It’s funny that I am always drawn to tentpole movies by trailers full of bombast and spectacle but then consistently walk away being most blown away by the intimate character moments. I never learn from this, which explains why despite knowing that after seeing Iron Man I was most effected by the scenes with Jensen in the cave, my exitement for Iron Man 3 revolves around the huge scale action set pieces shown in the trailer. Anyway that’s just me being a sucker for the movie marketing machine, but was also a way of me setting up my examination of the above titled scene in the Sam Raimi Spiderman film.
The cleverest thing about the scene is that it is the actual point from which Peter Parker changes. He’s obviously been through the spider bite transformation before now, but the real story of Peter Parker is how he grows from a somewhat naïve, lovelorn high schooler, to a self sacrificing, moralistic hero. This is the scene that sets him on that course, which means it is essentially the most important scene in the film. Thanks to the incredible dialogue, performances and intelligently stripped back direction it is able to carry that weight of importance with aplomb.
Uncle Ben pulls the car over and turns off the engine to talk to Peter. We already know he’s had to drive from Queens to central Manhattan so they could have spoken on the way but didn’t. This tells us the real concern and love Uncle Ben has for Peter; he has obviously been mulling his thoughts over all the way there, desperate to ensure that Peter is ok and that he says the right things. It’s easy to imagine the car ride as it must have been, in awkward silence with both characters staring at the road.
As the conversation starts it is obvious Peter just wants to get out of the car. He says “we can talk later” and then “what do we have to talk about right now?” – knowing that they actually have plenty to talk about. So we know that Peter is going to be short with Ben.
Though he remains respectful and not at all petulent with his retorts, there is that feeling that he wants to get going and win the money to buy the car to impress MJ, hence adding to his subsequent guilt when Uncle Ben *spoiler alert* is murdered.
It is clear from Peter’s reactions that he knows in his heart Uncle Ben is giving him good advice. Ben says “these are the years when a man changes into the man he’ll become for the rest of his life” and instead of snapping back straight away Peter takes a breath and looks down; he knows his Uncle is right. But as his Uncle continues to talk Peter’s eyes start to wander and it becomes obvious he just needs to get away. The frustration at the time this conversation is taking, coupled with his guilt about going to the wrestling match rather than the library means that when Ben finally utters those incredible words “with great power comes great responsibility” Peter has had enough. He reacts angrily, and therefore wrongly. His line “stop lecturing me please” is all classic teenager; totally irrational in the face of wisdom. It also feels uncharacteristic based on Ben’s reaction to it. Ben lowers his head, as if he has overstepped his mark and let down his adopted son.
Then comes the real crunch of the scene.
Ben: I know I’m not your father
Peter: Then stop pretending to be!
The reaction on Peter’s face to his own words is incredible. Regret washes over him; he cannot take back those words or even atone for them….not right now anyway. It’s also a powerful line for us as an audience. Not only do we recognise that Uncle Ben has done nothing to deserve these heartbreaking words, but we are shocked they even came out of Peter’s mouth at all. Do you remember when you first saw it? I do, and even now when I rewatch the film I realise my face is similar to Peter’s; wide eyed at first and then descending into that strained silence of solemn regret.
It is impact of the highest order and is handled so incredibly well that we wholly understand why Peter ends up becoming the man he needed to be. Ben’s words about responsibilty echo (sometimes literally) throughout this film and its sequels and provide the motivation for Peter to do what is right whilst giving him the strength he needs to endure.
This scene is less then 2 minutes long, but has stayed with me for over 11 years now. That’s powerful stuff! And you know what Uncle Ben would say about that!!!