JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

3. The Green Goblin

Norman Osborne designs futuristic weapons at Oscorp...

....including the spider that bites and transforms Peter.

The generals don't like the demo of the new weapons Norman is designing for them so...

...he experiments with the serum on himself and becomes...

....the Green Goblin.

The Green Goblin threatens Peter’s editor and when Spider-Man appears, paralyzes the hero with a toxic gas developed at Oscorp.

On a rooftop, Norman as Green Goblin tries to get the immobilized Spider-Man to join him.

The film glories in comic book scenes of Spider-Man’s prowess.

The Green Goblin holds a cable car in one hand and Mary Jane in the other, and tells Spider-Man to choose which to save. Both fall toward the ground at once.

The Goblin’s Dilemma as reflected in Spider-Man’s eyes.

The Goblin cannot act any further because the common people stone him.

In their final fight on another rooftop, the Green Goblin, here unmasked as Norman, makes a pathetic dying plea to Spider-Man: “Don't tell Harry.”

 

Stormin’ Norman

Norman Osborne has his own shameful secret identity—the Green Goblin. Taunting alter ego Norman for his repression and weakness, the Goblin describes his own job:

To say what you can’t. To do what you won’t.

But the Green Goblin isn’t just an incarnation of the capering Id unbound, like Edward Hyde. In this film the Green Goblin is a distinctly lower-class alter ego. For example, although corporate founder Norman Osborne speaks with a cultured Mid-Atlantic accent, when he becomes the Goblin he suddenly reverts to a low comedy Bronx growl with the voice of a cartoon cab driver or construction worker. Listen to the way the Green Goblin says “I suh-rendah!” to the cops, raising his arms in mock compliance, before he clobbers them all. This is the voice of Norman’s own original self, the rough working class kid he’s successfully smoothed over.

Norman shares some other vestigial traits with those whom he considers his social inferiors. Mary Jane’s drunken father tells her:

You’ll always be trash, just like her [her mother]!

Norman, who also takes to drinking alone, repeats the same slur, telling his son that Mary Jane will turn out just like his mother. (Notice that Harry’s dead mother, seen in a portrait in Norman’s home, was a red-haired beauty like Mary Jane.) He snarls, lapsing into the Goblin’s voice:

Do what you need to with her, then broom her fast.

This is the crudest, most blatant expression of Norman’s capitalist, exploitative attitude toward people in general: Use them and discard them. For all his trappings of wealth and success, his suits and manners, underneath it all Norman is still as much a mean drunk as M.J.’s dad. He hasn’t left the vulgarity and thuggishness of his roots behind. Now he’s merely sublimated them to the Goblin’s mercenary purposes.

Which brings us to the other way that the Goblin outs Norman’s real nature. Norman tells Aunt May after getting in from another day of setting tenements on fire and hurling bombs as the Green Goblin:

Work was murder.

This is the sort of heavy handed double entendre we’ve come to expect in Hollywood action flicks, but this line has a double edge. The Green Goblin’s work literally is murder, of course. But just as literally so is Norman Osborne’s. Norman works as a defense contractor, inventing more efficient, higher-tech means of destruction. The serum that gives him superhuman strength and all his outlandish weapons were developed by Norman’s legitimate business for the U.S. government. His son’s nickname for him is “Stormin’ Norman,” like Norman Schwarzkopf, the architect of Desert Storm.

The first thing Norman does as the Goblin is to kill one of his researchers, who publicly voiced some reservations about the dangerous side effects of one of Oscorp’s products. Norman first appears in the Goblin’s armor immediately after he’s been forced out of the company he founded. He swoops into a meeting of executives and generals assembled for a demonstration for a rival contractor’s flying exoskeleton prototype; flying in on his stolen rocket sled Norman blows the other weapon up. Talk about making an aggressive move against a competitor. Later he turns the board of directors who have ousted him into skeletons.

