Three years after making The Amazing Spider-Man 2, director Marc Webb has a new film, Gifted, in theaters. Telling the story of a young man (Chris Evans) raising his brilliant young niece (Mckenna Grace), the film is very different in scale, genre and tone and tone from the filmmaker’s last two projects… but it actually does have one thing in common. Spider-Man has spent decades grappling with the idea “with great power comes great responsibility,” and also actually an important moral argument within the narrative of Gifted.
In the new movie, the young girl, Mary, finds herself torn between two guardians with very different philosophies. Her uncle, Frank, who has raised her since she was a baby, wants her to have a normal education and life, while her estranged grandmother, Evelyn, wants to foster her with private tutors and an exclusive upbringing. I brought up the idea of Spider-Man’s mantra being applied to Gifted when I spoke with Marc Webb on the phone last week, and he not only agreed, but explained where both the power and responsibility rest within the film. Said Webb,
The people with power in this situation are Evelyn and Frank. They’re really the ones with that responsibility. A kid that has that kind of ability, they’re not old enough or mature enough to make those decisions. They need people who are protective of them. You see kids getting exploited — even child actors who have this magnificent talent can very quickly disappear into maw of Hollywood. That’s something on this movie we were really aware of. Whether or not this kid has something to offer the world is something that the kid has to decide down the road. She’s not ready to make those decisions. She needs people who will protect and foster and nourish her in a way that will allow her to develop into a complete person.
While Peter Parker is generally seen as old and mature enough to make his own decisions about vigilantism in Spider-Man comics and movies, the age of Mckenna Grace’s character definitely puts a different spin on the situation. As Marc Webb points out, when she is old enough she should be able to make her own decisions about the directions she wants to go in life — whether it be a career within academia or outside of it — but she’s not ready for that. Instead, all of her power rests in the hands of those who can properly teach her how to both use her genius and live a normal life, which in Gifted‘s case is her conflicting uncle and grandmother.
Taking the messages of Spider-Man and Gifted to the next level, Marc Webb went on to note that the conflicts that are explored in his new movie are very real. Clearly illustrating his research into the subject in the making of the film, Webb told me about the extreme consequences that can come as a result of a genius child being raised in the wrong environment:
This is a very true thing. There are different kinds of philosophies for raising gifted children. Gifted children can be put into schools and pulled out from schools — and their social skills will get zapped! They won’t know how to interact with other kids, they don’t pick up on social queues very well. It can be very, very disturbing for them once they enter the world. This is a documented truth about some of the schools. However, there a lot of programs and situations with differentiated teaching that can maintain a high level of social interaction as well as engaging the child. That takes a lot of resources often, and not every school program has those resources or have that training. But it is something that’s out there and it’s something to aspire to. And there are other gifted programs in schools that are really magnificent!
Because every child and situation is different, Marc Webb continued noting that there are not cut and dry answers in the film, but affirmed that the big questions about power and responsibility are important. Said the director,
It’s impossible to take a systemic position on those things. In terms of moral responsibility it’s a really wonderful question, but I think first and foremost that kid has to be protected. And then when they’re a certain age they can make those decisions.