man of steel

What a disappointment! The best thing about the movie was the company I kept in watching it.

Spotting Christ-figures in movies is one of my favourite past-times - and so, yes, I enjoyed all the Jesus allusions. But it was all a bit obvious and silly, wasn't it? It took me back to The Matrix. The baby scenes and the incarnational ideas - the 'it takes 33 years to make a superman' line - but what about confessing to a priest with a stained glass window of Jesus struggling with the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane? For superman it is not so much the struggle of  'take this cup from me', but the calm of 'give me the cup and I am gonna drain it dry'.

But I haven't mentioned the shallow characterisation and the thin plotline yet, have I? And what really irritated me is the relentless violence masquerading as 'special effects' and because it is the latter, it always seem to be OK. The relentless nature of the violence reminded me of a fellow seminary student who had a loud fan going in his room so that it equalised the noise from the freeway and people in the hallway ... and enabled him to sleep. The special effects did that to me. I dozed off three or four times in Man of Steel. I need plot and character development to be engaged. Relentless violence masquerading as 'special effects' does absolutely nothing for me.

But the deepest irritations lie elsewhere. Have you ever asked why there is the current glut of superhero movies? Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, X-men (please notice the final syllable in common!). Why are we revisiting all these story lines from the 1950s and 1960s? I think I know why.

It is part of a coping mechanism for life lived after 9/11. Terrorism make people feel scared and vulnerable - and this is a fear-filled vulnerability that has not been felt for a couple of generations. And so the displays of patriotic power in a range superhero movies makes people feel better. It is therapeutic. It massages nostalgic feelings of a Pleasantville time when life was sweet, the world was ruled, and enemies could be vanquished. Goodness me - in one recent superhero movie (The Avengers) the heroes even joined forces to crush the enemy.

But the reasons for my disdain lie deeper than this - far deeper. It is the way superhero movies are conditioning people to think that rescue, that hope comes ultimately through displays of power and might. In the movie we learn that the stylised 'S' across the ample chest of the messianic figure is a symbol of hope. Oh dear. My heart sank. Really? What Christians are going to buy that nonsense? Far too many, I suspect. For any follower of Jesus, watching the movie should have been deeply distressing. May I remind you that our hope is wrapped up in the victory of a slain Lamb, not a roaring Lion? May I remind you that God's way to rule the world is through weakness and suffering - a life in which we share and in which a majority of God's people around the world are currently sharing?
They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings - and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers (Revelation 17.14).
I found the movie idolatrous and offensive. It pains me to know that it will be watched by people all around the world, particularly those who follow other faiths, and that they will identify Superman with Jesus. What's more, these superhero movies will always be rated 'M' - no matter how relentless the violence masquerading as special effects may be - simply because people still want to mess with children's minds and disciple them with this lionised metanarrative. Give me the special effect of the lambed gospel story about a man of sorrow any day.

"Oh, get a life, Paul. Chill out. It is just a movie."
Nah. It isn't just a movie...that is my point.

nice chatting



Marky Mark said…
Not to be nit picky, but the M/PG-13 thing possibly has more to do the producer's profit margin than it does the need to instill a lionised (or any) narrative in the minds of children. Lower censor's classification=more bums on seats=even greater profit (and 'record breaking opening weekends' as is the case in this particular instance).Situated as I am at the moment in the land of god and abundant excess, I wonder whether that particular subtextual narrative is (in some ways) the more concerning one. Entertaining me is a business.....and dang it, I still haven't seen the movie! :-)
a concerned reader... said…
I remember watching "I am Legend" and thinking that the whole ending - Will Smith's character dying to save the young family, and giving his blood to save the vampires - was tacky, contrived and tacked on. Then I remember watching the original ending - in which Will Smith discovers the monsters weren't as monstrous as he thought and that from their point of view he is the monster - that was brilliant and insightful and made sense of the film.

My point is that not everything has to be a Christological narrative. Some things are ruined by the attempt to read them that way (or the perceived demand to tell them that way) Similarly, The Jesus allusions in MAN OF STEEL weren't to place Superman as Jesus, they were to ask of humanity the question that the angry mob asked of them in the bible - if a superhuman were to appear, would we accept him, or would we try to kill him.

Not every allusion to Christ in movies/literature/arts exists to paint that character as Christ. Sometimes these allusions just evoke the same questions of humanity that the gospel narratives evoke, rather than positing an answer.

Of course there was fighting, it was super hero movie. Of course there was special effects, it was a superhero movie. I'm trying not to sound dismissive but what exactly were you expecting? This was a movie about a guy that flies around and fights baddies - I can't imagine expecting anything else than cgi and violence. It's like going to see Hamlet and complaining that everyone dies. (To which the only possible answer is - you know what a tragedy is, right?)

Yes - our hope is wrapped up in the lamb slain - but also the returning king, the return warrior, in the avenging king, in the revelation of the last battle, when the great warrior comes and "with justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, ...dressed in a robe dipped in blood, ...The armies of heaven were following him, ...Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword ...He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." You know, the great and terrible hero, whose herald calls out to the vultures "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small." 'Cause this is Jesus too. That movie would surely be too violent, and need special effects, and have no role for Judi Dench...

The default conversation of MAN OF STEEL was not with Jesus at all - it is with Plato and Nietzsche (surely you saw those allusions: the administered breeding by task, the plato book in the bully scene, the whole conversations about ethics and evolution, the conversation about weakness and morality - really, these outnumbered the christological stuff by a ratio of 10 to 1) and in that conversation the film came down on the right side every time - no to the administered state, no the the surveillance state, no to the overman, no to the classification of different as enemy by default, no to an ecology that only cares about the powerful. Certainly: these were not deep and meaningful expositions of these topics but then we weren't expecting that (you know what a superhero movie is, right?)

