It’s not secret on this blog that I’ve been waiting for “Man of Steel” for some time. When it finally came out I went to the midnight show with some friends and guys from the Pursuit. I loved every second of it. It had every bit of the father/adoptive father/son dynamics I had hoped for. It had the inner struggle of dealing with his power and what his responsibilities were for having those powers.
As far as origin stories go (origin stories being the first movie in a superhero series that explains where they got their powers, what shaped them, etc.) this one is really strong. It humanizes a character who struggles to be relatable because of his high moral standard (which doesn’t fit in today’s post modern world) and his near indestructibility, unless you have a glowing green rock.
Now, there are a lot of “Man of Steel” reviews out there and so I won’t muddy the water with another one but if you want to hear my take about some of Superman’s real world origin story (going back 75 years) and how Superman is the Jesus we wish Jesus would be, then check out our podcast from this week and you can get all that info in just over half an hour.
For the sake of this blog what I would like to do is take a peek at one of the more subtle theological themes of the movie. WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. I don’t think these will ruin the experience, but continue at your own risk…
When I went back for a second viewing with some more people from the church an “under the surface” theme came out. It nearly bookends the movie. It is the idea of free will vs. choice. I don’t want to get too theological (sorry, to my friends who love the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate) but the implications of choice in this movie make up a huge part of the story.
Very early on in the movie we learn that there hasn’t been a natural birth on Krypton in years. Children are born in some weird bubble contained in water. Each is created and born to serve one purpose over the course of their lives. A quote from Jor-El (Superman’s natural father) on free will: “Every person can be a force for good, free to forge his own destiny.” He later would add ” What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
Opposite of this is General Zod.
His story arc is also humanizing. He doesn’t see anything beyond his perceived created purpose. He was created to be a military leader and protector of the Kryptonian race. It is what leads him to do horrible things, both on Krypton and on Earth.
After losing to Superman (which shouldn’t be that big of a spoiler to anyone), he says in his angry outside voice “I had one purpose: to protect my people. No matter how violent, every action I take is for the greater good of my people.” He went on to essentially accuse Superman of taking his soul from him leaving him with no reason to live. That logic definitely plays out over the last 10 minutes of the movie.
On that second viewing, I actually felt sorry for Zod. Where that sense of meaningless existence left him was saddening. Who he was was so closely connected to what he did that when he lost one there was no point in the other. It was a surprisingly gut wrenching moment.
When we look at the story of Zod, we see what happens when what we do is so strongly connected with who we are. If we fail at that thing or if that thing is taken away from us, we have nothing and therefore feel like nothing. It is soul draining.
It plays out daily in our lives. When it looks like another round of cuts are happening at work and our name is on the short list, when the one person we love more than anyone else breaks our trust or doesn’t love us back, when we are known for being good at something and suddenly we can’t do it anymore. These scenarios and too many more always leave us in a depression because our self worth is connected to our talent/job/relationship.
God teaches something different. He teaches that he loves us for who we are, not what we’ve done. So when we fail at the thing that matters most to us God doesn’t get angry with us and disown us.
Instead, God wants us to live and love knowing that the reason we are His children has nothing to do with how good we are at what we do, but it has everything to do with Christ and what he did. Our sense of worth should not come from something fleeting or conditional, our sense of worth comes from being a child of the Storyteller, the Creator of the Universe.
What we do is not who we are.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1.38