Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Decay Rate Algorithms & Cross Species Genetics: The Amazing Spider Man

There is a post-credits scene, be sure to catch it!
The first images of a film are usually the most important: in director Marc Webb's (no pun intended) The Amazing Spider Man, the first images are of a child playing hide and go seek; why? That's the viewer. In a film which does two things particularly well--citing other films and exhibiting self-awareness--it's appropriate the film makers should let us know who we the viewers are in the scenario it weaves (okay, that pun was intended). Just as the child plays hide-and-go-seek, so we should too, looking here and there; for what? A break-in.
Even though we don't find out exactly what happened to Peter Parker's parents in this episode--clearly laying the path for sequels that I personally would welcome--we do know that Peter's parents are symbolic of the "founding fathers" and the "motherland," America, itself. Why? Well, that's what it usually means, and granted, there are other interpretations possible, but given what other films being released are talking about, for example, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, the very reason of why this country was founded, and who founded it, is suddenly in vogue, and Peter Parker's search for his parents is also the search for himself and the film doesn't let you ignore his identity crisis of superhero proportions. As the socialist Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter claims that the sixteenth president was a socialist (which he wasn't), The Amazing Spider Man confidently questions who we are and who are parents were so it can arrive at the traditional, all-American story that has guided this country. But an important event takes place on a bridge, again, in both Spider Man and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter:  a collapsing bridge. In Spider Man, the Lizard first "breaks out" on a bridge and Spider Man has to hold up a burning, exploding car that has a small child in it and Spider Man even takes off his mask to help the child; why? Because this scene shouldn't be "masked" for us, we should clearly see that Spider Man holding up that burning car is the auto industry which the Obama administration bailed out with public funds and the child symbolizes the future. The child, by putting on Spider Man's mask, "gains strength" to climb out of the burning car, and that is clearly us, our future, trying to "put on" the virtues and lessons The Amazing Spider Man wants to teach us so we, too, can climb out of the burning disaster we are in. In Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, one of the rich vampires (symbolic of a socialist who has a lot of money, like the makers of the film) are good vampires who will sacrifice themselves to "bridge" the transition from a capitalist to socialist economy and hence, should be allowed to keep their wealth even though they are going to strip everyone else of theirs.  
So what is it we are supposed to be seeking for that’s hiding within the film?  Two important film references nail it for us: Midnight Cowboy and Godzilla. When Peter Parker as Spider Man goes swinging through his urban jungle like Tarzan, he says, “Hey, I’m swinging here, I’m swinging here!” parodying the famous line from Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) in Midnight Cowboy with John Voight who plays a male prostitute; just a fun reference for those of us nerds who have seen the film?  No, rather, it’s a condemnation of Peter’s “spiritual state” that Peter is prostituting his skills and talents.
Captain Stacey says that the NYPD wanted the car thief on the street because he was going to lead them to the larger ring that was organizing the stealing… this is probably a reference to the auto bail outs when billions of dollars were “stolen” from the American people to bail out companies who should have filed for bankruptcy (the way it has always been handled in the past) and handled the problems privately instead of with public money. This is an important point to make because this car thief is also who Peter thinks killed Uncle Ben (i.e., the middle class). Earlier, Peter thought a guy beating up a woman was the killer of Uncle Ben (the ones waging “war on women” killed the middle class) but just as Peter doesn’t find the killer, so we don’t find it either, in this version. Please note that Peter swings on chains in this scene (before he learns how to use spider threads to create "swings" for him) and as usual, the chains symbolize slavery and what we are chained/enslaved to; what about Peter? Well, he's a young kid, so it's his first love (Gwen) and what has hurt him most in life, his parents not being there with him while he was growing up. These are things which will "chain" Peter and the chains he will have to break in order to free himself so he can do the job he must.
Just before he says this, Peter caught a car thief he thought might have been the man who killed Uncle Ben (more on this later) and when the NYPD arrives, they want to take Spider Man in and aren’t interested in the car thief, to which Spider Man responds, “I just did 80% of your job and this is how you repay me?” and it’s the cop who is right in this case because Peter wants everyone to believe that he’s doing “good” but he’s really on a personal vendetta. A prostitute has sexual relations with someone they don’t love and get paid for it, and Peter Parker catching a thief and wanting to be “repaid” for the capture is Peter pimping himself like a midnight cowboy.
