Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

So many things seem to me wrong about [the killing of the hapless spider at the end of This Sporting Life], it is hard to know where to begin to criticize—or better still, exorcise—such an image. On the simplest and most literal level, unless one is trying to document lapses of sanitation under the National Health, one doesn't find spiders in hospital rooms. The spider is out of place there. It doesn't belong. It's an intrusion, an imposition, an importation.

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Perhaps a more serious breach of art, however, is the fact that this spider isn't even an accurate image for the dilemma in which Anderson's rugby player finds himself. Where is the capricious hand of fate that crushes him? It doesn't exist in the film Anderson made…. Frank is the victim of his own character, not of the gods or fate—a smalltime Macbeth or Lear, not Oedipus or Agamemnon. To dramatize his catastrophe with this crushed spider is to play him false.

Unfortunately, Anderson's … O Lucky Man! is an attempt to make a whole movie about that spider. (pp. 501-02)

In This Sporting Life the image of the spider was at least inappropriate. We had seen a pretty good film until we got to the spider, and if his sequence was disconcerting, we could just throw it out without having to throw out the rest of the film as well. When Anderson clouts Michael with the script [in O Lucky Man!], however, the gesture is all too apt. This is exactly what Anderson has been doing to his hero throughout O Lucky Man!—interfering with him, playing the hand of fate in his life. But I doubt that Anderson sees it that way. On the contrary, he seems to think of Michael as someone he has endowed with a quite independent life, a life that almost has some objective existence. The retroactive effect of putting the casting session at the end of the film is to suggest that everything which went before is not Anderson's fantasy at all. It is, rather, a set of real experiences that have led up to Anderson's fantasies and prepared Michael to enact them.

There is something not a little egomaniacal and selfish in this conceit. It makes the whole film seem the sort of mistake a man makes when he has told some fish story for so long that he has begun to believe it himself….

Can Anderson really think that his making a film about the ills of the world will cure them, or at least compensate us who suffer them? O Lucky Man, to have such a gift to bestow. (p. 502)

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., "The Spider's Stratagem," in Commonweal (copyright © 1973 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. XCVIII, No. 21, September 21, 1973, pp. 501-02.

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