What is Cinematic Chiasmus? You sure you want to know? This type of storytelling is not for the faint of heart. If somebody told you I was perfect at spotting examples of chiasmus in film, that I never make a mistake, somebody lied. But let me assure you, this, like any other example of chiasmus, will change the way you look at the 2002 film Spider-Man.
I have to admit I was wrong about this film, and I couldn’t be happier about it. A reader of mine named Riley sent me a message through the contact form on this website, informing me that I had given up too quickly while looking for the chiasmus in Spider-Man. I thought there were two missing parts (K and L) that prevented it from working, so I decided to stop looking any further. But he showed me that they weren’t missing after all.
I’ve never done this before where I’ve had a chance to look back at my previous work and critique it to see where I could make improvements. I found quite a few other points where the first and second halves of this film match up perfectly. This entire process has been educational and fun. I am pleased to present the results of my work to demonstrate what a deep treasure Spider-Man truly is.
It’s been far too long since I offered a new Cinematic Chiasmus, so (as I promised last week) let’s get back in the swing of things with a breakdown of the spectacular symmetry of the original Spider-Man!
We’ll begin by listing the events of the film to show how they repeat and match up in interesting ways.
A. Peter Parker asks “Who am I?”
B. Secretly in love, Peter walks toward Mary Jane Watson on a bus
C. Harry Osborn is embarrassed by his father’s Rolls Royce
D. Harry tries to impress MJ and steal her from Peter
E. Harry’s father and Peter’s uncle face employment problems
F. No one sees Peter as he falls asleep in his room and gains superpowers
G. Norman Osborn gains superpowers and kills his assistant
H. Peter saves MJ from falling and then fights Flash Thompson
I. Peter discovers his powers and forgets to help his uncle
J. Peter and MJ talk outside their houses and are interrupted by Flash
K. Peter designs his costume and gains his Spider-Man identity at a wrestling match
L. Peter finds Uncle Ben on the ground and is let through by the police
M. Uncle Ben dies
N. Peter takes revenge on his uncle’s killer
O. Peter comes home and comforts Aunt May
P. Green Goblin strikes a competitor’s military testing compound
Q. At graduation, Norman tells Peter to give him a call if he ever needs anything while MJ breaks up with Flash
R. Peter has a heart-to-heart with Aunt May about losing Uncle Ben
S. Peter starts doing heroic deeds as Spider-Man
T. The Daily Bugle is introduced
U. Peter stands up for Spider-Man when he first sells photos of him to J. Jonah Jameson
V. The Oscorp board of directors fires Norman
W. Green Goblin attacks a festival and faces Spider-Man for the first time
W. Peter says someone needs to stop Green Goblin
V. Norman is horrified to learn he killed the board of directors
U. Peter again stands up for Spider-Man against Jameson
T. The Daily Bugle is attacked
S. Green Goblin tempts Spider-Man to become a villain
R. Peter has a heart-to-heart with MJ after her rejection by a soap opera
Q. After being rescued from a mugging, MJ happily tells Spider-Man she has a superhero stalker and kisses him
P. Green Goblin fights Spider-Man in a burning building
O. Peter comes home to an awkward Thanksgiving dinner
N. Norman plans his retaliation against Peter
M. Aunt May is attacked by Green Goblin
L. Peter finds Aunt May in the hospital and is shooed away by the nurse
K. Peter discovers that Green Goblin knows his identity
J. Peter and MJ talk in Aunt May’s hospital room and are interrupted by Harry
I. Norman discovers that Peter loves MJ and promises to be a better father to Harry
H. Spider-Man saves MJ from falling and then fights Green Goblin
G. Norman accidentally kills himself while trying to kill Peter
F. Peter lays Norman’s dead body in his room, and Harry sees him
E. Norman is buried in the same cemetery as Uncle Ben
D. Harry says Spider-Man stole his father from him
C. Harry accepts his fate and walks toward his late father’s Rolls Royce
B. Peter walks away from MJ after she confesses her love
A. Peter says, “Who am I? I’m Spider-Man”
A. “Who Am I?”
The opening credits include lots of teases of what’s to come with CGI shots of tall buildings, spider webs, and glimpses of Spider-Man’s costume. The film proper begins with Peter Parker, in voiceover, asking “Who am I? You sure you want to know?” He notes that his life isn’t exactly a joyride.