The point is that the Goblin isn’t just spreading random mayhem for the fun of it. His strategic strikes and assassinations follow a corporate agenda. It’s the continuation of office politics by other means. And, at the risk of stretching things, we might point out that Norman Osborne’s alter ago is green. Green is traditionally the color of the supernatural (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) but also, in American culture, it’s the color of money and opportunity (like the green light that inspires the young roughneck Jimmy Gatz to invent his own alter ego, Jay Gatsby). The Goblin presents us with a caricature of what the “self-made man” has to make himself into in order to make it in the corporate world. He needs to become a vicious rogue who pursues his own interests with manic single mindedness. He’s heedless of the collateral damage he inflicts, whether they’re casualties abroad or laid off workers like Uncle Ben.

At one point the Goblin whisks Spiderman off to share with him his personal philosophy, a sort of Nietzscheism as interpreted by Trump or Madonna:

Here’s the real truth: there are eight million people in this city, and those teeming masses exist for the sole purpose of lifting the few exceptional people onto their shoulders. You and me, we’re exceptional. I’m offering you a choice: join me. Imagine what we could accomplish together, what we could create, what we could destroy.

This scene, set on a rooftop overlooking the sparkling towers of Manhattan, is the comic book equivalent of the Temptation, where the Devil offered Christ “all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor.” It’s the same bribe that capitalism holds out to its best and brightest, the Worldly treasures of illimitable wealth and power. If we look past the lurid masks in this scene, we see a member of the corporate elite offering all the rewards of success to his young protégé if only the youth will get with the program already and quit bucking the system. When Spiderman rebukes his offer, the Goblin resorts to terrorizing Peter’s Aunt May and kidnapping Mary Jane. The Goblin attacks Parker’s family because he calculates that Peter’s attachment to them will overpower any other scruples, as it has already done with Norman (and as it did with Hank Mitchell in A Simple Plan). A true capitalist, the Green Goblin assumes that everyone is as purely motivated by self interest as he is, and can be manipulated accordingly. The Green Goblin doesn’t want to kill Spider-Man. He wants the same thing Norman Osborne wants— to bribe or blackmail Peter Parker into becoming as amoral as he is.

Using the conventions of the comic book genre to tremendous effect in the climatic confrontation between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Raimi starkly illustrates the cruel choice our self-centered capitalist society demands we make. Spider-Man finds the Goblin atop the Brooklyn Bridge, dangling M.J. from one hand and a cable car full of children from the other. “This is why only fools are heroes,” he explains. “Because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice: let die the woman you love—or—suffer the little children!” The choice confronting Peter Parker is made visually literal as the Goblin drops them both; we see Mary Jane and the cable car plummeting in slow motion, each reflected in one of Spider-Man’s mirrored eyes.

We might call it The Goblin’s Dilemma: the choice between the people we love most, our family, and the rest of society. Norman Osborne has already made his choice: the advancement of his own family at the expense of those faceless foreigners against whom his company’s deadly hardware will be used. Hank Mitchell makes the same choice in A Simple Plan, stealing and lying and even killing his neighbors to ensure his own wife and child’s material comfort. It’s the choice most people make—to create the best life they can for themselves and their families. In our society, it’s an unassailable justification for almost anything, given as a defensive excuse for conducting unethical business, exploiting others, ignoring the hungry, the homeless, the foreigners we bomb. Protect your own and to hell with everyone else: that’s the Goblin’s Law, and he expects his adversary to do the same thing.

Spider-Man, however, dives off the bridge, shooting a web to break his fall and swooping around to catch them both. He refuses to make the choice, because his uncle’s murder has shown him that the Goblin’s Dilemma is a false one. Your personal interests are not separate from society’s; to protect your own loved ones, you have to fight for justice in the world. To save Uncle Ben, you have to stop that thief; for your family’s sake, you cannot steal the four million. Spider-Man hangs there suspended, desperately holding onto M.J. and the cable car, torn between his love and his responsibility, as though they might pull him apart.


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