Spider-Man – A Divided Man

Theological Reflection

Poor Peter Parker. He never wanted to be Spider-Man. That little radioactive spider descended from above, bit his hand, and caught him up in a web of superpowered internal and external conflict he was not prepared for. All Peter wanted was to be noticed by Mary Jane. Instead, he got “great power” and the “great responsibility” that came with it.

Nothing much has changed for Peter as the second Spider-Man movie begins. He’s struggling to reconcile his responsibilities as Spider-Man with his desire for a normal life with Mary Jane. It doesn’t help that he sees her everywhere he goes looking down on him from perfume ads on billboards and plastered across city walls. He can’t be with her, and he can’t escape her either.

He’s also terribly disconnected from his aunt. He’s surprised to find that she is losing the house, because she can’t make her mortgage payments. He can’t help her, and she even gives him money, because he needs it more than she does. Spider-Man keeps Peter from being present with everyone he cares about.

All this inner turmoil isn’t doing much for his Spider-Manning either. Peter is a conflicted man, and his conflict is manifesting itself in webshooters that don’t shoot web when they’re most needed and spidey grip that act as if it’s been coated in teflon. Peter is slipping up and falling down all over the place.

It doesn’t help that a new terror is wreaking havoc on the city. Af first, Dr. Otto Octavius is everything Peter wants to be – married to the woman he loves, successful, well-respected, and about to change the world. Then, Dr. Octavius becomes Doctor Octopus, a manifestation of Peter’s greatest fear. Doc Ock is a man taken over by his alter ego. He is made mad by his great power. His normal life is destroyed, and he becomes only his superpowered self.

Finally, Peter has had enough. After a late night, imagined conversation with his deceased Uncle Ben, Peter decides he won’t be Spider-Man any longer. He gives up the suit and steps into a new day.

His new post-superhero life seems wonderful at first. He’s making better grades, showing up for Mary Jane’s performances, and generally just getting along well with everyone. He’s a normal guy, doing normal things, and feeling pretty good about it.

Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last long. He’s reminded constantly of Spider-Man’s responsibilities – saving people, stopping crimes, and giving the world a little hope. He can’t get back what he’s lost either. Mary Jane is still going to marry someone else. Aunt Mae still has to move, and she’s still doing it without Peter’s help.

Peter Parker can’t win. He can’t keep his identities separate and maintain either of them. Eventually, he has to confess to his aunt that he is responsible in part for his uncle’s death. He also has to turn Mary Jane down when she expresses her love for him, because he knows he is only half a man without Spider-Man. He can’t be true to her if he’s not true to himself. Of course, that’s when Doc Ock shows up again and forces Peter to embrace Spider-Man to save Mary Jane. Finally, he has to reveal his true identity to Mary Jane – he has to integrate his dueling identities – to save the day and live a balanced life.

Peter Parker’s problem isn’t particular to superheroes. He is in the midst of a Role Conflict. His two roles in life – as Peter Parker and as Spider-Man – are in conflict with each other because he is trying to keep them separate. He has to bring them together, to reconcile his roles, before he can fulfill his responsibilities and reconcile with everyone he is beholden to, both his friends and family and the city.

Compromises must be made by everyone. This movie doesn’t give much time for this to develop, but Mary Jane is going to have to be okay with Peter swinging out the window often to save the day. Peter is going to have to be okay with not always being there for his friends. The city is going to have to cut Spider-Man a break, because after all, “he’s just a kid,” as the people in the train say after he’s saved them.

Would it be easier if Peter could just choose between being Peter or Spider-Man? Yes. It would. Life would be simpler for everyone. But he can’t do that, because it is not who he is. He is both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. To be himself is to negotiate between the two.

This is exactly the kind of conflict Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians when he is writing about marriage. He writes that it’s easier to be single, because a single woman or man only has one responsibility – to God. A married person has two responsibilities – to God and to her or his spouse.

A married person isn’t going to be able to serve God with as much freedom as a single person. Imagine Peter could just be Spider-Man. He could swing through the city and fight crime without worrying about anything else. A single person can serve Christ with similar abandon.

