regarding whose bodies are preserved, whose are experimented on, and which bodies are meant to evoke humanitarian sympathies within the medico-legal system.

Eventually, Eddie reconciles himself to coexistence with Venom, the two of them having achieved some sort of equilibrium. At this time, Eddie informs Venom that they cannot consume “good” people, only “bad” people, a distinction that confuses Venom. A charitable way of reading this scene would be to recognise that morality itself is a social construction and governed by social circumstances—histories of violences and marginalisations mean that power is far more complex and fluid than the moral binary Eddie has set up with his limited knowledge of the circumstances involved—and Venom articulates this confusion. However, this reading does not seem borne out by the film itself, as Eddie-Venom immediately consume the Asian man (played by Sam Medina and credited on Venom’s IMDb as “Shakedown Thug”) threatening Mrs Chen (Peggy Lu), the owner of the local grocery where Eddie shops. In effect, this is where the larger narrative of consumption (bodily and ecological) framed by the film fails spectacularly: Venom positions consumption as acceptable so long as it is performed by white men with so-called moral purpose. Intentional or not, this underlying narrative is colonial in nature, a factor that altogether contradicts any (miniscule) attempt the film has made to comment on consumption, bodies, and/or planets.

It makes sense here to come back to Garner’s discussion of Venom as queer text, because of the manner in which this queerness is present: the congenial coexistence of Eddie and Venom in Eddie’s body needs to be placed alongside this privileging of whiteness and construction of global narratives of power. The urge to celebrate white queerness that reproduces racial violence is a contemporary assertion of which queer identities are to be identified as non-threatening—Eddie/Venom over Riot/Drake or Riot/Malaysian women—and consequently deserving of preservation instead of destruction. Non-white queerness within Venom is also positioned specifically as a violence that will result in planetary destruction, less capable of recognising selfhood (as Riot and his host rarely coexist or talk), and is visibly created as less attractive. Jasbir Puar has theorised a framework for what she terms “homonationalism”: an assertion that white queerness is positioned as acceptable within U.S. military (and activist) constructs so long as there is a larger vilified Other to combat.

This positions U.S.-ian identities as more enlightened by contemporary constructs of gender, without any work to combat queerphobia or the violences of patriarchy within these spaces, and often used to promote ideas of a violent (at times also queer-stereotyped) racial Other. Although Puar is viewing the ideas of homonationalism in the framework of global U.S.-ian neocolonial warfare, her construction of this ideology is cross-applicable to the MCU. Monstrous queerness (in the Eddie/Venom relationship) is erotic, while that of Riot/Host is not, and is marked by ideas of contagion/terrorism/destruction. In the case that someone were to theorise that the Riot/Host relationship is not queer as relationality is eschewed in favour of Riot’s primacy, it still under the framework of white U.S.-ian identities as morally superior due to queer acceptance while vilifying non-white identities that become conflated with ideologies of the terrorist and the monster [7]. I’d argue race and nationalisms are essential to this construction, and that the white queerness of the Eddie/Venom (and even Anne/Venom and Eddie/Anne/Venom) relationship is the only way in which eroticism is allowed to enter this space. I’m tempted to have a field day with Foucault’s construction of monstrosity and sexuality here, to underscore my point regarding the choice to maintain Eddie and Anne’s individualism, but I’ll refrain [8]. Suffice to say, the celebration of white queerness within Venom without an acknowledgement of these factors is to validate U.S.-ian white supremacy in queer spaces.

In the most confusing statement I’ve made yet, I’d say that Venom is possibly one of the more interesting movies I’ve seen this year. It’s not a “good” movie, but that’s where its strength lies: in the deconstruction of its mundanity, which maps a wide array of deep-seated concerns for North American society. When I originally emerged from my viewing of the film, I thought I would have little to say about it—it seemed so utterly banal for the most part, and outside of a heated debate on whether or not you would bang Venom with that tongue (going to go with “yes” on that one) and if that made you a pervert, the internet seemed to agree. But I can’t deny that the idea of perversion itself, the manner in which Venom negotiates with historical constructions of perversity (through the racial other, the disabled other, the classed other, the queer other), has offered a wealth of ideas and frameworks to consider. In the choice to locate “perversity” solely through white queer eroticism, however, there are larger questions the film opens up regarding the manner in which eroticism is structured through racial, national, and abled codes of embodiment. The “thoughtlessness” of Venom’s plot can allow for an examination of the narrative defaults of the genre and its continuing taking-for-granted of U.S.-ian modes—and I think that’s pretty interesting.

Endnotes

[1] Fiona Noble, ‘“Once upon a time”: childhood temporalities in late- and Post-Franco Spanish cinema,’ in Journal of Children and Media, Vol 11, No 4 (2017), 436-450. [return]

[2] Venom states that this physical degeneration of Eddie’s heart is reversible so long as he coexists in Eddie’s body but this point is never explored further. Given Eddie’s seeming good health at the end of the film, the viewer is given to understand that this was true. [return]

[3] Schalk’s reading of The Girl With All The Gifts details a narrative shift from uninfected humans as the norm and zombies as the outliers to zombies as the eventual norm and uninfected humans as the outliers, making evident that “the norm” itself is a constantly shaping social construction (2018: 12-17). I’ve repurposed part of her argument here to suit a reading of Venom. [return]

[4] I’ve repurposed parts of Kathryn Allan’s analysis of Tobin Siebers’s definition of “Disability Studies” here (2013: 4). [return]

[5] I’ve drawn on Petra Kuppers’s Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape (2011) here. There are ways in which Kuppers’s theorising of disability and myth-making might map onto the superhero genre broadly (and Venom in particular) as specific forms of embodiment in the world, and offer potential ways in which (as these numbers increase) function to refuse the forced distinctions of the non/normative self, but the sheer scope of the idea currently feels too vast for a review of this nature. [return]

[6] My thanks to Bogi for this astute observation. [return]

[7] I’ve drawn here on Jasbir Puar, “Mapping US Homonormativities,” Gender, Place & Culture, (2006, 13:1), 67-88. [return]

[8] For anyone who would like to explore this further, Jasbir Puar and Amit Rai note that “Foucault’s concept of monstrosity … as a regulatory construct of modernity that imbricates not only sexuality, but also questions of culture and race” (‘Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots,’ in Social Text 20.3 (2002) 117-148, p. 119). [return]



Based in India, Samira spends most of her time explaining Nicolas Cage movies to her father and making bad puns. In her everyday life, she’s an academic. At night, she watches terrible TV and posts blurry pictures of her cat. It’s a life.
2 comments on “Venom”

I haven't seen this movie but I found this review very valuable, thanks!

erinhorakova

I found the conclusion very strong. And thirsty.

 

%d bloggers like this: