Spider-Man and the Power of Grief
Spoiler warning for the new Spider-Man movie!! You've been warned!
Marvel/Disney (and Sony) has yet another blockbuster on its hands this summer with Far From Home, the first post-Avengers Endgame movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). To date it's made $275 million. Our family saw it at the sparking new Cut! Cinemark in Prosper/Frisco. The movie experience was brilliant; the food service...
Nope. They'll figure it out.
Anyway, the new movie is a blast: funny, decent action, good story. Even though it takes place on a summer high school trip throughout Europe, compared to other Avenger movies it has a very small scale. Peter Parker is a teenager through and through, struggling with all the teen feels:
- Wanting his own freedom
- Lack of privacy
It's comforting to see a super hero struggle with the same thing every kid struggles with. Jake Gyllenhall is brilliant as Mysterio, a Tony Stark wannabe who pretends to mentor Peter.
My favorite movie podcast is Slashfilm, or /Film. In their review of the movie, one of the guys, Jeff, who is a comic authority (I was never much in to them myself) said this movie was much more a Peter Parker movie than a Spider-Man movie. That's a great insight. Jeff also noted that one of the biggest changes in the franchise since Spider-Man was loaned out to Marvel by Sony was that Tony Stark took the place of Uncle Ben for Peter Parker.
Spoilers from Avengers Endgame here....
With Tony Stark's death in Endgame Peter has had no mentor to turn to for life advice. And with what we learn in the first post-credit scene Peter is going to need more advice in the future!
One of the criticisms some of the other guys on the podcast had about Far From Home, and Spider-Man in general in the MCU, was that he vacillates too much. He wants to be an Avenger, but given the option at the end of Civil War he turns it down. No, he just wants to be a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. But then he shows up in Infinity War. Now that Tony is gone and Stark wants to anoint Peter Parker as the leader of the Avengers... no, thank you, he just wants to go on vacation with his friends and hang out with Mary Jane.
For me, this movie is about how we handle grief, and the impact grief has on us. Here's the thing: grief hits each of us differently. Add in the emotional time of the teenage years and I can see how Peter can't make a consistent decision about his life. In Civil War, he's ripped out of his nornal existence to fight Captain America and a bunch of other super heroes. At the end of Infinity War he's "blipped" by Thanos-- a term mentioned for the first time in Far From Home. So while those left on earth for five years went about their lives, Peter missed all of that trauma, only to show up again at the end of Endgame, five years later-- having not aged at all. Now Stark is dead.
And he's supposed to carry all of this because he is a super hero?
I'm glad the movie is honest with Peter's feelings. In the comics and previous movies, Peter struggles with the tension between being a kid and a hero. Why should that change because he has experienced more trauma than in previous iterations?
There's a scene in the movie where Peter is only too happy to give up all this new power he's received. He is certain he's not ready for the responsibility. This decision allows the Bad Guy to unleash all of his terrible plans. It's a mistake. Peter trusts someone he didn't really know (others were fooled as well; that's the main theme of the movie, our gullibility and lack of attention to our surroundings).
Too often we are quick to relieve ourselves of the burden of grief. It's time to move on. Get on with our lives. Read the story of Job. He's experienced unimaginable trauma. His friends show up to comfort him. But when the find that Job has moved in to a place of despair, even questioning God's justice, they can't handle it. They begin to correct and challenge Job's assumptions. They cannot just remain silent and love their friend. They have to defend God. Yeah, because God needs that.
I'm glad Far From Home gives Peter Parker space to deal with his emotions. Hey, it's called Far From Home, right?? Yes, he's an ocean away from New York and Aunt May. Everything about Peter is far from home. Many of us experiencing grief have been there too. Here's the good news: we may feel far from home, but God is never far from us. Take your time in your grief. There is no formula that fits everyone. There may or may not be stages of grief. Calling out to God in the midst of pain is an act of prayer. One of the most important biblical traditions is lament. Fully 1/3 of the Psalms are laments. Here are some examples:
Awake! Why are you asleep, O Lord?
Arise! Cast us not off forever!
Why do you hide your face,
forgetting our woe and our oppression?
For our souls are bowed down to the dust,
our bodies are pressed to the earth. (Psalm 44:24-26)
How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2-3)
Pour out your wrath upon the nations
that acknowledge you not,
upon the kingdoms that call not upon your name.
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let it be known among the nations in our sight
that you avenge the shedding of your servants’ blood.
And repay our neighbors sevenfold into their bosoms
the disgrace they have inflicted on you, O Lord.
Rise up, judge of the earth; render their deserts to the proud. How long, O Lord, shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked glory,
Mouthing insolent speeches, boasting, all the evildoers?
Look toward me, and have pity on me,
for I am alone and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
Put an end to my affliction and my suffering,
and take away all my sins.
Behold, my enemies are many,
and they hate me violently.
Preserve my life, and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
Show us, O Lord, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the Lord—for he proclaims peace.
To his people, and to his faithful ones,
and to those who put in him their hope.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
Many say, “Oh, that we might see better times!”
O Lord, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
You put gladness into my heart,
more than when grain and wine abound.
As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep,
for you alone, O Lord,
bring security to my dwelling.
Do you hear the anguish? Is it the same for each writer? Nope.
Jesus himself struggled with grief. His friend Lazarus died. Jesus grieved in advance of his own death. He felt separated from God. It's not only normal to feel that way, by enduring those feelings Jesus sanctified them and made them holy. Whether you are the person experiencing loss or the person comforting another, know that the same God who comforts also experiences grief. That knowledge gives us freedom to fully express our hearts.
I hope Peter Parker fully embraces his role in the next movie. If he does, it will be because he gave himself the space for his heart to heal. Then he won't feel so far from home anymore.