The Hidden Protagonist



Spider1Elysium has been playing on my mind a lot recently.  In my review, I mentioned that this film has depths.  The longer I am left with it, the more I see.  Yesterday morning I realised just what an important character Spider is, how the film would not work without him, how the ending could not be without him.
Spider is Elysium’s hidden hero, the hidden protagonist.

I’ve read Spider being described in a number of ways; ‘an underground leader’, ‘a Robin Hood’, ‘a revolutionary hacker’ and ‘a smuggler’.  He is all these things.  From his first scene in Elysium, ordering the shuttles to take off and then watching in horror as two are shot down, to threatening Max when he asks for a free ticket to Elysium, to that moment when the realisation hits that everybody can be saved, and then when everyone is saved.  Spider is an intelligent, tough, brave and visionary character.

Excellently acted (from the relatively unknown Wagner Moura), you can tell how much being in control of illegal shuttles to Elysium weighs on Spider (later telling Max that every day children come to him asking to be sent to Elysium).  This is a man who doesn’t just do it for the money.  He cares.  He lives off people’s hopes and dreams but he genuinely wants to help them.

Like all inhabitants of Earth, he has a dislike of the wealthy living on Elysium so he isn’t scared of robbing, hijacking or even killing them.  Especially if it helps his cause.  His intelligence and way with technology gives him numerous opportunities to break into Elysium’s systems, from stealing shuttle codes to hacking through their security.  The only thing that truly holds Spider back is his damaged leg.

It may be that his disability is the only reason Spider doesn’t hijack the Elysium citizen himself, and his nervous reactions while watching the job certainly suggest this.  It is why he leaps on the opportunity that Max provides him.  Max is a man with nothing to lose and so the only person that Spider can convince to take on the job.

The next main scene with Spider is fascinating.  With the skies above LA closed, Spider knows that Max has something in his head and he’s excited to know what it could be.  Of course, he couldn’t dream of what Max actually has and Moura plays the assimilation of this information in Spider brilliantly, as he first tells Max that this will save him, before realising that it will save everybody.  His horror at Max simply handing himself over again shows his care is genuine – if this information falls into the wrong hands they could block us out for good, he says.  ‘We would control the system, we would be in charge.’  Note, he doesn’t say ‘I’, like Kruger does.

Spider shows his bravery as he follows Max up to Elysium and throws himself at Kruger when Max is unable to stand.  Although perhaps a little reckless, he could have easily have been killed and he is the only character who knows how to transfer the information from Max’s head.  Equally, he could have easily killed Max without a second thought to take control of Elysium.  Instead he frets that Max will be killed in the process, he pauses despite the droids knocking down the doors, and he relinquishes the control to Max.

Elysium max and spiderSpider wants the poor classes to have control of Elysium and I get the distinct impression from this that an unhealthy fate awaits the wealthy on Elysium.  I also think that Spider would create a democracy because that is one of the lasting impressions I took away from the film.  That all of the people on Earth are bound together, they’re in it together and they will help each other no matter what (there are no uncomfortable, violent scenes between people of the lower class other than Max becoming desperate and threatening Spider).  This story really is about ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Without Max, the story of Elysium couldn’t play out.  But without Spider, the story couldn’t happen at all.  Without Spider, Max would simply die on Earth and his story would be mundane.  Spider is the visionary, he has the ideas, the knowledge and the weapons.  Max is simply the vessel.  At the beginning of the film a nun tells little Max that he has the potential to change the world, and it is his sacrifice that saves Earth.  But it couldn’t have been done without Spider.

I’ve been trying to think of other examples of hidden protagonists in fiction and film – those characters without whom our heroes would fail miserably.  Can you think of any?  Leave me a comment or send me a tweet.

2 responses to “The Hidden Protagonist

  1. Pingback: Straying from the obvious: Secondary characters | J E Nice·

  2. Pingback: My top three films of 2013 | J E Nice·

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