Peter (Andrew Garfield) first exhibiting new strength from the spider bite on a bus. Why does he go upside-down? Well, like Carolyn Stoddard turning into a werewolf and being upside-down in Dark Shadows, it means that something is perverse with the character (perverse literally means upside-down). Peter being upside-down is probably the position many Americans are in because we're not used to having to think about our government "leaders" as much as we have been, and that's an upside-down situation for us, but it also resembles the upside-down state of the economy (how much we are borrowing to how much we are spending) as well as the percentage of Americans who are working and supporting the rest of Americans who aren't or receiving government assistance. Realizing the grave state of affairs (how upside down the country really is right now) gives a graphic depiction to Americans of how we are just now realizing the power which we have to change the country and the responsibility we have to make sure we do what we can.
If you can do good things for others you have to. It’s not a choice but a responsibility,” Uncle Ben relates to Peter about his father's philosophy of life just before Uncle Ben ends up dying. Peter gets upset with Uncle Ben and wants to know why his father isn’t there to tell him that; because the “father,” as usual, is the “founding fathers" of this country, and that golden nugget of wisdom is what they knew that we have forgotten: namely, all of our futures are tied together in this country, and doing bad to someone is going to come back, in other words, the writings of capitalist Adam Smith in his work The Theory Of Moral Sentiments.  Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter cites Adam Smith's capitalist textbook The Wealth Of Nations; the problem is, as Americans, we have failed to remember Smith's other, important work which posits that we must be interested in the welfare and happiness of others in order to assure our own happiness and well-being. Why is this important? Does the name Bernie Madoff or Lehman Brothers mean anything to you? If ALL CAPITALISTS (regardless of wealth but also those whose wealth has the potential to do the most good/destruction) look after each other as they look after themselves, maybe the 2008 global financial crisis wouldn't have happened or at least been as bad as what it has proven to be. The philosophy of Peter Parker's father is the mirror of Adam Smith's thesis in The Theory Of Moral Sentiments.
Because of his constant experimentation, Peter is a good capitalist. While he starts out making lots of mistakes, when it's easiest for him to turn away and let someone else handle the problems, he has the strength to take responsibility for what he unwittingly has done. Peter steps up and says that he created this mess (with Lizard Man by giving Connors the formula) and he's got to stop it and Peter doesn't shrink away from the job. Wall Street and other greedy investors who triggered the financial crisis should do as much instead of protecting only themselves, and in this way, Spider Man certainly puts those "weavers of webs" to shame.
One of the scientific phrases constantly in use is "decay rate algorithm" which is meant to be applied to living beings having foreign DNA introduced into their system so they can regenerate or heal. Why is this phrase important? It also accurately describes capitalism and what has happened to the Obama economic recovery $5 trillion dollars later. Dr. Connors symbolizes bad capitalists and that's why he can't get his equations to work but Peter and his father ("the founding fathers") understood that there is a decay rate algorithm to capitalism and that capitalism goes through natural cycles just like the seasons of the year. Just as Peter's father isn't there to tell him his life's philosophy and lesson, the "founding fathers" aren't here because this is our time, this is our future, and we have the right to fight for it just as they did. Connors, not understanding the equation of patterns and decay, isn’t able to keep himself going and this is a well-crafted difference between Spider Man and Lizard…Man.
Fabulous metaphor for resilient capitalism and ignorant capitalism: Peter's body. Whereas Lizard Man immediately regrows a limb or skin any time he's injured, Peter has to take his hits and scrapes and pains but he's learning more from getting hurt than Connors is from not suffering consequences of getting hurt. Let's translate this into economic terms: let's say there is a baseball team that is really poor and they need to find a way to win games. Every time they lose a game (the way Peter gets hurt) they learn something and adapt their strategy so they don't lose the next time; okay, maybe they do lose the next time, they make more adaptations until they start winning more games than losing... hey, wait a minute... that was Moneyball! Well, great films gather around the same thesis and problems, but utilize different languages to express the same concepts, that's why seeing lots of films and keeping up on them aides us in tracking cultural issues (if we see it in one film, we'll see it in another; for more on Moneyball, please see Moneyball & the Great American Economy).
