Friday, June 30, 2006

Son of Jor-El

I’m eager to see the new Superman movie, especially after reading and hearing about it. My friend Karen tells me that the actor who takes Christopher Reeve’s place as Superman is absolutely wonderful and just as handsome, to boot. The Superman I grew up with was played by George Reeves—not as handsome, but just as powerful.

I want to share part of an article called “Superman Returns” by Drew Dyck, taken from the Boundless Webzine, an “e-newsletter” published by Focus on the Family ( . Also, you can read everything you ever wanted to know (or didn’t) about Superman on Wikipedia ( .

Like my childhood fantasy, this Superman story came with some Christian ideas thrown in. A lot of them. So many it made me wonder whether I was sitting in a theater or a church.

The film's opening lines sound like a bad translation of the Gospel of John. Superman's father delivers a posthumous message to his son:

"Even though you've been raised as a human being, you're not one of them. 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."

Scriptural echoes don't stop there. Superman's relationship to his father remains a focal point. "The son is in the father, and the father is in the son," is a recurrent line. Then there's the suffering servant motif. In one scene Superman suffers at the hands of his enemies in a manner reminiscent of Golgotha, right down to receiving a wound in his side. In another scene, after making a dramatic rescue, Superman "dies," falling from the sky with arms outstretched in the unmistakable shape of the cross. So explicit are the parallels that CNN dubbed the movie "another gospel" for Christian movie fans.

So what are we to make of this?

Well, CNN may be overstating things a bit. This movie is no fifth gospel. In fact it's not even perfect allegory; it's echo and allusion. The Man of Steel is no Man of Sorrows, no matter how much you play up the similarities. With his sculpted body and flashy powers Superman calls to mind the gods of ancient Greece — not the Jesus of the Bible. Still it is intriguing to see a Hollywood movie addressing Messianic themes, however imperfectly.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is what the movie says about us. Superman Returns has a powerful and distinctly Christian message about our need for a savior. For this reason I think the film could serve as an excellent starting point for fruitful discussions between Christians and unbelieving friends.

The strongest commentary on this topic comes in the interactions between Superman and Lois Lane. Lois, the hard-nosed reporter, has won the Pulitzer Prize for writing an article entitled, "Why the world doesn't need Superman." In one especially poignant scene series, she lashes out at Superman, "The world doesn't need a Savior and neither do I!" Superman doesn't respond immediately. Instead he takes her up for a flight into the silence of the stratosphere.

"What do you hear?" he asks her.

"Nothing," she replies.

For a moment we hear through Superman's ears: A chorus of a thousand desperate voices rings in his head.

"I hear everything," he tells her.

Back on the ground he makes his point. "In your article you wrote that people don't need a Savior, yet everyday I hear people crying for one."

This struck me as a powerful exchange. It may sound like a simple idea: that people need a savior. But to see this idea developed in the context of a big budget movie is rather remarkable. Hollywood films tend to preach a gospel of self-sufficiency. In movies the moment of salvation usually comes when the character stops looking for help from others and starts seeking strength from within. That's when triumph is at hand — when the character musters the self-confidence or courage to prevail. . . .

Superman Returns is different. It entertains no such illusions about our abilities. In this way it echoes important biblical teaching. In Scripture, supreme self-confidence isn't lauded as heroic, it's denounced as sin. Righteousness is described as total dependence on God. It's realizing that we're sinful and fallen. Only once we turn to the Savior with humility and gratitude are we saved.

We're not much for saviors these days. We prefer to think that we have all the necessary resources to save ourselves. Relying on a savior makes us feel weak, needy and desperate. But the truth is that we are weak, needy and desperate. And really, that's the first tenet of the gospel: Spiritually, we all need a Savior.

Of course Superman Returns highlights this theme only by way of metaphor. The Superhero saves bodies, not souls. Yet the story seems to argue for the necessity of a savior, which is a refreshing theme to encounter in a secular film.

This week millions of moviegoers will settle into theater seats looking for entertainment. Hopefully, they will find much more. Just maybe they will leave the movie thinking about their own need for a Savior. And we as Christians must be prepared to tell them His name.

And in case you're wondering, it's not Superman.


Pat said...

This movie review belongs in the newspapers of every town where it will be shown. I, for one, would never have considered attending a Superman movie to find enlightenment for Christian living. It is an exceptionally well-written, thought-provoking work.

ts said...

cool beans. i wonder if the similarities, allusions are intentional? or maybe it doesn't matter if they are or not.

thanks for posting this!

RLC said...

I found an interesting article about the movie debating everyone laying claim superman. Check out this link and the comments on the post are interesting as well.
You may have to copy and paste.

Personally, I am not a movie fan. But I know that I am in the minority. From what I have read about the movie, I think the writers would just like to cash in on some evangelical money. But I haven't seen the film, and it could be good.

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