As the film comes to a close, we now understand what Peter means when he says that his superpowers are both a gift and a curse. In the final voiceover of the film, he once again asks, “Who am I?” and this time he answers, “I’m Spider-Man.” Then we’re treated to a long sequence of Spider-Man swinging in plain view from the tops of buildings down to the streets and back up to the tallest building in sight before the end credits roll.
B. Walking Toward and Away from Mary Jane
Peter is secretly in love with Mary Jane Watson. He is also desperately trying to catch up with his school bus. Thankfully, MJ convinces the bus driver to stop and let him on. Peter then awkwardly makes his way toward MJ, who is sitting near the back of the bus.
At the end of the film, MJ openly admits to Peter that she loves him. She realized in her moment of desperation that all she wanted was to be with him. Tragically, he has to feign indifference to her and then walk away from her in an attempt to keep her safe.
C. Harry’s Feelings About the Rolls Royce
When Harry Osborn first arrives on screen, he is being driven to a school field trip in his father’s Rolls Royce. He feels embarrassed by the ostentatious display of wealth as he exits the car because it shows that he doesn’t belong with his lower-class schoolmates.
In Harry’s final on-screen appearance, he unabashedly walks toward the same Rolls Royce that once belonged to his father and is now his. It symbolizes the fact that he has become resigned to his fate of following in his father’s footsteps and being separated from his old life.
D. Harry’s Stolen Heart and Father
During his field trip, Harry steals some of Peter’s scientific knowledge and passes it off as his own to impress MJ. Then MJ poses for Peter as he unwittingly puts himself in just the right spot to be bitten by a spider that will turn him into Spider-Man.
At his father’s funeral, Harry tells Peter that Spider-Man stole his father from him, and one day he’ll make him pay. He then unwittingly hugs the man he just said he wants to kill.
E. Norman and Uncle Ben’s Connection
Norman Osborn is in trouble at work because his company is about to lose its government contract if he can’t get his performance-enhancing drug approved. Uncle Ben is also in trouble because he lost his job and is worried that he won’t be able to obtain a new one.
Harry and Peter’s father figures are connected by their employment problems at the start and by their ultimate fates at the end. Over the course of the film, Norman and Uncle Ben are both killed and laid to rest in the same cemetery. We learn this when Peter visits his uncle’s grave right after Norman’s funeral.
F. The Big Sleep
After being bitten by a genetically modified spider, Peter goes home and shrugs off his uncle and aunt’s concerns as he heads to his bedroom. He collapses on the floor and no one witnesses his anguish as his body gains superpowers.
After watching Norman die, Spider-Man brings him to his high-rise home and lays his dead body to rest on a bed. Harry witnesses this, but before he can grab a gun and attack, Spider-Man exits through an open window.
G. Norman’s Deceptions
During the procedure that gives Norman super strength, his assistant runs to help him, thinking that he’s dead. But Norman suddenly awakens and throws his assistant out of the glass enclosure. He doesn’t remember anything about the incident when he is awakened by Harry the following morning and learns that the glider has been stolen.
After being pounded into submission by Peter, Norman plays dumb and pretends to be innocent of his many crimes. He signals his stolen glider to come flying at Peter from its hiding place, but Peter jumps out of the way, and the glider’s blade pierces Norman through the torso. His dying wish is for Peter not to tell Harry about any of this.
H. Saving MJ and Fighting the Bad Guy
At their school cafeteria, MJ is carrying her tray past Peter when she suddenly slips on some juice and starts to fall. Peter first catches her and then collects all of her food items on the tray before they can hit the ground. After that, he gets attacked in the hall by her boyfriend Flash Thompson and ends the fight with one solid punch without being hurt at all.
From the top of the Queensboro Bridge, Green Goblin drops MJ and a tram full of children, forcing Spider-Man to choose which one to save. Spider-Man first catches MJ and then grabs the cable holding up the tram. He is able to hold on just long enough to safely place MJ and the tram on a passing barge. Then Spider-Man gets dragged by Green Goblin to an abandoned building on Roosevelt Island where they engage in a brutal fight. Spider-Man eventually gains the upper hand and beats Green Goblin to a pulp.
