Oh. My. Gosh. This is truly unexpected. Who could have guessed that Spider-Man 3 would turn out to be a chiasmus, completing the circle and making all three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films examples of Cinematic Chiasmus?
This chiasmus is unlike any other I’ve done before because I went into it without getting a feeling one way or the other about it beforehand. In general, I’ve only analyzed movies for chiasmus after I’ve felt prompted to do so. What About Bob? was an exception because it was prompted by someone else, and I wanted to confirm my negative feeling about it.
Let’s begin by listing the events of Spider-Man 3 to reveal the film’s chiasmus:
A. Despite some problems, Spider-Man is embraced by New York City
B. Peter Parker sits in the front row to watch Mary Jane Watson’s performance
C. Harry Osborn follows in his father’s footsteps by gaining superpowers
D. Peter and MJ celebrate her success on Broadway
E. The alien symbiote arrives
F. Flint Marko escapes prison, and his wife accuses him of being a murderer
G. Aunt May tells Peter the story of how Uncle Ben proposed to her
H. Peter fights Harry and takes him to the hospital after Harry falls unconscious
I. Flint finds himself surrounded by rotating arms that make him disappear into a pile of sand
J. Harry loses his memory and says he would give his life for his friends
K. Sandman is born as he slowly puts himself together
L. MJ tells Peter about her bad review, and he gets called away by a police scanner
M. Spider-Man saves Gwen Stacy as she falls off a building
N. J. Jonah Jameson gets pestered by his secretary to take his medication
O. Jameson pits Peter against Eddie Brock in a competition for a staff job
P. Peter sees an announcement that Spider-Man will be honored by the city
Q. Bernard Houseman welcomes Harry home
R. Peter reminisces with Harry about the fun they had in the past
S. MJ learns she’s been replaced in her play and sees Spider-Man swing by
T. Gwen brushes off Eddie while Peter talks with MJ at the Spider-Man parade
U. Sandman attacks some police officers after they track him down
V. MJ confesses to Harry that she got fired from her play
W. Spider-Man kisses Gwen the same way he kissed MJ in the first film
X. Spider-Man fights Sandman and then removes parts of his suit to empty sand out of them
Y. Gwen interrupts Peter’s disastrous attempt to propose to MJ
Z. Peter and Aunt May learn that Flint is responsible for killing Uncle Ben
AA. After Peter refuses MJ’s help, the symbiote attaches to him and feeds off his negative emotions
BB. Peter takes a sample of the symbiote to Dr. Conners
CC. Spider-Man breaks Eddie’s camera, forcing Eddie to get creative with his frameup of Spider-Man
DD. Spider-Man defeats Sandman with a giant spray of water
EE. Peter puts his hair down, yells at his landlord, and takes his black suit off
FF. Aunt May is shocked to hear Peter say Spider-Man killed Flint
GG. MJ gets a job as a waitress/singer and calls Harry
HH. Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter encourages Peter to call MJ
II. MJ hangs out with Harry at his home
JJ. Harry’s memories of his father and Peter come flooding back
JJ. Norman Osborn reminds Harry what he needs to do to take revenge on Peter
II. Harry pins MJ against a wall at her apartment
HH. Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter excitedly tells Peter MJ called
GG. MJ breaks up with Peter and walks past Harry
FF. Peter is shocked to hear Harry say MJ got fired and now loves him
EE. Peter quietly simmers and soon appears with his black suit on and his hair down again
DD. Peter defeats Harry with an explosion
CC. Peter humiliates Eddie for his dishonest photo of Spider-Man
BB. Dr. Conners asks if Peter kept any of the symbiote
AA. Under the symbiote’s influence, Peter demands a staff job from Jameson and acts rudely
Z. Sandman takes form again after Spider-Man seemingly killed him
Y. Peter takes Gwen on a date to humiliate MJ
X. Peter fights the symbiote and rips the black suit off of himself
W. The symbiote attaches to Eddie like it did to Peter
V. Peter confesses to Aunt May that he hurt MJ
U. Sandman attacks Venom and then teams up with him
T. After Peter fails to approach MJ, Eddie surprises her in a taxicab
S. MJ gets captured in a web by someone who looks like Spider-Man
R. Peter asks Harry to help him and gets refused
Q. Bernard tells Harry what happened to his father
P. A crowd cheers as Spider-Man comes to MJ’s rescue
O. Spider-Man fights Venom and Sandman alone until Harry comes to the rescue
N. Jameson gets bilked by a kid for a camera and film
M. Peter and Harry work together to catch MJ as she falls
L. Peter and MJ take a moment to reconcile before Peter gets called away by Harry
K. Harry makes Sandman crumble with his missiles
J. Harry gives his life for Peter after Eddie refuses to give up the symbiote
I. The symbiote gets surrounded by metal tubes and destroyed, along with Eddie
H. MJ comforts Harry as he lies dying after a long fight
G. Sandman tells Peter what really happened the night he shot Uncle Ben
F. Sandman leaves after Peter forgives him for killing his uncle
E. Harry dies
D. Peter and MJ mourn over Harry’s dead body
C. Harry follows his father into the grave after suffering his same fate of being impaled
B. Peter enters a jazz club to watch MJ sing
A. Despite their problems, MJ embraces Peter once more
It will probably be easier to see the chiasmus come into focus once we compare each of these parts side by side below.
