Every movie has a worldview. “Man of Steel,” the latest iteration of Superman, is no different. In fact, many explicit questions of worldview come up. Here, we’ll take a look at some major themes found in the movie. There will, of course, be SPOILERS below.
The question of morality looms large throughout the film. What does it mean to seek to do good in our world? At one point, Faora Ul, a commander in General Zod’s army, discusses how the fact that they have moved beyond morality has become an “evolutionary advantage” and that “evolution” always wins. I was struck by this brief aside for a few reasons. First, would moving apart from morality really be an advantage? Surely, it may lead to no self-sacrifice, but that self-sacrifice itself is something which preserves a race. In fact, the whole thrust of the film centered around the notion of self-sacrifice by Superman giving up those things which he liked or wanted in order to save others. The fact that Superman overcomes the moral nihilist is significant.
Second, does evolution always win? This is a question to consider for a different time and place, but surely I think one must wonder whether it is the case that having an advantage would guarantee victory in the race to survive. Any kind of random fluke could happen to eliminate a better-suited creature. Again, these are questions for another time, but in context of the movie, the whole notion was again overthrown, because Superman, with a stringent morality, overcame.
But at what cost? The climactic scene in which Superman confronts General Zod ends with Superman snapping Zod’s neck to prevent him from killing even more people. Superman’s self-made (but unmentioned in the movie) ethos of avoiding killing is thus itself overthrown. What does this say about objective morality? Is such a killing ever justified? Or, might it mean that Superman abandoned morality in order to confront the moral nihilist? Perhaps, instead, there are shades of virtue ethics found throughout, which confront Superman with a choice and allow him to carve out his own moral sphere?
These are questions suitable for reflection, and I think the movie does a great job asking the questions without spoon-feeding any answers.
Shades of a Savior?
Superman is, of course, readily seen as a savior-stand in. Superman is 33 years old, which is also the generally accepted age of Jesus at death. One scene depicts Superman in a church, and his face is set against a backdrop of a stained-glass depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The scenery is surely intentional–Superman is seeking to give himself up for the sake of humanity, just as Jesus did. But the way in which they go about this self-giving are radically different. Superman’s ultimate sacrifice is compromising his moral code in order to save people, while Jesus’ was the ultimate sacrifice–taking on death and becoming sin for our sake.
The question which all of this begs, then, is whether Superman might be envisioned as an interesting Jesus-parallel, a kind of allegory to be utilized to discuss the real Savior, or whether Superman is instead a kind of rival savior figure intentionally subverting the narrative of an incarnate deity. Support for the latter might be drawn from the notion that Superman would be “viewed as a god” simply because he came from a different world and the atmosphere/sun of Earth strengthened him to superhuman (groaner, I know) levels. Is this a subversive way to describe Christ? Well, really only if one wants to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was some sort of alien and that a radical deception has gone on for two millenia. Of course, some people would like to suggest just that, but how grounded in truth might it be?
It seems to me that the film, then, is a useful way to juxtapose saviors. What does it mean to be a savior? How does one bring that about? There are parallels between Jesus and the story of Superman, but the most important things are perhaps the contradictions in their stories and lives. Many interesting questions about morality are raised in the film as well, and it would be hard to argue that the story of the movie is not compelling. “Man of Steel,” it seems, is another way to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of life. What are your thoughts on the movie? What other themes might be discussed (like this post on Platonic thought)? Let me know in the comments below.
Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa– Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.
Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.
I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).
Virtue Ethics and the Man of Steel– Check out this interesting post on the Platonic thought found throughout the movie.