Tuesday, July 30, 2013

    What's Wrong with "Man of Steel?"

    Thinking of using the new Superman film "Man of Steel?" as a discussion starter with your youth? You might want to consider the real message of the movie.

    First things first: I love a good action movie. I still think "Speed" is one of the great films of all time, with its minimalist dialogue, hammy acting and non-stop action.  I'll add to that list "Unstoppable" and "Source Code" as the kind of simple plot/simple characters/action-packed movies that I love. Hmm. I see a pattern here. All those films are about moving vehicles out of control.  But I have to say that "Man of Steel" is a train wreck of a different sort. 

    And it's not primarily because it lacks the charm and wit of the Christopher Reeve "Superman" of the 70's -- which it does -- and it's not primarily because it is so needlessly loud and noisy -- which it is.  No, what really bothers me about the film is that our hero, morally upright Superman, who always does what is right, chooses to solve the main conflict of the film (spoiler alert) by killing the villain.  

    In the history of Superman, it has been a steadfast rule that Superman does not kill. And in the few exceptions where he has, the writers have been careful to show Superman as remorseful  and conflicted over taking a life. Not this Superman. He spends the last third of the movie in a fight with the villain, destroying most of the real estate of the city (and killing how many innocent bystanders in the process?) and then the best solution he can find to end the conflict is to summarily execute the bad guy.

    What is really shocking about this is the fact that the film studio is intentionally marketing this movie to churches and youth groups, inviting them to compare Superman to Jesus, referring to Christ as "the original superhero" and providing sermon notes and discussion guides to show how the Superman story is really just a metaphor for the Jesus story.  And many youth groups and Christian bloggers have apparently jumped on that promotional band wagon, perhaps believing that if Jesus himself were here today, he too would be pummeling others in the name of truth, justice and the American way. 
    Of course, there are all kinds of possible allusions between Jesus and the character of Superman, but have the filmmakers and the Christians using this film for educational purposes missed the glaring contradictions between Christ and Kal-el?  

    When did the church start forgetting that Jesus was a man of peace, adamantly opposed to violence against others?  When did the Church forget that Jesus inspired a movement which was strictly pacifist for its first 500 years -- until it was co-opted and corrupted by the violent Constantinian empire? When did we forget that the Jesus of the gospel believed "standing your ground" meant giving complete fidelity to caring for those in need, not proclaiming one's right to commit violence? I have to believe  if Jesus were here today he would cradle the Trayvon Martin's of the world in his arms while challenging the George Zimmerman's of this world to seek a path away from violence and toward peace.

    How is it that we often have so many images and portrayals of Jesus in our churches that are such polar opposites and so different from the man we find in scripture? Is Jesus as "man of steel", using fists to solve the world's ills, really the spiritual guide we want to share with our youth? 

    (By the way, perhaps you want to use "Man of Steel" to argue against the film's and the studio's theological take. If so, the "How it Should Have Ended" video above might just come in handy!)


    Tracy said...

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I was very conflicted as well about using this film as a "devotion" in my youth group, even though many parents were encouraging it. LOVED the video as well!

    Struggling With God said...

    I agree with what you are saying, but what if you take the Superman/ Jesus metaphor to a different level. I mean if we are going to compare Superman to Jesus, why can't we compare the villain to evil, or sin, or death itself? Jesus came to defeat all those things wholly and completely.