A. Imperfect Love
Spider-Man 3 is a reversal of the first Spider-Man film because it begins with shots of Spider-Man swinging around New York City while the original film ended with them. Peter Parker cheerfully narrates that after wading through a lot of problems, his fellow New Yorkers now openly embrace him as a hero. He also gets some flak in class, but he’s pretty well-respected there.
The film closes on a bittersweet shot of Mary Jane Watson embracing Peter once more. They have been through a lot of hard times, but they are finally able to reconcile their differences and rekindle their love. It’s a subtler connection than the first two films’ start and end, but it’s still a meaningful way to begin and conclude this film.
B. Love Songs
Peter sits on the front row of a theater to watch MJ as she sings about love being a wonderful thing, or so she’s been told. He doesn’t realize he’s being watched by Harry Osborn. Peter tries to approach Harry after the show, but Harry refuses to talk to him.
Peter enters the jazz club MJ works at to watch as she sings about being through with love if she can’t be with the one she truly loves. She’s struck into silence when her eyes fall upon Peter. Peter offers his hand to her, and she takes it and steps off the stage.
C. Like Father, Like Son
Harry steps out of a chamber filled with green gas just like the one his father used in the first film to gain superpowers.
Harry is buried in the same cemetery as his father after suffering the same fate as him, being impaled through the chest by his own glider’s blade.
D. Celebration and Grief
Peter and MJ hang out on a web, staring up at the night sky. MJ shares with him that she’s excited to keep singing on Broadway, and she wants Peter to always be there with her.
Peter and MJ silently kneel over Harry’s dead body as the sun rises in the distance. He had apologized for hurting Harry, and he takes solace that at least he got to be with him at the end of his life.
E. Arrival and Departure
An alien symbiote emerges from a meteorite after it crashes into the ground near Peter and MJ. They don’t notice it because they’re focused on each other.
Peter and MJ are also present when Harry’s spirit leaves his body. They are both focused on him and share a sad look as he dies.
F. Flint Marko Comes and Goes
In his first scene, Flint Marko escapes from prison and sneaks home to see his sick daughter. His wife berates him for his lawlessness and claims that he may have killed a man, which he disputes. He then receives a locket from his daughter with a picture of her inside, reminding him of what his motivation is. He surreptitiously leaves as police lights flash through the window.
In his last scene, Sandman looks at the locket once more and tells Peter that all he has now is his daughter. Peter forgives him for accidentally killing his Uncle Ben, and then Sandman drifts away in a gentle breeze to escape the police and help his daughter once more.
G. Stories About Uncle Ben
Aunt May tells Peter the story of how Uncle Ben proposed to her and gave her an engagement ring to begin their new life together.
Sandman tells Peter the story of what actually happened on the night he accidentally shot Uncle Ben, which led to his death.
H. Staying with Harry
Harry attacks Peter and chases him down a dark alley trying to kill him. Peter manages to knock him out cold, and he brings him to a hospital and stays close by while doctors work on Harry.
MJ runs to a mortally wounded Harry and cradles his head in her hands. She offers to go get help, but he begs her to stay with him because he doesn’t want to be alone as he dies.
I. Surrounded and Atomized
Flint gets chased into a secret compound where scientists are about to conduct an experiment on sand particles. He falls into the testing area and is unable to escape when he’s encircled by spinning metal arms and tries to run out. They manipulate his cells by combining them with sand until he dissolves into seemingly nothing.
Venom gets entrapped by Spider-Man within a circle of vibrating metal tubes, which produce soundwaves that hurt the symbiote and destabilize it. Spider-Man pulls Eddie Brock out of the circle and throws a bomb to destroy the symbiote. But Eddie runs back into harm’s way, and he and the symbiote are vaporized in the explosion.