Peter takes a lot of beatings in the film, but he learns from each of those beatings so he’s stronger the next time, he’s becoming wiser. Connors as the lizard, on the other hand, rejuvenates (re-grows) any limb that gets lost or any wound inflicted upon him is healed almost immediately, so he doesn’t learn from his wounds and that’s why he’s so reckless, he doesn’t have to learn how to be careful and that’s why he’s a good representative of bad capitalism because a lot of us don’t feel that bail outs were “the American Way” because what was learned from the failed experiments and what was learned from the bail outs? Nothing except the government will come bail you out (remember the burning vehicle Spider Man saves the little boy from? Spider Man lets it fall it explode and fall into the water... and we should, too).
The "missing forearm" of Dr. Curtis Connors as it regrows from the injection of cross-genetic material which then mutates. This is a clear and apparent example of Obama's economic strategy to "inject" funds for growth into the economy. That practice is just as foreign to capitalism as the lizard genes are to Dr. Connors' system, and the resulting mutation of the lizard which destroys New York (and the "evacuation scene" is just like 9/11, intentionally invoking the most devastating event in recent American history) which is the financial capital of the world is like socialism destroying America (and being compared to the 9/11 bombings).
What about the reference to Godzilla?
When Peter realizes Dr. Connors (who has a good heart but is easily turned to greed and aggression) has mutated himself into a giant lizard, Captain Stacey (Dennis Leary) asks Peter if he “looks like the mayor of Tokyo?” because Godzilla was a giant lizard which terrorized Japan as the lizard (Connors) now terrorizes America (when we see Connors climbing a towering building, however, we are also reminded of King Kong). The reference to Godzilla is a reference to World War II: Godzilla was the embodiment of what the United States had done to Japan in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (for more, please see Jaws & the Cleansing Of America) just as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was the embodiment for the US for what Japan did to us in Pearl Harbor and War in the Pacific in World War II. So what is Godzilla (that ultimate destructive force of cities) for us today?
Bad capitalism.
Lizard Man. Where have we seen the black lines going over a character's face? The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner; why? We're not seeing everything, something is being "blacked out" and "cut up." It's a simple yet effective tool for invoking what is "missing" from a character and why. After the "lizard" effect wears off from Dr. Connors, he retains a bit of the lizard skin going up the side of his neck; why? To specifically demonstrate to audiences what he's "yoked to." The neck in art permits us to know what guides a character (the way an ox is yoked to pull a plough, or a dog is hooked on a leash, what is the "leash" of the character that guides them and holds them back?) and Cr. Connors is more yoked to his lizard identity than his human one. Dr. Connors spouting off  "Everyone is equal, a world without weakness," sadly demonstrates for Americans how practicing bad capitalism has now effortlessly set us up for socialism where everyone is equal and there is no weakness (remember the Hitler Youth and the Nazi SS Party?). What's most important about what Lizard Man/Dr. Connors does involves the Ganelli Machine, a machine which will allow Connors to spread the lizard serum over all New York in a cloud and turn everyone into a lizard with "no chance to opt out," and that, without a doubt, references the Obamacare umbrella of health insurance "covering everyone" with no chance of opting out (unless you are Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius or Harry Reid, they don't have to go through the program).
Dr. Connors regularly spews “Darwinistic” language throughout the film about no more weakness and striving for perfection which (regrettably) is usually associated with social Darwinism/capitalism and the popular culture theory of the survival of the fittest. Connors’ research is being funded by an an effort to cure Norman Osborn, the head of Oscorp, and Osborn hopes Connors can find a cure for him via cross-species genetics; when Connors has difficulty delivering results, funding is withdrawn from Connors and he’s fired; in a desperate attempt to keep his job, Connors tries the formula on himself and mutates into the lizard. Why, symbolically, is the serum going to be tried out on patients at the Veterans' Hospital? Because turning them into lizards is like undoing everything they did in winning World War II and the wars against socialism/communism the US engaged in during the Cold War and the "cold blooded" Lizard Man Dr. Connors turns into is a cold-blooded man who doesn't remember what the Cold War was all about. This is the tie-in with Godzilla and how World War II was won and why.
