[SPOILER ALERT: This article contains significant details from the movie Spider-Man: Far From Home]
Appearances can be deceiving.
We’ve all heard this line many times in our lives, and it can become cliche. “Of course, not everything is as it seems!” But we need that reminder from time to time in our lives. We need to be reminded to look beyond the illusions of outward appearances to uncover what is best for us and what we are called to. The plot of Spider-Man: Far From Home is based on this very truth.
The film takes place in the wake of the events of Avengers: Endgame. What is the world supposed to do in the absence of Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow?
Early in the film, Peter Parker receives a memento from the late Tony Stark, a pair of glasses with a note that says “to the next Iron Man.” The glasses contain an operating system called EDITH which gives Peter access to tremendous power, including the ability to access other people’s technology and control weapons systems.
Meanwhile, there is a new hero in town, codenamed Mysterio, who is from an alternate dimension and is fighting monsters based on the four elements. After working with him to combat the last monster, Peter decides that Mysterio is worthy of the glasses and their enormous power. He makes a judgment based on what he’s seen.
But appearances can be deceiving.
As soon as Peter Parker leaves the room, Mysterio reveals his true identity as a master of illusion who is trying to become the world’s next great superhero by creating artificial disasters that look and feel genuine. The monsters he fought were clever fabrications. Through his illusions, Mysterio hopes to win people to his side and to believe in his illustrious charade.
And even when Spider-Man realizes his great mistake in handing over such tremendous power to an inherently selfish man, he has to figure out what is real and what is an illusion. Mysterio and his crew can manipulate what people see and hear with relative ease, and they play into Spiderman’s greatest fears when he tries to stand in their way. Even in defeat, they can change others’ perceptions of reality through a clever narrative. What is Spider-Man left to do?
We face the same question. What do we do when appearances can be deceiving? How do we know if what looks good at first is really something that is unhealthy? Or harmful?
For example, I might think it is a good idea to work late into the night on a particular project because I’m in the zone. Sure it’s not urgent, but now I won’t have to worry about it the next day. It appears to me that getting the burden off my shoulders is exactly what I need. But instead, I find myself cranky the next morning because (surprise!) I did not get a good night’s sleep.
Was that really what I wanted? Was it what I needed? No, but it sure felt that way at the time. What would have been far better for me would have been to stop working at a reasonable hour, wind down, and get a good night’s rest so that I could go into work the next day refreshed instead of drained. The appearance of working ahead was actually an experience of overworking myself to my own detriment.
As another example, imagine walking down the street and encountering someone sitting on the sidewalk begging for change. The surface-level appearance might convey a person of little worth, discarded by society like the trash laying nearby. But our Christian faith reminds us that such appearances can be deceiving. In this person, we can encounter Christ himself.
Instead of looking away, you could stop to say hello, offer a granola bar or snack to eat, or introduce yourself and ask the person’s name. You might catch a real glimpse of the value that God sees in this human person, just because you didn’t make a judgment based on appearance.
At various points in our lives, what appears so clear at the moment actually hides the truth. Instead of just blindly going with the flow, we need to be people who look deeply at situations and people around us, because there might be something deeper below the surface influencing us: a desire for attention, the hope for perfection, or some preconceived prejudices.
Yes, appearances can be deceiving, but when we look deeply, we can start to see the reality in front of us. We will continue to make mistakes, misreading desires and making judgments, but we are not alone on our journey. In the film, Peter Parker had his friends who helped him see through the illusions. He was able to work together with others to overcome Mysterio and take up the torch of the superheroes who had gone before him. We too have our own systems of support along with the guidance of our faith to help us see more clearly and lead us towards what we really want and towards what we are really called to.