J. Harry’s Sacrifice
Harry awakens in the hospital with a bandaged head, having suffered memory loss. He is happy to see Peter and MJ. When they are shooed away by a nurse, he softly notes that he would gladly give his life for them.
Harry remembers and makes good on that promise when he stands in the way of his glider’s blade, which Venom was aiming to stab at Peter’s heart. Harry gets impaled through the chest, saving his friend’s life.
K. Coming Together and Falling Apart
Sandman slowly emerges out of the sand he disappeared into as he learns how to put himself back together as a sand monster. Before long, he is able to restore himself to a human-looking form, motivated by his love for his daughter.
Harry fires a couple of missiles at a building-sized Sandman until he finally crumbles into dust. He was fueled by rage and a desire for revenge on Spider-Man, but he soon returns to his human form when he remembers his original motivation.
L. Duty Calls
MJ goes to Peter’s apartment to tell him how upset she is by a bad newspaper review of her Broadway performance. Unfortunately, Peter gets called away by an urgent report on the police scanner, and he has to hurry out in his Spider-Man suit.
MJ and Peter take a moment, in the midst of a fight for their lives, to make sure they’re both okay. But before they can talk for long, Harry asks for Peter’s help in fighting Sandman, so Peter has to rush away in his role as Spider-Man.
M. Nice Catch
Gwen Stacy falls off a building, which was damaged by an out-of-control crane. Spider-Man has to make his way past lots of falling debris to reach her and safely place her on the ground. Eddie snaps some photos, showing that Peter has some competition at his job.
MJ falls off of a giant web that was strung across a tall building by Venom. Spider-Man and Harry work together to snatch her out of the air and swing her to safety.
N. Jameson’s First and Last Appearances
J. Jonah Jameson makes his first appearance in the film when Hoffman pitches marketing ideas to improve the Daily Bugle’s image. Meanwhile, his secretary Betty Brant keeps interrupting to make sure he takes his medication. This annoys him to no end, but he does his best to keep his anger in check.
Jameson makes his final appearance when he joins a crowd to watch from afar as Spider-Man battles Venom and Sandman. He offers to buy a little girl’s camera to get some pictures for his paper, but she haggles with him over the price of the camera. He gets really angry when she charges extra for film, but he controls himself.
O. Peter’s Matchups
Peter is surprised to learn that Eddie is in Jameson’s office trying to steal his job. He and Eddie vie for a staff job as the Daily Bugle’s official photographer. Jameson pits them against each other by challenging them to get a photograph of Spider-Man acting like a villain.
As Spider-Man, Peter is surprised to learn that Eddie is Venom. He fights to save MJ, but he gets overwhelmed by both Venom and Sandman. Luckily, Harry shows that he has had a change of heart when he comes to Spider-Man’s aid and attacks the two villains, evening the odds.
P. Cheering Spider-Man
Walking through New York, Peter sees an announcement that Spider-Man will receive the key to the city in recognition for saving Gwen. He even receives some words of encouragement from Stan Lee himself.
A crowd sees Spider-Man swinging through the streets toward a confrontation with Venom and Sandman to save MJ, and they begin cheering him. A newswoman even shares some glowing words about him.
Q. Bernard’s Greetings
Bernard Houseman joyfully welcomes Harry back to his home when he recovers and gets back from the hospital.
Bernard confronts Harry in the Goblin lair and tells him the truth about how his father died.
R. Peter and Harry
Peter and Harry joke about how they used to play as kids, and Harry demonstrates that he still has latent Goblin powers.
Peter asks Harry for help in fighting Venom and Sandman, but Harry refuses and shows how Peter permanently scarred his face.
MJ goes to the theater to get ready for her next show, and she discovers that she has been replaced by a different actress. She sadly walks out and sees people cheer as Spider-Man swings past them.
Peter watches a news report in horror as he learns that someone else has been taken over by the symbiote and has taken MJ hostage. He hurries home and pulls out his trusty red-and-blue Spider-Man suit.
T. Disappointments and Surprises
Eddie takes Gwen’s photo at a Spider-Man parade, but she brushes off his efforts to flirt with her. Peter also takes pictures of MJ, and he makes sure she’s not still angry at him before telling her they’ll be laughing about her bad review the following night.
Peter stands outside MJ’s apartment building at night, trying to work up the courage to ask for her forgiveness, but he leaves without approaching her. Later, MJ leaves her apartment and is met by Eddie in a taxicab. She gasps when he attacks her.
U. Sandman Attacks
Police officers spot Flint as he’s walking down the street in broad daylight. They don’t yet know that he’s been transformed into Sandman. He sneaks away and then attacks them.