I. Discoveries and Unfulfilled Promises
Peter is amazed by his newfound superpowers, and he proceeds to leap across rooftops and swing on his first web. Unfortunately, he knocks himself out cold in the process and arrives home too late to help his uncle repaint the kitchen like he promised.
Norman is dumbfounded when Harry tells him that Peter is in love with MJ, and he soon uses that information to set a trap for Spider-Man. But first, he apologizes to Harry for not being there for him when he needed him most, and he promises to rectify that inequity in the future. But he won’t be able to keep that promise.
J. Peter and MJ Talk
After being screamed at by her father, MJ goes to her backyard and finds Peter right next door in his backyard. Despite it being difficult for her, she opens up to Peter about her plans for the future and is pleasantly surprised when he responds positively. She begins to really notice him for the first time, but before they can connect on a deeper level, they are interrupted by Flash.
While Aunt May silently rests in the hospital, MJ talks to Peter about Spider-Man. Peter scoffs a little when she opens up about her crush on Spider-Man, but he soon rebounds by speaking highly of her and praising all of her good qualities. She reaches out and takes his hand as she begins to realize the depth of her feelings for him. But Harry walks in on them and spoils the moment.
K. Peter’s Secret Identity
Peter designs his Spider-Man costume, and Uncle Ben unknowingly drives him to a wrestling match to show it off for the first time. But before the fight, Uncle Ben takes a quiet moment to instill a little wisdom in Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter reacts angrily and leaves the car in a huff. At the wrestling match, he receives his new name, Spider-Man, and the crowd enthusiastically cheers for him when he defeats his opponent and looks around in triumph.
After being attacked in her home by Green Goblin, Aunt May is brought to a hospital where she wails about “those horrible yellow eyes,” which makes Peter realize that she’s talking about Green Goblin. He nervously looks around outside her hospital room because he understands that his enemy knows his secret identity, so he and everyone around him is in mortal danger. After that, he silently sits by Aunt May’s side and quietly says, “I’m sorry” to her and a picture of Uncle Ben.
L. Peter Comes to His Ailing Uncle and Aunt
When Peter sees a commotion on the street, he rushes to see what’s the matter. A police officer tries to keep him back, but he pushes past when he sees that Uncle Ben is lying on the ground in his own blood. “What happened?” Peter asks in horror, and he’s told that his uncle was shot by a carjacker.
When Peter hears about the attack on Aunt May, he rushes to the hospital to see her. A nurse pushes him out of Aunt May’s room. “What happened?” he asks again and again, but he receives no answer from the nurse.
M. Uncle Ben Dies and Aunt May Is Attacked
Uncle Ben dies of a gunshot wound as he holds Peter’s hand.
Aunt May is attacked by Green Goblin as she prays in her bedroom next to a picture of Uncle Ben.
N. Getting Revenge
Peter overhears where Uncle Ben’s killer is, so he puts on his Spider-Man costume and tracks him down. He makes the murderer suffer by terrorizing him, slamming his head into a couple of windows, and breaking his hand. He hesitates before delivering the killing blow when he suddenly realizes he could have easily prevented the man from murdering his uncle but refused to do so for a petty reason. The man dies after accidentally falling out of a window.
Norman realizes that Peter is Spider-Man after seeing a wound on his arm that he just inflicted on Spider-Man with one of his blades. At first, Norman is reluctant to cause harm to Peter, but the evil side of his split-personality soon convinces him to attack Peter’s heart to maximize his suffering before he dies.
O. Peter Comes Home
After taking revenge on Uncle Ben’s killer, Peter somberly returns home to Aunt May and comforts her.
After fighting with Green Goblin, Peter comes home to Thanksgiving dinner with Aunt May and several others. It doesn’t go well for anyone.
P. Up in Flames
A general who hates Norman is at a Quest Aerospace compound where they are testing weapons for the military in a bid to put Oscorp out of business. Green Goblin surprises them and blows up their prototype and the entire compound with the general and many others inside.
Spider-Man rescues a baby from a burning building and is then lured back inside by Green Goblin, who fights him after Spider-Man refuses to join forces with him. Spider-Man manages to escape after suffering a wound, leaving Green Goblin alone inside the burning building.
