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The Mythology of Spider Man

In spite of its great box office success, Spider Man is not the greatest movie: Kirsten Dunst's character Mary Jane is a lot less featureful than she could be (although Toby MacGuire is an excellent Spider Man), and the computer animation is far too cartoonish.

That said, I still recommend renting Spider Man out on video, for the sake of the underlying story, which is really fascinating to watch if you keep your eye out for those good old mythological elements:

Consider:

  • Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, a hero who battles with several fathers. He rejects his uncle, his only earthly father-figure, as a false father, right before he makes his first public appearance as Spider-Man, yet through his early, incomplete and false transformation (in a sloppy costume assembled for commercial gain, and selfishly remaining aloof, allowing a criminal to escape his clutches) Thus, Spider Man becomes responsible for the death of this earth-father.

  • This supposed accident elicits guilt in Spider Man, who reacts by completing the transformation by building a new identity which is founded upon the ethical direction provided by his earth-father during their last meeting: "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility". In this sense, the earth-father is physically murdered by Spider Man, to be consumed in on a higher psychological level and incorporated into the new self.

  • Spider Man thus takes on the role/throne/identity of his earth-father in a line of succession after the act of patricide.

  • Peter Parker's transformation into Spider Man is triggered by the incorporation of a totem animal: the spider, which is described as possessing the power of transcending the ordinary limitations everyday existence. The Spider fertilizes Peter Parker with new genetic material, thus acting as a third parent in addition to his mother and father.

  • This ability to transcend the limitations of the old self occurs as Peter Parker moves away from home and leaves school, along with all the limitations of childhood. The power of adulthood is exaggerated here. This new incarnation of the self and assumption of the father role is threatened by a figure which represents the dark father motif: the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin represents the shadow self of Spider Man, as if he speaks as a voice of temptation from within himself.

    Is Stan Lee a comic book Joseph Campbell? Maybe that's going a bit far. It is fair to say, however, that the Spider Man story is deeply in touch with the psychological power of the transitional period of late adolescence, moving into adulthood. Watching the movie on this deeper level makes the four dollars and the two hours worthwhile.
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