Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Spiderman and Literary Analysis

Written by johnleemk on 3:14:37 pm May 2, 2007.

So, we have finally departed the year 2004 when it comes to movie reviews. Today I caught Spiderman 3 on the second day of its release, and at least two days before the Americans get to see it.

I didn't really want to watch it in the first place because I didn't find Spiderman 1 all that impressive (causing me to miss Spiderman 2). My mother is fanatical about it, though — she caught Spiderman 2, and that made her watch Spiderman 1 (ironical, is it not?). So she and my sister dragged the whole family into going.

The movie was good. It surprised me in how it managed to explore several different themes, especially relating to our human nature, while still managing to maintain the pace of an action movie. There was certainly more balance here than in Spiderman 1, I would say.

When my mother read the plot synopsis, she insisted it was a blatant rip-off of the dark side in Star Wars. After watching the movie, though, I think it's safe to conclude that there's a lot more to the story than that.

The movie is not subtle about its main themes of the freedom to choose (not in the abortion sense) and friendship — critics who accuse Crash of this really have to see Spiderman to see unsubtlety in action. However, if you reflect on the movie, you can see how subtle actions of the characters reinforce these themes, and also how peripheral motifs are brought up indirectly.

For instance, at the point where Peter Parker becomes infected with the symbiote, you can see that all the symbiote has done is reinforce existing tendencies in his personality. It makes you think about how we all make choices, and how our choices determine which of our human traits end up being accentuated, and defining who we are.

There are peripheral questions which, if you think about them, you are forced to grapple with. For instance, is it moral to let a criminal escape? What if that criminal is a victim of society and happenstance? Should we give him leeway because of that, or ought we to focus on the fact that in the end, it was his choice, and nobody really compelled him to turn to a life of crime?

Overall, I'm impressed with the movie, and I'd give it a nine out of ten. It isn't subtle in how it deals with its main themes, though, and parts of the plot are quite clearly contrived. Still, it's definitely one of the better movies that will come out this year.

One thing which this movie has made me realise, though, is how helpful my literature classes have been in helping me better analyse any form of entertainment, whether it is a song, a novel, a poem, or a movie.

The lecturer was far from ideal; she was often confused about things (and in the end was forced to resign because she taught us the wrong syllabus for almost a year without realising it), and bored the hell out of us in class.

But I've also realised that although much of what she taught us about the specific texts we studied is not helpful, the general principles she laid out for our study of literature are. My mother was astonished to learn that we are actually supposed to be focusing on specific texts in this class, because her literature classes were focused on analysis of any text; you had no idea what was going to come out, whereas we know which texts we are going to be dealing with.

Our lecturer probably just couldn't teach the specific texts we were assigned by the syllabus, but the principles of analysis she instilled in us were and are very useful to us. Despite her incompetence, I daresay she has made an impact on how I view the world — something which can't be said for many other people.

Your enjoyment of any literary or cultural work is enhanced if you understand the principles behind it, and I think that really is the point of a liberal arts education. Unfortunately, I don't think the lessons I've learnt are the same as many of my classmates.

There are basically two groups of smart students in my literature class; one of these groups focuses on self-studying and general principles of understanding and analysing literature. The other focuses on absorbing the lessons of the lecturer, and focusing on specific ideas relevant only to the texts being studied.

The latter type of thinking is, I feel, simply wrong if you want to actually have an education in literature. You can find these specific ideas if, in the first place, you already know the principles of literary analysis — how to find the themes, how to find the message of the author(s), how to identify the tone of the writer's voice, and so forth.

And, in the end, this sort of thinking can even be disastrous academically. The intellectual level of both groups I referred to is almost exactly the same. But last year for our finals, one group consisted of straight A scorers (in all subjects, not just literature); the other group scored mainly C grades — even though our lecturers all forecasted roughly the same scores for us. (No prizes for guessing which group is which.)

This may or may not be proof that the examination system we're using works, but it certainly correlates with the lesson I'd like to impart here (and yes, I'm being very unsubtle): your education is to equip you for life, not to equip you for the materials in the syllabus. If you learn, rather than be taught, you will find you are able to bring your education to bear in many areas of your life, and to great benefit for you and your fellow man.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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