Q. Supervillain/Superhero Stalker
Norman shows up at Harry and Peter’s high-school graduation ceremony. He tells Peter to call him if he ever needs anything. Meanwhile, Harry watches as MJ breaks up with Flash, and he believes that this is the time to make his move.
Spider-Man shows up in the nick of time to rescue MJ from being mugged. MJ notes that this is the second time he’s saved her, and Spider-Man responds that he just happened to be in the neighborhood, but he actually likes helping her when she’s in need. They share a romantic kiss before he swings away, leaving her smiling and wanting more.
R. Peter’s Supportive Conversations
After graduation, Peter tells Aunt May how much he misses Uncle Ben. He regrets their last conversation, and she tells him that she’s sure he’s proud of the man Peter is becoming.
After MJ’s disappointing audition for a part in a soap opera, Peter comes to cheer her up. He tries not to pry into her relationship with Harry, but he can’t help showing how much he cares about her.
S. Spider-Man’s Choice
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben’s words echo in Peter’s mind as he chooses to become a selfless superhero and perform all sorts of heroic deeds for ordinary citizens of New York City. As a result, some people love him while others hate him.
“In spite of everything you’ve done for them, eventually they will hate you.” Green Goblin’s words echo in Peter’s mind after he is tempted to become evil through the inverse logic of Uncle Ben’s advice. According to Green Goblin, since Spider-Man is exceptional, his inferiors should bow to him and lift him up.
T. The Daily Bugle
We’re introduced to The Daily Bugle’s office when we see J. Jonah Jameson shouting about how terrible Spider-Man is. He barks orders to his employees and is completely in charge of everything happening around him. He demands that his staff get a decent photograph of Spider-Man to put on the next cover of their newspaper.
The last time we see the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson is once again barking orders and denigrating Spider-Man. But this time he’s put in his place when Green Goblin blows up his outer wall and grabs him by the throat. Jameson still maintains some control by refusing to divulge the name of the photographer who takes pictures of Spider-Man.
U. Peter Stands Up for Spider-Man
Through a series of events, Peter winds up with a portfolio of Spider-Man pictures he’s ready to sell to the Daily Bugle. Jameson pretends they’re all terrible and hints that Spider-Man is a menace, which Peter takes umbrage at.
The next time Peter is seated before Jameson, he’s once again standing up for Spider-Man and saying that when Jameson badmouths Spider-Man in print, he is committing slander. Jameson resents him saying that because it’s technically libel, not slander.
V. The Oscorp Board of Directors
Norman is shocked when the Oscorp board of directors votes unanimously to fire him from his own company. He reacts angrily at first, but then his alter ego takes over and smiles menacingly.
Later, Norman is shocked when he grasps the fact that he killed the board of directors before they could officially fire him. Part of him cringes in fear while the other part smiles maniacally.
W. Spider-Man Meets Green Goblin
The turning point of the chiasmus comes at the World Unity Festival. It begins with Harry trying to show his affection to MJ but being rebuffed. Peter’s Spider-Sense starts tingling as Green Goblin approaches and kills the Oscorp board of directors. Peter quickly changes into Spider-Man and fights off Green Goblin when he proves too much for the police to handle, and then he rescues MJ.
In the very next scene, Harry is once again talking to MJ – this time on the phone. He’s trying to be romantic by offering to buy her a gift. She hangs up on him before he can finish wishing her goodnight. Harry and Peter both wonder who or what their attacker was. Now that Peter has seen what he’s up against, he knows that he’s the only one who can stop it.
An Intricate Web
It’s a testament to the brilliance of Sam Raimi and everyone connected with this film that they managed to craft such a brilliantly designed story in Spider-Man. For a few years after I first saw this movie, I thought that the story lacked focus and it was strange that the hero and villain of the story only met up after Green Goblin’s goals had all been accomplished. Now I understand that the point at which they connect is what the entire movie’s chiasmus hinges on. What I once thought of as a simple story is now revealed to be an intricate web of interconnected plot points all working together to create a beautiful chiasmus.
I’d like to thank Riley once more for helping me correct my mistake and complete this article. I don’t take this ability to spot Cinematic Chiasmus lightly. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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