Sandman attacks what he believes to be Spider-Man and is surprised when he learns it’s actually a new villain named Venom. Venom invites him to join forces to get revenge on Spider-Man.
V. Painful Confessions
Harry strikes up a conversation with MJ at the parade. He playfully bonks her on the head, and she admits to him that she was fired from her Broadway play. He, in turn, bashfully confesses he wrote a play for her when they were in high school.
Peter returns Aunt May’s engagement ring to her and painfully admits that he hurt MJ. She encourages him to forgive himself and then ask MJ to forgive him. She leaves the ring with him.
W. Earlier Attachments
Spider-Man swings up to the top of a stage at his parade and lowers himself down to be greeted by Gwen. He invites her to give him an upside-down kiss, just like he did with MJ in the first Spider-Man film.
From the top of a bell tower, Spider-Man tears off his black suit, which drips down onto Eddie. It then attaches to Eddie and envelops him, just like it did to Peter earlier in the film.
X. Suit Yourself
Spider-Man fights Sandman to prevent him from stealing money from an armored truck. The truck smashes into traffic, and Sandman gets away. Spider-Man swings to the top of a building where he removes parts of his suit, like his mask and boot, to drain the sand that had gotten into them.
On top of a bell tower, Spider-Man fights with the symbiote to stop it from continuing to feed off of him and entice him to do bad things. He smashes against a giant bell, which shocks the symbiote and forces it to pull itself away from him until he is able to rip it off his body completely.
Y. Love Triangle
Peter goes to a French restaurant and asks the maître d’ to play a special song and bring the engagement ring when the time is right. He tries to propose to MJ, but he keeps stumbling over his words. Then Gwen randomly shows up and makes things even more awkward. It’s too much for MJ. She asks if Peter is trying to push her away before she walks out, leaving Peter with a lot of regret.
Peter purposefully takes Gwen on a date to the jazz club where MJ now works as a lowly waitress/singer. He pays the hostess to get a seat and then goes up on stage to interrupt MJ with his own song-and-dance routine. Peter revels in the awkwardness of the situation, seductively dancing with Gwen in front of MJ. A bouncer tries to get Peter to leave, but he fights back and accidentally hits MJ, pushing her away. He instantly regrets his actions and walks out.
Z. Sandman Returns
The police chief alerts Peter and Aunt May to the fact that Flint is actually the man responsible for the murder of Uncle Ben, not the man Peter chased and fought in the first film. And Flint is at large. Peter is enraged by this thought, wanting vengeance.
Sandman emerges from the sewer where he had been chased and defeated by Spider-Man earlier in the film. He takes his human form once more and remembers his daughter before deciding to take revenge on Spider-Man.
Peter rejects MJ’s offer of help and proceeds to obsess over finding Sandman. He falls asleep, and that’s when the alien symbiote strikes, feeding off his negative emotions and consuming him. Peter awakens in a black Spider-Man suit suspended high above the city street. He revels in the powerful feelings that come from the symbiote.
Embracing his dark side, Peter demands the staff job from Jameson and proceeds to act in a selfish, pompous manner toward everyone he meets. He dances around the city streets, dresses in fancy clothes, and is content to do whatever makes him feel good in the moment, prompted by the influence of the symbiote.
BB. Dr. Conners’ Warnings
Peter visits Dr. Conners and gives him a sample of the symbiote. Dr. Conners warns him that it could be dangerous and not to get any of it on him after it hurries over and Peter stops it.
Dr. Conners calls Peter and again warns him about the dangers of the symbiote after his analysis of the sample. He asks Peter if he kept any of it, and Peter denies doing so.
CC. Eddie’s Dishonesty
Peter goes home and hears a call on the police scanner about a burglary committed by Sandman. He goes to the scene of the crime in his black Spider-Man suit and is approached by Eddie who takes his picture. He destroys Eddie’s camera and leaves, forcing Eddie to use another camera to shoot the area and later fabricate a photo of Spider-Man’s new black suit.
While walking around the city, Peter spots a Daily Bugle cover with Eddie’s supposedly legitimate photo of the black-clad Spider-Man caught in the act of a crime. He goes to the office to confront him and angrily pushes Eddie against a framed picture of the fraudulent photo, breaking it, in response to his dishonesty. Peter exposes Eddie’s fakery to Jameson, forcing him to fire Eddie and print a retraction.
DD. Water and Fire
Spider-Man sneaks up on Sandman in the sewer and attacks him. He is convinced Sandman murdered his uncle in cold blood. Sandman falls into a puddle and begins to turn into mud. He tries to escape, but Spider-Man opens a large valve of water, spraying him into oblivion as he drifts through a metal grate in a flood of water. Spider-Man callously says, “Good riddance.”