On the other hand, if Peter lived solely as Spider-Man he would never know the normalcy of a life lived married to Mary Jane. He’d be constantly in peril, constantly disconnected, and constantly alone. He would need other people whom he could trust whom he could open up to about his struggles. He’d need places to rest, pieces of cake, and glasses of milk. He could do it, and his life would be simpler, but he would still need help from his community.

Western Christianity is very focused on marriage and families. We could do a much better job caring for the single people amongst us and especially those who aren’t seeking marriage. Purposeful singleness is practically without a place in many of our communities. Just as it would be easier for Peter to just be Spider-Man, it would be easier, ultimately, for Christians to remain single, but other Christians don’t make it easy for people to choose that path.

To continue this discussion, married people are not represented here by Peter Parker sans Spider-Man. Married people are represented by Peter Parker and Mary Jane at the end of the movie, or at least they can be if they are enabled to integrate their responsibilities to God and to their spouses.

Our society often expects married people to give up their ability to take risks, to have responsibilities to something other than the family, to maybe save the day. Paul isn’t advocating for this kind of marriage in 1 Corinthians. Paul is simply stating that married Christians are going to have to negotiate between their two devotions. They’re going to have to unify them into something new.

Peter is able to jump out that window at the end of the movie because Mary Jane understands that he has a more complicated calling – to her and to the city. She frees him to be both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Husbands and wives should do the same for their spouses. They should free them to fulfill their callings and support them in those endeavors. Churches should help spouses love each other in this way. Christians should remind one another that compromises will be required on both sides. God understands. We need to be more understanding of each other.

Once, in a rare moment of clarity, the disciples, admitting that marriage is difficult, remark to Jesus that it would be easier, perhaps, to stay single. You can almost hear the humor in Jesus’ voice as he responds wryly, “That’s true, but that fact is difficult to accept.”

Two thousand years later, both marriage and singleness are still difficult. We need to do all we can to care for each other regardless of our marital status. We need to enable each other be both Spider-Man and Peter Parker, because there’s a world out there that could use our help.

Key Scenes

Clip 1

Clip 2

Discussion Questions


Watch Clip 1, and read 1 Corinthians 7:7-11, 32-35.

1) Why is Peter happy by the end of this scene?
2) Why does Paul tell his readers that it’s better to be single than married?
3) How can we better care for our single friends?

Watch Clip 2.

1) Why is this a happy ending?
2) How does Mary Jane help Peter fulfill his responsibilities as Spider-Man?
3) Does marriage require us to compromise our callings or does it enrich them? How?


Watch Clip 1, and read 1 Corinthians 7:7-11, 32-35.

1) Why is Peter happy by the end of this scene?
2) Why does Paul tell his readers that it’s better to be single than married?
3) Who are our families single friends? How can we better care for them?

Watch Clip 2.

1) How are Mary Jane and Peter working together as the movie end?
2) Do you ever feel like being in our family is limiting? How so?
3) How can we each help each other fulfill our callings?


Watch Clip 1, and read 1 Corinthians 7:7-11, 32-35.

1) Why is Peter happy at the end of this scene?
2) Would you rather be single or dating? Why?
3) How can we be good friends to our single friends even if we’re dating someone?

Watch Clip 2.

1) How do Mary Jane and Peter support one another as the movie ends?
2) How is this a good relationship? What is it lacking?
3) If you want to be married one day, what do you want your marriage to look like?


As this guide deals explicitly with matters of marriage and singleness, we don’t feel it is applicable to young children.

Scripture and Related Resources

I wish all people were like me, but each has a particular gift from God: one has this gift, and another has that one. I’m telling those who are single and widows that it’s good for them to stay single like me. But if they can’t control themselves, they should get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. I’m passing on the Lord’s command to those who are married: A wife shouldn’t leave her husband, but if she does leave him, then she should stay single or be reconciled to her husband. And a man shouldn’t divorce his wife… I want you to be free from concerns. A man who isn’t married is concerned about the Lord’s concerns—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the world’s concerns—how he can please his wife. His attention is divided. A woman who isn’t married or who is a virgin is concerned about the Lord’s concerns so that she can be dedicated to God in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the world’s concerns—how she can please her husband. I’m saying this for your own advantage. It’s not to restrict you but rather to promote effective and consistent service to the Lord without distraction.
(1 Corinthians 7:7-11, 32-35)