A recent third trip (of now a total of four trips) to see the new Spiderman, or Spider-Verse, gave rise to an interesting question. For those who haven’t seen it, the central topic in the latest installment of Spiderman is the multiverse1. ‘Latest installment’ is actually not quite the right wording, for multiple reasons, but that is another topic. The movie starts as do all Spiderman remakes — with a bite by a fugitive radioactive spider, an overnight transformation of overwhelming but ultimately controllable stature, romance… — but from there the story takes such a mind-boggling series of brilliant and original turns that only a serious science fan can full grasp what the hell is going on.
To spoil things, our new spiderman gets involved with the real spiderman who himself is involved in a tussle with the evil overlord Kingpin who wants to risk destroying the space-time continuum in an effort to bring back his dead wife and child by transporting copies of them from another universe with the help of an enormous collider built by the ruthless genius of Dr Octavius. In the beginning it goes well for Mr Deltoid: he delivers a namesake fatal blow to our original Spiderman, the experiments are going relatively well, and he has a genius on his side.
But alas, it’s not all smooth sailing for poor old Kingpin: one of his preliminary experiments secretly transported several other Spiderman-type superheroes, or Spiderpersons, from their universe to his — an ultimately catastrophic consequence. Driven by the mutual goal of getting home they team up in an effort to take down Kingpin. But is our newly-turned Spiderman ready? Has he come to grips with his powers yet? Will Myles deliver on his promise to the dying Spiderman that he would not let Kingpin run this project because, as Spiderman said, ‘it will ruin everything!’? Watch it and see.
The thought that occurred to me during the scene of a customary battle between Spiderman and Green Goblin was slightly startling (and no doubt inspired by recent watchings of Brooker’s Black Mirror). It was: Imagine the same thing happened to you as Kingpin, that is, your family dies in a terrible accident (though unlike Kingpin, you are not responsible, nor evil), and 10 years later a trustworthy genius scientist comes to you with a promise that she can put you into another universe in which your family are alive and well, having missed the accident by five minutes. She would simply replace the You in that universe with the You in your current universe, and your family would know no different. Whether you were to tell them or not is also up to you: it would make no difference. And let’s imagine this is actually real: the proposal is legitimate, the science is solid, and there are numerous successful examples of this exact line of code being run on other unfortunate people who’ve encountered tragedy earlier in life and wanted to change reality. What would you do?
This is obviously an impossible question to answer absent the context of the previous ten years of your life — whether you recovered, made more/new friends, built another family, succeeded in other areas of life etc — but like all seemingly trivial question, if pushed it can inspire questions of more precision and function, such as:
– If something were to happen like that today, what would you do? What about the house, the kids, the mortgage? Would you have to work longer hours, change job, quit altogether? Would you have to abandon my ambitions? What would they have wanted you to do? How do humans cope with events like these? Is there a blueprint; is there a right way? And other such practical, difficult, tear-drawing questions.
– Are you expressing fully how much person X means to you when you spend time with or speak to them?
– Are you living in such a way that they can turn to you if something happens to them?
– Does your view of the world make room for the fact that we are all fragile, fallible beings who are guaranteed to suffer a significant amount of heartbreak and tragedy in life?
– How often do you think about love, compassion, fun, and play as driving forces capable of unfathomable feats, as opposed to rage, hatred, intolerance, and coercion?
– Are you living meaningfully — not a happy, satisfactory existence but one of courage and excitement that, despite having many challenges, on the whole makes for a rich and purposeful experience?
A useful and perhaps better posing of the final question is to ask yourself of all the things of your past that make you proud today (or that give you a pronounced feeling of joy when thinking about them), how did you feel at the time those things were happening, really? Try to put yourself back in the subjective experience of the time when you were actually at primary school, or building your business etc. Quite likely, it wasn’t very enjoyable. We have a tendency to pull only the positives from past experiences, such as ‘the “golden days” of school’, when in reality they were frustrating, boring, difficult, and something we wouldn’t want to do all over again.
Building a business is a great example: in the world today there exists a ton of problems that are solvable because we have the knowledge. The stumbling block, primarily, is execution — because it requires dealing with a considerable amount of uncertainty; because it demands rapid solving of often tricky problems; because, especially in business, it involves humans, who are uniquely complicated beings. Ideas are a dime a dozen; execution is the great filter.
Now, why this thought was inspired by and metal plate dropping on Green Goblin’s head, I don’t know. My answer to it is also that I don’t know. What I think I do know is that I wouldn’t want to be asked. I mean, can you imagine a husband… from one universe… meeting an exact copy of his wife… in another universe, and making it work…?
You can also flip the question around to something like: there’s a 50% chance that in ten years such technology would be available, would you put your life on hold in order to minimise any hesitancy later on (say, because you might build a life that you won’t want to leave behind)? What about a 100% chance?
Anyway, this movie is fantastic and highly recommended. If you’re evenly remotely interested in Marvel, superheroes, comics, you’ll very likely love it. But if you just want to see true originality in the flesh, go and watch it. It’s the first of its kind, a game changer; it’s a quake movie no doubt. We’ll be talking about it for decades. From the subtle but memorable injections of humour (Myles’ dad forcing an ‘I love you Dad’ in front of the whole school, Uncle Aaron’s shoulder touch, Myles’ initial reaction to watching a skincrawlingly ugly spider dip its fangs into his hand, the appearance and demeanour of Kingpin…) to the scenes that spoke so directly to our everyday experience (a child going through puberty, trying to make sense of the world, slave to the archaic education customs of tests and expectations; a confused parent who only wants the best but is seemingly making things worse; the awkwardness of mutual attraction; the sudden death of a loved one…) to the visionary production, it’s one I’ll be watching again very soon.
- For those who don’t know what that is, imagine another world out there somewhere in which exactly the same story is unfolding as the story in this world, except for a very slight, trivial difference: in that imaginary world you drank tea this morning instead of coffee, or vice versa; or, to make it more pertinent, right now in that imagined world there is a spider crawling on your hand, whereas in this world there isn’t.