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Posted by gustav at 03:02PM, Wednesday, December 05th, 2001

Subtext Friendly

Or, "I just saw Spiderman."

Where to begin? Well, first off, there's the cringe-inducing opening narration that asserts something to the effect of "like all stories worth telling, this one is about a girl." If you say so. That is, however, about the last overtly breeder moment in the movie. Following that, after vignettes of the usual adolescent angst and isolation that all superheroes seem to be required to go through, we get Peter Parker finding out he's become Spiderman. After, as a result, he becomes withdrawn and unpredictable, his uncle engages him in a little heart-to-heart. His uncle tells him he went through just the same things, at Peter's age -- to which Peter's reply is "Not quite." We watch his aunt and uncle discussing the changes he's going through, and how they don't know who he is any more. And we go through long, drawn-out sagas of how he mustn't reveal his "secret identity" to any of the people he loves, lest they be hurt.

All this is, of course, nothing new in the realm of comic book fiction -- the whole schtick of the young, isolated hero with only his slightly shorter male sidekick to share his loneliness was well-established long before The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay came along. Generations of young homos have picked up on it, and felt a secret bond with their favorite action heroes, that their straight cohorts never dreamed of. The more intuitive Hollywood directors and producers have long picked up on this sort of subtext, and taken advantage of it. The movie was, in fact, directed by subtext-friendly Sam Raimi, producer of Xena, and also features cameos by his brother Ted Raimi, a Xena regular, and Xena herself, Lucy Lawless.

It's in the last scene, really, where the subtext takes off. Not to spoil anything, but Peter's best friend, grief-stricken and enraged, is telling how he will make it his life's purpose to hunt down Spiderman, and how he'd have nothing to live for if not for his beloved best friend, Peter. We see the confusion on Peter's face -- how to maintain his secret identity and keep the love of his friend, who's totally ignorant of it? Hmmm. Could this be analagous to a closeted gay man suffering through his friends' rants about evil homosexuals?

Next in the scene we have Peter and the girl he loves (I didn't say this was a gay surface reading -- subtext, people, subtext), as she tells him she's in love with him, and he can only say he loves her, and will always be there, but can never be what she wants him to be to her. Now, we've seen the pain that's been caused to Peter's loved ones when someone's found out his secret identity, but it's still not entirely convincing that he'd give this chick up for that -- especially when Peter has never been there to protect her when it matters, as Spiderman has. This will, however, be familiar to anyone who's seen an up-and-coming fag hag reveal her crush to its closeted gay boy object. This scene reads rather awkwardly, and just doesn't seem to fit the story so far. It works just fine with the subtext, though -- right down to the shocked look of comprehension on the girl's face after Peter finishes.

I wouldn't say this movie is a masterpiece of metaphor and multi-layered complexity. However, it's nice to see a blockbuster action flick that can be read a couple different ways, the humor of which is more self-deprecating than bigoted and hateful (e.g., anything by Eddie Murphy), that doesn't totally objectify its women, and that elicits a great ensemble job from a less-than-Tom-Cruise-style-famous cast. It has some problems with detail continuity (keep your eye on the electrodes), but I'll gladly take a warm, visually pleasing, and well-paced movie like this, with a few glitches, over an emotionally and visually cold, latest-generation greyed-out computer-animated flick like Lord of the Rings or that perennial plotless wonder, The Matrix. Recommended.

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