Part One: The Struggle
(Man of Steel has now been in theaters for over a month. If you haven’t seen it and read this reflection and experience unwanted spoilers,… Well, why on earth haven’t you seen the movie yet?)
I cried four times the first time I watched Man of Steel. In my two subsequent viewings, I cried twice, both times during the same two scenes.
This movie resonates with me.
Unlike many other Superman fans, I get this movie. This version of Clark’s story reaches down into the deep places where I sit in my most comfortable spot and ruminate over the stuff of life that means so much to me that I struggle to form words that intelligibly express my ruminations. Yes, that is what this movie does to me, so I hold it with great affection and a level of protectiveness that edges on a strangeness that probably bothers some people.
But I have no apologies.
Superman, Clark, Kal-El…he has meant something to me for as long as I can remember. My earliest distinct childhood dreams are tied up in this character. There is no other fictional character that I have loved longer than Superman, so my thoughts and affections for him are tied to the roots of my being.
Hence, my very strong opinions about Man of Steel.
What I keep hearing and reading about the movie is that folks don’t like the darker tone of this version of Clark’s story. They don’t like his struggle with his identity. They want Clark to embrace his alien heritage and his quest to save humanity without hesitation. They want him to leap at the idea of being a hero.
I never understood that Clark.
The Clark I always knew in my mind thought he was a bit of a freak when he started seeing through people’s skin and when heat shot from his eyes. The Clark I knew, to use the old cliche, literally felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and wondered if he could bear up against the pain. The Clark I always knew was much like the Clark I spent 10 years with in “Smallville.” So, the Clark in Man of Steel makes perfect sense to me. He struggles with his powers, his identity, his role, his parents, his friendships, his career. He struggles with every aspect of his life, because he intrinsically knows that he does not fit in anywhere on planet Earth. He is other in the most other sense of the word. He is utterly unique.
And then he learns why he is here:
…if you guide them, Kal, if you give them hope, that’s what this symbol means. The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.
Jor-El, Clark’s Kryptonian father, sent his only son “across an ocean of stars” to come here and teach us that we are far more than what we think we are. Clark is a symbol, an emblem, an “ideal to strive toward,” Jor-El later says. When Clark learns his parents’ reasons for sending him to earth, he does not automatically embrace this role they cast for him. He struggles with the idea of risking his life for us, because he doesn’t know for sure whether or not we are worth it.
His earthly father, Jonathan Kent, raised Clark to keep his abilities hidden. He believed that people were not ready for a person like Clark, because people are scared of what they don’t understand. He believed if people knew about Clark, then not only would Clark’s life be affected, but the whole of mankind’s worldview would change in ways that could potentially have catastrophic consequences. So, he required that Clark cooperate with keeping his abilities a secret until the world was ready, and Jonathan sacrificed his own life to protect his son and the world.
I believe Jonathan’s sacrifice was not in vain. Unlike some complaints I have read on-line, I have no issue with Jonathan telling Clark to stay under that overpass instead of saving him from the tornado. When I look at Jonathan standing there, his ankle broken and his hand raised to tell his son no, I see the courage and the conviction of a father who loved his son and who loved mankind in a way that most folks today don’t. Jonathan knew the world wasn’t ready for an alien with superpowers. He also knew that at 17, Clark wasn’t ready to be that alien with superpowers.
I also have no issue with Clark obeying Jonathan by staying under the overpass. That’s another complaint I have read on-line. “Clark should’ve saved his dad anyway,” folks gripe. No. Clark shouldn’t have. It would not have been true to his character. Clark is an obedient son. His unrelenting obedience is part of what makes him who he is. Even at the cost of his own father’s life, he remained obedient, because Clark trusted his father. Clark could do the unthinkable, because he knew his father’s heart. He knew his father’s convictions. He knew his father was right. And he trusted him. Implicitly.
That kind of obedience is rare.
So, when it comes time to risk revealing himself to the world at the demand of Kryptonian General Zod, Clark struggles. Is it time? Can he trust humanity?
Ultimately, Clark risks everything in hopes that he can save it all. His “leap of faith,” as the priest calls it in one scene, pays off. He saves the world.
And Clark becomes who he was sent to earth to be. With a pair of glasses on his smiling face.
You can read Part Two: The Storytelling here.