Author: Dimitris Vagenas
Translator: Myrto Gkoka
Just like Ego, so does Spiderman never stop self-developing, or looking for new ways to deal with the demands of different environments.
Of all Marvel and DC super heroes, Spiderman, especially the way presented in Sam Raim’s trilogy of movies, is probably the most humain, with whom we can identify more easily; since Peter Parker, his introductory name at the beginning of the movie, he is nothing more than a usual teenager who tries to cover his needs and deal with his anxiety and insecurity.
His story starts in New York, where Peter lives with his uncle Ben and his aunt May. Although he is a very good student, he is not popular at all at school and that is why he is afraid of expressing his erotic interest to his neighbor and co-student Mary Jane. He only has one friend, Harry, who is Norman’s son, a very wealthy scientist who highly appreciates Peter’s skills in applied sciences. During a school trip, a genetically mutated spider bites Peter, giving him super power. Simultaneously, because of an experiment, Norman acquires super power too, but he turns into a maniac killer. A while after his graduation Peter decides to reclaim his power and fight crime; thus, he designs a costume and in order to hide his new identity he is now widely known as Spiderman. Respectively, Norman is known as Green Goblin and asks Spiderman to co-operate with him, and of course Spiderman refuses. Eventually, Norman discovers Spiderman’s new identity, and kidnaps Mary Jane. Peter manages to save her and during his fight with Norman, he reveals his real face, trying to get away. While Norman asks his enemy for forgiveness, he attempts to kill by striking him at the back, but Peter bends over and as a result Norman kills himself. As he was dying, he asks Peter not to say anything to his son. During his funeral, Mary Jane confesses to Peter that she is in love with him. Although, he feels the same way, he decides to protect her from his enemies and tells her to remain friends. Leaving the funeral, Peter finally accepts his new life as Spiderman.
Despite the fact that Spiderman fights criminals, monsters and aliens, as Peter Parker he is just an ordinary young man living a conventional life, hence he is the ideal character to help us understand the functions and mechanisms of Ego, the way Eric Erikson, Heinz Hartman and Sigmund Freud suggested. According to the father of psychoanalysis, soul consists of Ego, It and Hyperego. It, functioning according to the ‘principle of pleasure’ does not care about the consequences of its actions and its only target is to satisfy the aggressive and sexual instincts and protect its interests. In this particular movie, It is represented by Norman, who by the time he realizes the is about to get fired in any way possible, he kills his colleagues with no second thoughts, putting in danger other people’s lives too, while he captures Spiderman, boasting all about how he will rape and torture Mary Jane, after killing him. It is present inside every person from the time of its birth, while Hyperego develops gradually and it consists of the values, moral codes and socially accepted behavior. Hyperego is represented by Uncle Ben, who, when realizing the changes in his nephew’s behavior, consults him to reclaim his power for the greater good, telling him that ‘great power brings in great responsibility’.
Ego, operating according to the ‘principle of reality’, tries to find a balance between It’s needs and Hyperego’s prohibitions and satisfy itself only by using legitimate means. Respectively, Peter tries to balance between Ben and Norman’s demands; although he loves and respects his uncle, when he consults him, Peter gets angry at him and does not take his advice in mind. Thus, he uses his power in order to gain money in a fight tournament, and when the manager of the race chats on him, by refusing to give him his bet earnings, Peter takes revenge and does not stop with the man who steals from him. Coincidentally, he is the same man who kills Ben, right afterwards to escape with his car, and that is the reason why Peter feels remorse and decides to follow his uncle’s advice and use his power for the greater good.
As for his ambivalent relationship with the father of his best friend, Peter seems to respect Norman’s scientific skills, while it is pretty obvious that Norman thinks more highly of Peter than his own son and that Green Goblin admires Spiderman’s abilities, wanting to co-operate with him. Although Peter refuses, we should not forget that before his uncle’s death he used his power only to his own interest and that thanks to his uncle, he managed to take a morally right path. In particular, when Norman asks for his forgiveness and to let him be his father, he answers him that Ben is his father, managing to tame It and follow the hard path that Hyperego dictates him.
In contrast with Freud, Eric Erikson introduced a psycho-social theory, which emphasizes in Ego’s interaction with the rest of the people and demands of different environments. According to Erikson, there are 8 stages of psycho-social development, leading from birth to adult life and every stage represents a different conflict. Every conflict’s solution leads to Ego’s development and to the smooth introduction to the next stage, while our weakness to solve a conflict leads us to confusion and hardens even more dealing with the demands of the next stage. The name of the fifth stage, which starts at 12 years old and finishes at 18, is ‘Identity or Role Confusion’ and the question that rises is ‘Who am I’? That is the first phrase we can hear at the movie, while Peter, like every other teenager, struggles to discover his identity and his position into the society. However his case is even more difficult, as he has to find his position as a man with super powers. According to Erikson, the weakness of teenagers to establish their identity can lead them to role confusion. Luckily, Peter manages to find his own identity and answer to the critical question; towards the end of the movie he asks himself again replying ‘I am Spiderman’!
In Heinz Hartman’s opinion, Ego’s principal target is the adjustment to the environment. At this theory Ego, is autonomous and has the ability to change in order to adjust itself. Thus, trying to deal with new conditions, a person either changes his environment, or changes aspects of his personality. In the specific case, Peter tried to change himself; initially, he was confused and didn’t know how to use his power, so he came up with Spiderman’s personality in order to use his power for the greater good. Despite the fact that, by the end of the movie, he manages to adjust to his new identity, in the 2 following movies, this transformation leads to new problems and makes him discover his abilities. Just like Ego, Peter never stops evolving and searching for new ways to deal with the demands of each environment.
Freud, S. (1960). The Ego and the Id. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Hartmann, H. (1964) Essays on ego psychology. London: The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis.
Indick, W. (2004). Psychology for Screenwriters. Ventura: Michael Wiese Productions