1. A Simple Plan’s internal framing conveys increasing isolation and entrapment.
Hank and Sarah have married bliss, with her as madonna.
When Hank forces his way into the plane, we see his face through a mesh....
...duplicating the shot of the fox breaking through chicken wire into the hen house.
The money comes between Hank and Sarah.
The comfortable space they think they're securing is small and lonely, surrounded by emptiness.
The money burns in the hearth, as the enraged Sarah looks on.
Hank returns to a dead end job and loveless marriage.
Sam Raimi has always pulled for the working stiff. In his Evil Dead trilogy (1982-1993), he transformed Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams from a clerk at a K-Mart knock-off into a crusader protecting civilization from the forces of darkness, despite the best efforts of the devil and his boss. Like many artists who spend their lives working in supposedly lowbrow forms such as crime novels and superhero sagas, Raimi knows how the conventions of genre provide a perfect palette for depicting social ills in broad strokes. Cornerstones of the roman noir such as James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) or important comics like Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow (1970-1972) often struck at the heart of the most pressing issues of their times—poverty, class warfare, corporate corruption, racism.
At the same time, they never sacrificed what kept readers coming back to the drugstore racks for the next hardboiled original or four-color extravaganza. Readers wanted fast-paced stories and gripping plots filled with hardened drifters drinking themselves straight to their graves, lovesick blondes spilling out of their cheap cocktail dresses, Technicolor villains scheming the end of the world, or steel-jawed men in tights beating the crap out of each other. Two of Raimi’s latest films, A Simple Plan (1998) and Spider-Man (2002), do the same thing. These two films are very different on the surface, one a low-budget, arthouse, crime film and the other a blockbuster superhero flick, but they both succeed both cinematically, full of action and suspense that keep our eyes onscreen, and morally, reflecting the grim choices in life that everyday working folk have to confront.
A Simple Plan is a low budget, character driven drama, Spider-Man a record breaking, CGI extravaganza. Together the two are surprisingly subversive. They address the ruthless selfishness that’s made our society, especially its poorer segment, into a war of every man for himself, and they focus on the effect of that ruthlessness, and perhaps also a cause of it, in that most sacrosanct of institutions, the family. Both films’ central characters are confronted in the starkest terms with the same hard choice between doing what they think is best for their loved ones and doing what they know is right. In A Simple Plan Hank Mitchell and in Spider-Man Peter Parker, a couple of working class guys, are tempted by the sudden possibility of riches. Hank discovers by chance a bag full of kidnap ransom, and Peter gains superhuman powers that seem to promise limitless wealth and fame. In A Simple Plan Hank feels forced into an amoral course of action by the responsibility of his own new fatherhood (and by the example of his own failed father). In more cartoonish fashion, in Spider-Man Peter has the same dilemma foisted on him by a grotesque, demonic father figure.
And both films’ main characters learn, through loss and grief, that by trying to protect and enrich their own at everyone else’s expense, they lose everything. Hank is a human character we can identify with, decent but corruptible. In A Simple Plan, he makes the same kinds of choices most of us have had to make offscreen. He turns on his neighbor and compromises himself to ensure a better future for his family, only to see everything that was good in his life irredeemably sullied and lost. In Spider-Man Peter, a hero in a comic-book fable, learns from his loss before it’s too late. He sees that the choice offered is a false one and refuses to make it.