Monday, July 03, 2006

Oh Superman

The thing about gods is that they can look cruel no matter how "good" they are. I just saw Superman Returns last night. It made me so sad. It's one of the most personal portrayals of Superman I've ever encountered. He's definately a Christ figure, but not because he's a god or the Son of God. Simply because he has this tremendous ability to help others. In the movie you see him flying up to the stratosphere where he can hear the cries of all the people who are suffering at the moment. He must chose the one act out of all the possibilities to fix. Lois Lane at one point tells him that humans don't need a savior and he brings her up there and says, "but so many are calling for one". Ultimately, we find out that he understands his mission in life to that of inspiring others to work out their problems on their own.

This mission is contrasted to a few quick scenes that show us Superman as a boy first gaining some of his abilities. He's leaping over the cornfields of Kansas and you can just see how much fun this would be. Imagine being 10 years old and being able to leap hundreds of feet in the air. What fun! What innocent fun! Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all just stay in that joyful moment.

But of course, we can't. At some point we recognize the pain around us and within us and we have to make choices about it. Do we ignore it and keep jumping for our own joy? Do we become twisted and hateful, seeing other people as the problem - as Lex Luthor sees Superman? Oh, there's a wonderful scene near the end where dashing, civilized Lex shows us exactly what he learned in prison. Ah, life is prison, how do we let that shape us?

Or do we decide to act, knowing that by doing so, we are denying all the other possibilities in that moment?

And for most people, the first two options are the most understandable. The child is equally denying everyone of help. The villian is expressing our most shameful feelings. But Superman is actively denying help to the suffering because he chooses to help at all. And to all those he didn't swoop down and save in the nick of time, he appears very cruel indeed.

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