Spider-Man 2 (2004): A Treatise on Grief in the Most Unlikely Place


On Sunday August 24th (today, if you’re reading this on the day I post it), I shall be heading to the stage in a village hall for what has become a yearly concert.  They were twice-yearly once, but that’s not possible these days.  It’s been a weird year since the last one.  There have been the highs of passing my PhD and the lows of a really shit time with bipolar.  When I hit the stage (“hit” makes it sound a little more dynamic than it actually is) this time I shall be singing some old favourites for the first time since my Dad passed away two and a half years ago.  It’s odd singing songs I know he loved, and strange knowing that he won’t hear or see them – not even on videotape.

The day before the show is always a case of “killing time” and not being able to settle to anything constuctive.  So, I sat down in front of the TV and watched the blu-ray of Spiderman 2 from 2004.  The excitement of my Saturday nights hold no bounds.  It’s not exactly a great film, it has to be said, lacking the pace of the first one in the series, just plodding on from one set-piece to another.  However, I did find it interesting given the fact I had been thinking about my Dad, for the film, rather surprisingly, seems to be more honest than most about grief.

The film is set two years after the first, but Peter Parker and his aunt are seen still mourning the loss of his uncle.  It’s an oddly moving element of an otherwise rather vacuous film, not least because of the genuine and touching way in which these scenes are portrayed.  All too often, grief and mourning is dismissed in a film or a book or a play as something very temporary.  Someone dies, people cry, the funeral takes place, everything returns to normal. In a space of two weeks life is back on track.  That, of course, is bullshit.   It’s not the way it works.  Things never really go back to how they were.  We get back into a routine, for sure.  But it’s not the same routine, because there’s always someone missing from it.

Film, at least popular, commercial film, very rarely acknowledges this.  And neither does popular TV or fiction.  When was the last time you watched Midsomer Murders and saw someone really grieving?  It’s hard to tell why such basic human emotions are missing.  After all, most of us like to be able to “identify” ourselves with the character on the screen.  Of course there are arthouse films that are all about grief and mourning and loss.  But there are certain subjects that are avoided in more commercial ventures, it seems, simply because the makers don’t really know how to deal with them.

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been much discussion about mental health issues on TV and the social media.  These are issues that, again, we rarely see portrayed in TV or film dramas.  Like mental health issues, it appears that death and grief is still a taboo – something that people feel remarkably uncomfortable discussing.  And with both of these issues, it’ s  a highly individual experience.  No two people grieve in the same way.  But, if we were to go by Hollywood filmmaking, people just don’t grieve at all.  They wake up one morning, about a fortnight after the event, and everything’s fine again.  It’s not. I miss my Dad now more than I did in the weeks after he died over two years ago.  Is that normal?  I don’t know.  I don’t care.  It’s my normal.

Is it wrong that these emotions are absent on our cinema and TV screens?  I’m not sure about that, but it certainly seems to be an easy option – and something we don’t necessarily notice until we’re suddenly, and unexpectedly, confronted with these scenes in the most unlikely film.  And Spiderman 2 is, certainly, the most unlikely film to deal honestly with the fact that we miss those no longer with us for the rest of our lives and not just until the funeral is over.

Let’s Reboot Television!

A man from Virgin Media came yesterday and fitted me with a Tivo box.  Whilst looking through the instructions, I was told that if it froze or got stuck, it would need rebooting.  My feeling, wading through the TV schedules in the UK these days, is that it’s not the Tivo box that needs a reboot, but television itself.   Somehow, since virtually every home has gained (to some degree) a multitude of extra channels, the main ones seems to rely more and more on tried and tested programmes, and tried and tested formulas.

While I can understand to a certain degree that people gain pleasure from watching those two-hour police dramas that move at a slower pace than the Lord of the Rings films, just how long can and should they go on for before something new comes along to take their place?  I shall be brutally honest, I blame “Morse” for everything.  After all, he was the one who started the now endlessly-recycled idea of a miserable old git taking 120 minutes (and at least 50 advert breaks) to solve a remarkably dull murder-mystery littered with remarkably dull characters.  When Morse got killed off in the final episode, I gave something of a silent cheer…while my Mother mourned.

But the death of Morse wasn’t the death of Morse.  Lo and behold, ITV came up with the idea of “Lewis” to cheer us all up with more of the same, and then we were treated to “Endeavour” which “entralls” us with the early adventures of Morse.  I am awaiting the announcement of a new series in which Morse’s spirit helps solves mysteries that baffle any policeman with a cheerful disposition and a relatively normal family life.

And Morse simply opened the floodgates for likes of “Frost” and “Midsomer Murders” – the latter now having waded through some fifteen series.  Even “Foyle’s War” couldn’t be allowed to finish with the end of the war – instead it wanders on in repetitive fashion with people watching possibly more through habit than enjoyment.    Likewise, ITV have insisted on continuing with their awful “Marple” series long after they ran out of actual Marple stories to destroy with their ridiculous adaptations.  Now they transplant the old busybody in mysteries where she doesn’t belong at all.  Agatha Christie must be turning in her grave.

This rant is somewhat caused by the receipt of next week’s Radio Times, which tells me that the highlight of the week (aside from Dr Who, which the magazine is obsessed with) is a new episode of Jonathan Creek.   Jonathan Creek?  Surely that’s the only programme in the world with more final episodes than “Only Fools and Horses?”   It seems to have been farewell-ing for over a decade.  We are also told in RT that Have I Got News For You is back for a 45th series.   That’s more series than “Casualty”, and I really thought nothing had been around for longer than that (a mere 27 series, in case you were wondering).   And yes, I know that BBC4 is “thrilling” audiences with various new crime dramas from mainland Europe – but surely these are just Morse/Lewis/Foyle/Midsomer with added subtitles.

ITV2 and ITV3 are even worse.  ITV3 should be renamed the “Poirot and Lewis” channel, as they appear to show little else.  And this is something I fail to understand.  With thousands of programmes in the vaults, the same 100 or so 2-hour dramas are just recycled endlessly – and still manage to receive 1.5 million viewers on a regular basis.  Is television so awful – and are we so easily please –  that we watch murder mysteries we last saw a month ago?

Of course, it’s not just dour murder mysteries than are recycled.  Since the success of Bargain Hunt, our daytime schedules are littered with antiques programmes. And since the success of Pop Idol we have been treated to around 300 series of X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent/The Voice/Fame Academy/Popstar to Operastar.  These are all enjoyable in their way – but they get less and less enjoyable with each series.  At what point exactly will the entire TV viewing public shout at their TV set “ENOUGH!  I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE!”  There is, after all, less repetition when watching the BBC News channel, which shows us the same reports every hour.

What would I like in the place of these stalwarts?  I have no idea, and the problem seems to be that those in charge of the schedules don’t have much idea either.  Ideas and formats are always going to be recycled, but early evening viewing on BBC1 (centred around Casualty) seems to look the same now as it did 25 years ago, and eventually something has to give.  Surely a new schedule that avoids hospitals and police-dramas would be bliss?

On the plus side, the last of the Poirot books are being filmed as we speak, and so David Suchet will have to give up his impersonation of the Belgian detective at that point, after 14 series.  Unless, of course, ITV decides to transplant the character into a set of stories where he doesn’t belong at all…