There is something really important we see in Peter's room, on several occasions; a poster for Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Why? Of ALL the films which could have been chosen to be in Peter's most intimate bedroom space, why was it that one? We haven't done any of Hitchcock's films (I have seen all 50+ films by the master director and would like to do them in order, every single one of them, so that's why I have "avoided" doing Hitchcock so far thus) but what's apparent about Rear Window is that Jimmy Stewart's character (Jeff) sees himself and sees Grace Kelly's (Lisa) character in the tenants across the way from his apartment. For example, the murder Jeff witnesses is really symbolic of how Jeff's character has killed Lisa's character and "packed her away" because he doesn't want to marry her. We'll go into the amazing details at a later date, but for Peter, he, too is seeing and finding himself in the events unfolding. In the scene pictured just above, Peter has found his father's old briefcase, left when his father and mother had to go away. How did Peter find it? The basement flooded. This is the second "flood" we have seen (Moonrise Kingdom also deals with "flooding" and Darren Aronosfky is making a Noah film about a flood and, granted, it's only water on the basement floor, but Uncle Ben calls it a "flood") but important documents are discovered like a "secret history" as in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (it comes out more in the book than in the film).  These documents are the only real link Peter has with his father anymore just as documents are the only real link which Americans today still have with the founding fathers, the Declaration Of Independence and the Constitution. Just as the makers of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter are claiming that Lincoln's socialism is the "untold story" about the president, so The Amazing Spider Man is saying that the "untold story" is just beginning; but for Spider Man, it's the story we all ready know, but have to be told again because we forget whereas for Abraham Lincoln as a socialist who hated the upper-classes, that story never existed.
Why does Dr. Connors have a missing arm? The right arm is the symbol of strength, so for Connors to be missing his right arm, means that he doesn’t have strength (that's the primary reason, artistically, that Peter is enhanced by the spider bite, whereas Connors degenerates because of the lizard genetics: the foreign material has to interact with what is all ready there, and while young and foolish, Peter has a good heart so the spider "powers" can be built up from that; Connors, older and petty--remember what he says about ignoring Peter's family?--doesn't have goodness within so there's nothing positive for the DNA to grow with). Dr. Connors, like Dallas and Adam from Magic Mike, and Adam from Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter symbolizes bad capitalism in the missing right arm (the economic global crisis of 2008 which made capitalism look so unappealing). On the other hand, the "arms of the cranes" lined up along the streets of New York help Spider Man to "do his job" because the crane operators are doing theirs and they know that their fate is tied to Spider Man's.
Flash is the school bully and Peter's rival. After being shown up by Peter, Flash becomes a better person and, in this scene, came to Peter to express his condolences after the death of Uncle Ben; feeling guilty, however, because of his role in Uncle Ben's death, Peter lashes out against Flash. The point is, however, that Flash is becoming a better person, and sees that his welfare is ultimately tied up in the welfare of others (not bullying Peter Parker anymore will prevent Flash from being bullied by him).
Like Madagascar 3 and an unwitting reference to Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiment from Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider Man is calling us to be better capitalists, that our job, just like Peter Parker’s is to stop the bad capitalists, not to prostitute ourselves to false programs and vendettas, but to ban together in the true spirit of America, help each other and even when we want/need and feel we deserve that government hand-out to help us get what we want (the two cents from the penny tray) we have to resist because of the thieves that will come along and pretend to give us what we want. 
Peter with his camera, adding another "thread" linking him to Jeff Jeffries of Rear Window, both are photographers. Why is this significant? Perhaps the most important "photographer" film (besides Rear Window) is Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow Up about a photographer who may have photographed a murder. The film set the pace for the inner-conflict of photography which started from the first of the documentary aspect and the artistic. This kind of conflict infiltrates Peter as well, for example, the picture of the Debate Team with Gwen in it; while it was taken for the school, he has a copy of it on his computer screen.  Another example is Flash wanting Peter to take a picture of Flash forcing a kid to eat something and Peter refuses. The blurry lines magnifies the inner-conflict of Peter's later struggle with finding Uncle Ben's killer, helping the police and stopping the Lizard (Dr. Connors), demonstrating the sophisticated inner-structure the film wants mirrored throughout itself.   