Peter silently appears in Harry’s home, and the two start fighting. Harry still believes Peter murdered his father. Peter gains the upper hand and knocks Harry to the ground. When Peter turns his back on him, Harry throws a bomb at him. Peter dodges and then throws it back at Harry. The explosion engulfs Harry, but Peter doesn’t even bother to look behind to see if he survived.
EE. Peter’s Transformation
Peter does several things he’s never done before. He changes the way his hair hangs down and shouts at his landlord Mr. Ditkovich in response to being asked for rent. He never would have done those things in Spider-Man 2 when he silently bore his misery. Realizing that he’s changed for the worse, he removes his black Spider-Man suit and puts it in a chest in his closet.
Peter quietly stews in his apartment before he comes to the realization that Harry has returned to his villainous ways. He glances meaningfully at the chest in his closet containing his black suit. Shortly after that, he appears in Harry’s home with his hair once again hanging down, ready for a fight.
FF. Shocking Revelations
Peter tells Aunt May that Flint is dead at the hands of Spider-Man. She is shocked, unable to believe that Spider-Man would ever do such a thing.
Harry tells Peter that MJ got fired and that she’s now in love with him, not Peter. Peter is shocked by this sudden turn of events and can’t understand why she didn’t tell him herself.
GG. MJ’s Jobs
MJ gets a job as a waitress/singer at a jazz club and then goes out and calls Harry to cheer herself up.
MJ breaks up with Peter on a bridge and then walks past Harry who tells her job well done.
HH. Calling MJ
Peter tries to call MJ, but she doesn’t respond. He apologizes to his landlord for yelling at him earlier. Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter encourages Peter to try calling MJ again.
The next day, Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter is happy to report to Peter that MJ called him back. MJ asks him to meet her and abruptly hangs up when he tells her he loves her.
II. Harry’s Visits
MJ goes to Harry’s home and cooks dinner with him. She even agrees to be in his play, which he wrote for her years ago. She touches his forehead where his bandage had been, and they kiss.
MJ returns to her apartment and is surprised to find Harry waiting for her. He grabs her by the throat and tells her he has a role for her to play in the revenge plot on Peter he has cooking.
JJ. Memories Return
The turning point of the chiasmus comes as MJ hurries away from Harry and leaves his home, embarrassed for having kissed him. He goes to his father’s study and gazes into the mirror his father used to talk to himself in. The memories of his father, Spider-Man, and Peter come flooding back and he looks down as he holds his head in pain.
When Harry looks up, he doesn’t see his reflection in the mirror anymore. Now he sees his father Norman Osborn. Harry says that he remembers him now. Norman tells him that he was right about Peter and MJ, and he knows what he must do. Harry needs to get to work making Peter suffer by attacking his heart: MJ.
Third Time’s the Charm
Do you see what I meant when I said I stand in awe of what Sam Raimi and his team managed to achieve in the Spider-Man Trilogy? I ended my Spider-Man 2 chiasmus article by saying it would be truly amazing if it turned out that Spider-Man 3 was also a chiasmus, and here we are just a few weeks later confirming that very thing. I had no idea when I finally returned to the first Spider-Man film a few months ago that it would culminate in me discovering it was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beautiful complexity found in the series it spawned.
I used to think that Spider-Man 3 was a joke. It’s still not the most fun movie for me to watch, but now I’ve gained a new appreciation for what it achieved in spite of studio interference and whatever other handicaps were put on Raimi. I’ve heard he didn’t want to include Venom at all. But he still managed to add that element in a way that fit the same pattern as the first two films he made. In fact, it complements the overall theme of the movie, which is having to choose a side. As we see from the turning point of the chiasmus, Harry was meant to be the focus of this story. He starts the movie as a villain, and he’s given a second chance to return to his blissfully ignorant state. Then, when his memories return, he again returns to his vengeful ways, but in the end, he chooses to be a hero and help his friends. It’s a story of redemption. Peter also has to deal with temptation in the form of the alien symbiote, which makes him feel good, but at a heavy price to himself and everyone around him. And Sandman is another conflicted character who oscillates between reluctant villain and tragic hero. The fact that this movie managed to cram so many stories on a similar theme in a chiasmic structure is a herculean task.
I now view the events in Spider-Man 3 not as a random group of awkward moments or callbacks to the previous films, but as perfectly placed pieces that work in harmony to create an incredibly symmetrical picture.
Hats off to you, Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent, Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad, and everyone else who had a hand in making each film in the original Spider-Man Trilogy a perfect chiasmus!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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