"May I remind you that our hope is wrapped up in the victory of a slain Lamb, not a roaring Lion?" No, because you seem to have forgotten, The lion is the lamb. "See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed." - "They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west."
matt said…
tim said…
Having been in the mid-west for a week or so with a church (or two) on every corner, 'free pastor screenings' and the accompanying 'resources' are a relatively cheap and easy way to gain access to hundreds of thousands of congregational dollars. For a free movie ticket, pastors have the privilege of essentially become marketing agents for Warner Bros...Remember the Matrix? :-) If there's any chance of an allusion to Christ, then you can bet there's some money to be made.
Paul said…
Point taken, Marky Mark - the motivation of the dollar will be in there somewhere.

Not totally convinced, 'a concern reader'. Granted that you balance me up a little with your comments (thank-you), but I still think you overplay the significance of the lion. In Revelation 5 - from which you quote - John turns to look for the lion, but sees a lamb. Jesus is both lamb and lion - yes ... but it is through being the lamb (not the lion) that the decisive victory is secured.

And 'matt' and 'tim'... what can I say? At the end of the movie I felt pain - kinda that old 'jealous for Jesus and his name' feeling ... and you have neatly diversified that pain :)

God bless
a concerned reader... said…
In Revelation 5 - from which you quote - John turns to look for the lion, but sees a lamb. Jesus is both lamb and lion - yes ... but it is through being the lamb (not the lion) that the decisive victory is secured.

Yes. But you forget the context of Revelations as a whole - a persecuted church, an exiled leader - yes, our salvation is purchased in the work of the lamb - but the blood of all these martyrs calls out... A lion will be necessary. The revelation itself is that Jesus Christ IS the God of the Angel armies.

The idea of a superhero should have an innate draw to it.
Think of the Chorus in Milton's Samson Agonistes.

Oh how comely it is and how reviving
To the Spirits of just men long opprest!
When God into the hands of their deliverer
Puts invincible might
To quell the mighty of the Earth, th' oppressour,
The brute and boist'rous force of violent men
Hardy and industrious to support
Tyrannic power, but raging to pursue
The righteous and all such as honour Truth;
He all their Ammunition
And feats of War defeats
With plain Heroic magnitude of mind
And celestial vigour arm'd
Their Armories and Magazins contemns,
Renders them useless, while
With winged expedition
Swift as the lightning glance he executes
His errand on the wicked, who supris'd
Lose their defence distracted and amaz'd.

Let me put it terms you have used on your blog: Isn't your (over) reliance on the lamb imagery your own way of subconsciously "being indignant at righteous indignation"?

We can't get indignant over the possibility, even the necessity of divine violence. Yes, God is revealed in Christ in weakness, but it is weakness strong enough to break open the world, destroy the wicked and cast down the darkness. That is the revelation.

"The slain will fall among you, and you will know that I am the Lord." "For behold, the Lord is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments."

Yes, We know the lamb, but through him we know God, and walk with confidence into that great throne room where the mighty king bides his time before executing his justice and his vengeance.

"For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Paul said…
Just a further comment, 'a concerned reader'...

The Book of Revelation - in its entirety - is a letter written to the seven churches in Rev 2 & 3. And so the letter/book must make sense to those churches in that context first.

And what we learn is that not all those churches are being persecuted and so the message of the Book is not just for persecuted churches. The full power of the book is experienced when comfortable and casual churches reel from its impact as well. It is design (almost) to comfort the persecuted, but also to persecute the comfortable!

Plus my understanding of the number 7 in apocalyptic literature draws me to conclude that the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 are representative of all churches in every time zone and every century. Every church is to listen to its message...

best wishes

a concerned reader... said…
My understanding was that Revelation was written ~95 AD. (Or perhaps compiled from earlier letters and visions about this time) The earliest date I have ever seen suggested (though not compellingly) is in the late 60's.

So near history of the book would have to include the persecution under Nero (64-68 AD), and probably under Domitian as well (81-96 AD). A preterist understanding of the text would also ask the reader to fold in the events of the first Roman-Jewish war (66–73 AD) and especially the destruction of the temple - which may be why the vision of a new jerusalem was so powerful.

Yes. The apocalyptic numerology does universalize the letters to the churches, but apocalyptic literature is, if nothing else, an exercise in universalisation. You take a set of issues and ask, what if these issues were the make or break issues of existence itself? It still functions that way in Apocalyptic sci fi.

Exegetically, I'd be loathe to allow the 7 letters to entirely control the reading of the text. Whatever the context that letters were written into, the book is about suffering and persecution (indeed, it is written by John "your brother and companion in the suffering") and a war waged against "those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus".

You have to let the book speak to its own issues, even if they aren't specifically referenced in the opening epistles. Because you have to make sense of a verse like this:

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

“With such violence
the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
never to be found again.

and a response like this

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:


You have spoken eloquently on how wealth, power, apathy and laziness can blunt our thirst for justice, our delight at the punishment of evil. To that beautiful thought, I'd add only this: age can blunt it too. I am reminded of Dryden:

Our age was cultivated thus at length;
But what we gained in skill we lost in strength.

Anyway, we are now a long way from Superman so I will end here.

Blessing in Christ,


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