Perhaps the two most important characters in the film are the two least glamorous: Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields). Why would they be important? In The Amazing Spider Man, Ben and May are middle-class compared to the upper-middle class of the Staceys (Emma Stone as Gwen and Dennis Leary as Captain Stacey) and Dr. Curtis Connors. Uncle Ben's death isn't the only crime in the film; there is also the break in at the very beginning. When little Peter is playing hide-and-go-seek, and he walks into his father's study and sees the rain outside, the glass door pane busted and the door swinging open, with papers scattered everywhere, what are we supposed to be "seeking" in this game of "hiding?" Well, who has "broken into" America? Obama.
The panes on the door, being made of glass, symbolize "reflection"; the storm outside (there have been a lot of storms creeping into films lately; the storm in Moonrise Kingdom, the hurricane in Magic Mike and the "upcoming storm" Cat Woman warns Bruce Wayne about in The Dark Knight Rises) was the political upheaval of 2008 and how that caused Americans to "reflect" on the status and situation of the country which allowed the "break in" of someone who has made a "mess of things" (all the papers over the floor). What's important is the sought after document with the algorithm was locked away in a secret compartment and that document holds the key: American history. As stated earlier, when Peter finds those documents years later, the decay rate algorithm is a reflection of the natural corrective cycles of capitalism which have been apparent all through out history. The socialists failure to get the documents reflects their failure to get capitalism and what it's all about.
Women in a laboratory; where else will we see this? The Bourne Legacy, Rachel Weisz's character is a women "giving artificial  birth" to something in science but she hasn't given birth naturally. We also saw an "artificial mother" in Underworld: Awakening (the hybrid child of Selene and Michael had a "foster mother" who took care of her). It's too early for me to make an assessment, but this is one of those things to keep track of!
What The Amazing Spider Man, like so many other films, does so well is link the bad capitalist practices to the socialism of the current administration. In the beginning of the film shows us little Peter pulling back a curtain to reveal a broom with a hat and shoes: is that Obama? I won't answer that one, only suggest the "emptiness" discovered when little Peter sees that he has been trapped by someone appearing to be real who isn't really there at all might refer to the President (like Norman Osborne who is sick and "needs results" now in order to save him).
This is a great place to talk about the two cents and the milk Peter tries to buy. Peter gets angry with Uncle Ben and goes out to buy some milk; he's two cents short and the cashier in the store won't let Peter use the "penny dish" to make up for his lack of two cents so he can get the milk although Peter, according to store policy, can put in two cents, again, he can't take two cents out, meaning he can't get the milk. Just behind Peter is a man robbing the store and the man tosses the unpurchased milk to Peter before running out, then killing Uncle Ben who tries to stop the thief that Peter refused to help capture. What does all this mean? The penny dish, in its little way, symbolizes taxes that everyone pays into but it's the store's policy (read: the American government's policy) to not let you take it. Someone has robbed the till (read Obama) and is going to give everyone what they want regardless of whether they have paid for it or not; THIS IS WHAT KILLS UNCLE BEN (read: the middle class) because of their willingness to work for everything all their lives, they will literally "bleed to death" from not being able to support themselves any longer.
There's one additional facet of the Godzilla reference I would like to explore. Like Steve in Captain America, Peter Parker’s weak and fragile condition reminds us how America was before World War II (the Great Depression) but the “build up” of arms lead to the “building up of the country” physically demonstrated in the musculature of Captain America and Spider Man. It's not just the building up of the two super heroes, but of all Americans which happened as a result (we became, in other words, a super power) and The Amazing Spider Man wants to remind Americans of The Amazing America post World War II (for more on the symbols of Captain America, please see Captain America: A Movie Of Movies).
Does the death of Captain Stacey mean that the "law of the fathers (the founding fathers, capitalism) is dead?" No, it means the choice of what we fight for has been passed onto the next generation. As Gwen says when she sees Peter's chest all torn up, "I know what that is, it's a badge," just like the one her father wears, and that badge is the promise to help others, in America and the world, as America has always done; but it's time that the next generation (Peter and Gwen) take up the fight for themselves just as we saw in Brave.
In conclusion, the "search for Peter's parents" is the ongoing cinematic battle about the search for America's parents: was the "founding fathers" socialists or capitalists and what was their vision for America? Was the motherland originally intended to be socialist by settlers or did they always have the capitalist spirit? The Amazing Spider Man is not only a great counter-point to the socialist issues of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, but a foreshadowing of the topics we shall see in The Bourne Legacy due out in one month (specifically the manipulation of DNA). Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner