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November 1, 2015

S ManIt’s twenty-five years old and means more today than ever. One of the best-crafted blockbusters of all time, Superman is a much deeper film than you may remember. A Christ metaphor that actually works without being either cheesy or too literalist, the movie illustrates the inexplicable biblical adage that “In weakness is strength made perfect.” Superman’s father has a great speech that is worth remembering, when he says of the human race: “They can be a great people, they need to be, they only need the light to show the way    for this reason, above all,
their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.” The film also underlines something of the nature of being both human and divine when it says that Superman will be “near invincible, but vulnerable.” Cheesy, perhaps, but very true. Let’s briefly reflect on the wealth of spiritual metaphor in this film:

  • Superman learns his destiny in solitude where he discusses with his father the nature of things; like the rest of us, his first and most important question is “Who am I?”
  • He is told to live among humans “to discover where your strength is needed:”
  • He doesn’t always use his strength, but enables others to make right decisions.
  • He is reminded that we humans “will call upon you for help, even when they don’t need you; it is their habit to abuse their resources in this way.”
  • And at one point a character says, “I’ve never been able to make sense of violence in any form?’

He is more like Jesus than many of us think. His strength is made perfect in weakness. I used to respond to this film primarily as an example of fantasy wish-fulfilment. I mean, if I could take a girl for a night flight over Manhattan, I’d have no trouble getting dates … But when I watched it as part of my research for this book, I saw much more than that. When Superman finally reverses the earth’s orbit to save the one he loves, he is turning back time. Redeeming time, if you will. This invokes the cross of Christ, as a moment unequalled in human history, where the past, present, and future were all cosmically resolved in an instant. This interpretation of Superman may have developed in my mind because I have lost all sense of objectivity and have begun to see Christ metaphors around every corner. Perhaps, but I think I’ll take my Kryptonite Christ metaphors over superficial super-heroism any day. In How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films,  p.141f

Another interesting fantasy example of this kind of cinema gospel parallel is found in the first 20 minutes of Richard Donner’s Superman — The Movie (1978). Mario Puzo’s screenplay is quite explicit in its use of Johannine language about the relationship between Father and Son as a way of establishing the super-human origins of Superman in Krypton and of how he will be different from human beings as he descends to earth to be one with them.

He is like ordinary people. He is also not like ordinary  eople. But his presence challenges and changes their lives. Just as Jesus came

to the small and insignificant town of Nazareth (“can anything good come out of Nazareth?” is Nathanael’s skeptical question to Philip in Jn 1:47), so Superman arrived in Smallville, was found by his foster-parents, the Kents, adopted and

brought up in a hidden life until he was about 30 when he was ready to go out into the world and work.) “Incarnation” is, then, a staple both of religious stories and tales of popular culture. Explorations in Theology and Film: Movies and Meaning – ed. Clive Marsh & Gaye Ortiz pp. 80f

House of El, Jor-El – El as in Hebrew name for God?

“All that power, and I couldn’t even save him!”.

Form its time, the special effects are very complex. The credits sequence cost more than most films made up to that point. The end titles sequence is more than seven minutes long, a record at the time of the film’s release in 1978.

Superman: Easy, miss. I’ve got you.

Lois Lane: You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?

Young Clark Kent: All those things I can do. All those powers. And I couldn’t even save him.

Jor-El: [bidding his son farewell, as Lara looks on] You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.

[as Clark discovers his heritage, this is his father’s final message to him] Jor-El: Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.

Perry White: Now listen to me, I tell you boys and girls – whichever one of you gets it out… is going to wind up with the single most important interview since… God talked to Moses!

Lex Luthor: Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.

[Superman surprises Lois on her balcony] Lois Lane: Um, um, would you like a glass of wine?

Superman: Uh, no, no thanks. I never drink when I fly.

[as Jor-El is preparing to send his son to Earth before the destruction of Krypton, Lara enters the room with the infant, Kal-El] Lara: Have you finished?

Jor-El: Nearly. It’s the only answer, Lara. If he remains here with us… he will die as surely as we will.

Lara: But why Earth, Jor-El? They’re primitives, thousands of years behind us.

Jor-El: He will need that advantage to survive. Their atmosphere will… sustain him. [He looks at his son and walks over to the area where the ship that will carry Kal-El lies. There are information crystals placed in slots on the edges]

Lara: He will defy their gravity.

Jor-El: He will look like one of them.

Lara: He won’t *be* one of them.

Jor-El: No. His dense molecular structure will make him strong.

Lara: He’ll be odd. Different.

Jor-El: He’ll be fast. Virtually invulnerable.

Lara: Isolated. Alone.

Jor-El: He will not be alone. [He holds up a clear crystal and takes a long look at it] He will never be alone. [He places it in one of the slots along with the other crystals in the ship]

Co Pilot: [Superman supports Air Force One’s damaged wing] What the hell happened, we got our engine back? What the hell is going on out there?

Air Force One Pilot: Fly. Don’t look, just fly. We got… something. I ain’t saying what it is. Just… trust me.

Jor-El: [at the Fortress of Solitude] So, my son. Speak.

Young Clark Kent: Who am I?

Jor-El: Your name is Kal-El. You are the only survivor of the planet Krypton. Even though you’ve been raised as a human, you are not one of them. You have great powers, only some of which you have as yet discovered.

[first scene: General Zod and his minions are on trial. Jor-El states the accusations] Jor-El: This is no fantasy – no careless product of wild imagination. No, my good friends. These indictments I have brought to you today, specific charges listed herein against the individuals, their acts of treason, their ultimate aim of sedition. These… are matters of undeniable fact. I ask you now to pronounce judgement on those accused. [Jor-El approaches the accused. He points at Non] On this… this mindless aberration, whose only means of expression are wanton violence and destruction. [Jor-El looks at Ursa] On the woman Ursa, whose perversions and unreasoning hatred of all mankind have threatened even the children of the planet Krypton. [Jor-El approaches Zod] Finally, General Zod, once trusted by this council, charged with maintaining the defense of the planet Krypton itself! Chief architect of this intended revolution and author of this insidious plot, to establish a new order amongst us, with himself as absolute ruler! [pause] You have heard the evidence. The decision of the council will now be heard! [all members of the Council announce “guilty!”]

General Zod: The vote must be unanimous, Jor-El. It has therefore now become your decision. You alone will condemn us if you wish, and you alone will be held responsible by me. [pause] Join us. [wordlessly, Jor-El starts walking away] You have been known to disagree with the council before. Yours could become an important voice in the new order, second only to my own! I offer you a chance for greatness, Jor-El! Take it! Join us! [Jor-El keeps walking away, oblivious to Zod’s words]

General Zod: You will bow down before me, Jor-El! I swear it! No matter that it takes an eternity, you will bow down before me! Both you and then one day, your heirs! [the three villains are locked inside the phantom zone]

[Interviewing Superman] Lois Lane: How big are you… um… how *tall* are you?

Lois Lane: Can you read my mind? Do you know what it is that you do to me? I don’t know who you are. Just a friend from another star. Here I am, like a kid out of school. Holding hands with a god. I’m a fool. Will you look at me? Quivering. Like a little girl, shivering. You can see right through me. Can you read my mind? Can you picture the things I’m thinking of? Wondering why you are… all the wonderful things you are. You can fly. You belong in the sky. You and I… could belong to each other. If you need a friend… I’m the one to fly to. If you need to be loved… here I am. Read my mind.

Lex Luthor: We all have our little faults. Mine’s in California.

Clark Kent: Really, Lois, supposing that man had shot you? Is it worth risking your life over ten dollars, two credit cards, a hairbrush, and a lipstick?

Lois Lane: How did you know that?

Clark Kent: Know what?

Lois Lane: You just described the exact contents of my purse. [Clark peeks in her purse]

Clark Kent: Hmm. Uh, wild guess.

[Superman and Lois are standing on opposite sides of a large planter] Lois Lane: What color underwear am I wearing?

Superman: [looking] Hmmm…

Lois Lane: Oh, I’m sorry, I embarrassed you, didn’t I?

Superman: Oh, no, no, no, not at all, Miss Lane, it’s just that this planter must be made of lead.

Lois Lane: Uh, yes it is. So?

Superman: Well, you see, I, uh, I sort of have a problem seeing through lead.

Lois Lane: Oh, that’s interesting. [Writing] Problem seeing through lead. Hmmm. Uh, d-do you have a first name?

Superman: What do you mean, like, uh, Ralph or something?

Lois Lane: No, no, I mean like… [walks away from the planter]

Superman: Pink.

Lois Lane: Huh?

Superman: Pink. [Lois walks back to the planter]

Superman: Um, sorry, Miss Lane, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.

Superman: I’m here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way.

Lois Lane: [laughs] You’re gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!

Perry White: Lois, Clark Kent may seem like just a mild-mannered reporter, but listen, not only does he know how to treat his editor-in-chief with the proper respect, not only does he have a snappy, punchy prose style, but he is, in my forty years in this business, the fastest typist I’ve ever seen.

Miss Teschmacher: Why is it I can’t get it on with the good guys?

Lois Lane: [being rescued, stammering] Who… are you?

Superman: A friend. [flies away] [waves] Bye. [Lois waves, and stares at Superman, then sinks into a faint]

Jor-El: [in the Fortress of Solitude] You… enjoyed it.

Superman: I don’t know what to say, Father. I’m afraid I just got carried away.

Jor-El: I anticipated this, my son. I…

Superman: [surprised] You couldn’t have! You couldn’t have imagined…

Jor-El: …How good it felt. [Clark nods] You are revealed to the world. Very well, so be it. But you must still keep your secret identity.

Superman: But why?

Jor-El: The reasons are two. First, you cannot serve humanity twenty-eight hours a day.

Superman: Twenty-four.

Jor-El: Or twenty-four, as it is in Earth time. Your help would be called for endlessly, even for those problems which human beings could solve themselves. It is their habit to abuse their resources in such a way.

Superman: And, secondly?

Jor-El: Secondly, your enemies will discover their only way to hurt you: by hurting the people you care for.

Superman: Thank you, Father.

Jor-El: Lastly… Do not punish yourself for your feelings of vanity. Simply learn to control them. It is an affliction common to all, even on Krypton. Our destruction could have been avoided had it not been for the vanity of some who considered us indestructible. Were it not for vanity, why… at this very moment… [sadly] I could embrace you in my arms. My son. [Kal-El reaches yearningly toward his father’s image; Jor-El fades, leaving Kal-El alone]

Clark Kent: [in Superman’s voice] Lois, there’s something I have to tell you. I’m really… [In Clark’s voice] I-I mean I was, at first, really nervous about tonight, uh… but then I decided, darn it! I’m gonna show you the time of your life.

Lois Lane: [still infatuated with Superman] That’s Clark, nice.

Lana Lang: [driving up with Brad] Hey, there’s Clark! Clark?

Brad: How’d you get here so fast?

Young Clark Kent: [shrugs] I ran.

Brad: “Ran,” huh? Told ya he’s an oddball. Let’s get outta here. [they drive away, Lana looking back at Clark]

Jonathan Kent: Been showing off a bit, haven’t you, son?

Young Clark Kent: [going over to Jonathan] Um… I didn’t mean to show off, Pop. It’s just that, guys like that Brad, I just want to tear him apart.

Jonathan Kent: Yeah, I know, I know.

Young Clark Kent: And I know I shouldn’t…

Jonathan Kent: Yeah, I know, you can do all these amazing things and sometimes you feel like you will just go bust unless you can tell people about them.

Young Clark Kent: Yeah. I mean every time I kick the football I can make a touchdown. Every time! I mean, is it showing off if somebody’s doing the things he’s capable of doing? Is a bird showing off when it flies?

Jonathan Kent: No, no. Now, you listen to me. When you first came to us, we thought people would come and take you away because, when they found out, you know, the things you could do… and that worried us a lot. But then a man gets older, and he starts thinking differently and things get very clear. And one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a *reason*. I don’t know whose reason, or whatever the reason is… Maybe it’s because… uh… I don’t know. But I do know one thing. It’s *not* to score touchdowns. Huh? [they laugh]

Young Clark Kent: Thanks, Dad.

Lex Luthor: Miss Teschmacher, when I was six years old my father said to me…

Miss Teschmacher: “Get out!”

Lex Luthor: [laughing] Before that. He said, “Son, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they will pay through the nose to get it! Remember,” my father said…

Otis: “… land.”

Lex Luthor: Right. It’s a pity he couldn’t see from such humble beginnings how I’ve created this empire.

Miss Teschmacher: An empire? This?

Lex Luthor: Miss Teschmacher, how many girls do you know who have a Park Avenue address like this one?

Miss Teschmacher: [sarcastically] A Park Avenue address? Two hundred feet below?

Lex Luthor: Do you realize what people are shelling out up there, for a few miserable rooms off a common elevator?

Lex LuthorOtis: What more could anyone ask?

[Martha Kent sees her son Clark standing outside in the wheat field, and she approaches him] Young Clark Kent: I have to leave.

Ma Kent: I knew this day would come. We both knew it from the day we found you.

Young Clark Kent: I talked to Ben Hubbard yesterday. He said that… he’d be happy to help out from now on. [Clark’s composure is rapidly breaking down] Mother…

Ma Kent: I know, son. I know. Do you… know where you’re headed?

Young Clark Kent: [nods] North. [pause]

Ma Kent: Remember us, Clark. Always remember us. [they embrace, and watch the sun rise over the wheat field]

Young Lois Lane: Golly! I saw a boy out there run as fast as the train! Faster, even!

Ella Lane: [laughing] Oh, Lois Lane. You have a writer’s gift for invention; I’ll say that for you.

Young Lois Lane: But… but…

General Sam Lane: Uh, Lois, please read your book.

Young Lois Lane: [going back to her book, sulky] No one ever believes me.

[first lines] Boy: In the decade of the 1930s, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide depression. In times of fear and confusion, the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet, a great metropolitan newspaper whose reputation for clarity and truth had become the symbol for hope in the city of Metropolis…

[a thug strikes Superman from behind with a crowbar, it vibrates his hands] Superman: Bad vibrations?

Superman: Uh, you really shouldn’t smoke, you know, Miss Lane.

Lois Lane: Don’t tell me. Lung cancer, right?

Superman: [x-rays her lungs] Well, not yet, thank goodness.

Superman: Is that how a warped brain like yours gets its kicks? By planning the death of innocent people?

Lex Luthor: No, by causing the death of innocent people.

[last lines] Warden: This country is safe again, Superman, thanks to you.

Superman: No, sir. Don’t thank me, Warden. We’re all part of the same team. Good night.

General Zod: Join us. You have been known to disagree with the Council before. Yours could become an important voice in the new order, second only to my own! I offer you a chance for greatness, Jor-El! Take it! Join us!… You *will* bow down before me, Jor-El. I swear it! No matter that it takes an eternity, you *will* bow down before me! Both you, and then one day, your heirs!

Lex Luthor: There’s a strong streak of good in you, Superman. But then nobody’s perfect… almost nobody.

Superman: Why did… why did you kiss me first?

Miss Teschmacher: I didn’t think you’d let me later.

First Elder: [following the trial and sentencing of General Zod] An unpleasant duty has been masterly performed, Jor-El. They have received the fate they deserve: isolation in the Phantom Zone, an eternal living death.

Jor-El: A chance for life, nonetheless… as opposed to us. It’s suicide! No, it’s worse. It’s GENOCIDE!

First Elder: Be warned, Jor-El. The Council has already evaluated this outlandish theory of yours.

Jor-El: My friends, you know me to be neither rash nor impulsive. I’m not given to wild, unsupported statements. And I tell you that we must evacuate this planet immediately!

First Elder: [after the Council of Elders has voted unanimously against Jor-El’s desperate proposal] Any attempt by you to create a climate of fear and panic among the populace must be deemed by us an act of insurrection.

Jor-El: You would accuse me of insurrection? Has it now become a crime to cherish life?

First Elder: You would be banished to endless imprisonment in the Phantom Zone: the eternal void, which you yourself discovered.

Miss Teschmacher: It’s too good to be true! He’s 6-4, has black hair, blue eyes, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and tells the truth!

Superman: I never lie.

Jor-El: [echo of the past] It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history.

Lex Luthor: Look at the overgrown boy scout, Miss Teschmacher. Tell me what you see.

Miss Teschmacher: Cuteness, dimples.

Lex Luthor: You like cuteness, huh? Dimples. I’ll give you dimples. [turns the machine guns on Superman in tunnel]

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