The spiritual and moral overtones in this retelling of the Superman saga are obvious. Superman was the first, and arguably most iconic, of the superheroes created by two Jewish authors, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Their story placed him within a Methodist family in Kansas when he arrived on earth who gave him a foundation of Christian moral values based on honoring God and country, attending church until he was a teenager and seeking pastoral counsel in moments when he needed guidance as an adult (http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/Superman.html). This description is basic to understanding who Superman is. Although modified in several ways that leave out many of these facts, in Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, our young super-man nevertheless seeks the guidance of a pastor in the moment before he battles to save earth from destruction, is overwhelmed with regret when he takes the life of his nemesis and is mocked by his enemy as being made weak by his morality.
Although it is easy to recognize the Christian symbolism of a father, Jor-el (Russell Crowe), sending his only-begotten son, Kal-el (Henry Cavill) to earth, the purpose of this sent son is not to save earth’s humanity but to save the genetic codes of his Kryptonite kin. Although El is Hebrew for God, Jor-el means God will Uplift/Teach, and Kal-el means Voice of God, it is clear that the intention of this father is not for humans to establish a relationship with himself or to claim that his son is an actual deity, and so the Christian symbolism ends here. Also, even though Jor-el’s son will have super strength based on the Earth’s younger sun and lessened gravity, Kal-el has no transcendence or power to deal with evil in any form except to fight violence with violence, which is something this film does to excess.
Also different from the original tale is the way Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is introduced. Rather than presenting her as a rather dense coworker on the Daily Planet newspaper who can’t recognize that the person at the next desk is the same with or without glasses, in this retelling, she is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who is the first human to uncover the truth about Kal-el and also becomes quickly romantically involved with him.
We won’t spoil the plot created by the team of writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises, Batman Begins), but their darker style of writing and their fascination with father issues is evident here as it was in the retelling of the story of Batman. The coming of age experience of young Kal-el as Clark Kent is made all the more conflicted because of the fear expressed by his adoptive father Jonathan (Kevin Costner). Thinking that his son will be rejected by a paranoid humanity, Jonathan requires his son to never show his secret, even if a person he could have saved dies. His human father’s permeating fear causes Kal-el to lose his way and become a vagabond in life until providence changes everything with an event that occurred twenty thousand years earlier.
Although the unending violence gets tiring and the lack of concern for the preservation of the people of Metropolis as buildings collapse repeatedly is a glaring failure in the tale, Superman’s desire to find his adult voice and purpose while honoring his moral values is a fascinating tale and this retelling will be a good foundation for the coming sequel. We look forward to it!
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The decision of the people of Krypton to clone their citizens and genetically design each person to fill a specific role in their society is rejected by Jor-el when he and his wife Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) choose to have a child, the first to be naturally born in thousands of years. They explain that they want their child to be free to choose his own path. Do you believe it is a God-given right for each person to freely choose their future or should government or science choose that for us? Why do you answer as you do? (Note: Ul in Hebrew means an infant.)
2. The feud between General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Jor-el is portrayed as one between the military and science. Do you believe there is a struggle between the military and science in human cultures? Why or why not? (Note: Zud in Hebrew means to boil or to rebel.)
3. When Jor-el placed the genetic codes of the Kryptonite race within the cells of Kal-el, he was hoping to save his people. How do you think this will be played out if Kal-el and Lois have children?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.