Superman: All Powerful, Self-Restrained
To 'Superman Returns' director Bryan Singer, the Man of Steel can do anything but chooses not to, instead leading by example.
BY: Interview by Michael Kress
|Why Superman Restrains His Power|
Because I think it's his heritage. I think he's learned restraint. My own opinion of the myth is--and this is my own point of view, so I have to stress that--somewhere in the history of Krypton, there was a lot of conflict. And then the people of Krypton solved this conflict by containing their violence and by creating a culture of honest and sincerity, and without murder. And that's what we saw in the 1978 film with the Phantom Zone [where prisoners were held]. You didn't have a death penalty. You put your criminals into the Phantom Zone. And yet, that world was destroyed, and he's kind of a remnant of that purity.
His father, Jor-El, says, when he talks of Earth, "They are great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. It is for this reason, above all, their capacity for good, I send them you, my only son." And so, he can do all these incredible things. He's a superhero, and he likes it. He likes the fact that he can rescue falling airplanes, and he can show off. He's got the pride. He can score any touchdown in high school. He can do anything. And now, he has to learn restraint so that he can have that semblance of human existence, so he can live, and then that's Clark Kent.
If it wasn't for Clark Kent, he'd just fly around all the time. He'd be limitless. But he allows himself to be Clark Kent. And that way, he can have this semblance of humanity. He can have a relationship. He can have these different things. And that's what makes him interesting.
The only way he leads by example socially is he's honest. He never lies. But, other than that, no. He's probably the worst person to go to with your psychological problems.
There's a lot of discussion about whether Superman's a Christ figure or Jewish--a Moses or golem figure. And I'm curious what you think about these different theories.
|Superman as Judeo-Christian Allegory|
You'd have to take the different stories [and consider them separately]. The origin story has always been very Moses-like in the sense that the parents took the child and sent him downriver to fulfill a destiny. In our movie--I use the term, and perhaps it's me just not wanting to be too religious about it but, at the same time, not deny the obvious--I call it a Judeo-Christian allegory. There are aspects of our story--return, sacrifice, resurrection--that when you grow up in a Judeo-Christian culture they work their way into everything, from your thoughts to your art.
And so, those things are present in the film. But I try not to [get into] "Is he Jewish? Is he Christian?" You know, Jesus Christ was a Jew until his crucifixion, of a kind. I mean, am I right or wrong? So, there's certainly a Judeo-Christian allegory in the Superman story, both in his origin and in my film.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by the question of superhero religion?
I think people are of different religions, and if they find characters inspiring or fascinating, they want to draw some kind of identity. Probably for the very same reason that it appealed to me that Superman was adopted and an only child and had blue eyes, because I have all those three qualities.
It's just because people, if they think something or somebody's cool, they want to find the parallels in the identity, so you'll have that debate. It'll only be more so because those allegories actually, with Superman, exist quite boldly, so it's going to only be magnified.
The Christ allegory seems particularly strong in the original movie, with the quote that you said before, "They wish to be a great people... I send you my only son."
That was one of the biggest motivational speeches, one of the biggest things that were said that struck me. That and when Marlon Brando's placing these crystals into a spaceship. This was in the original film. It was in the original film, and [the mother] says, "He'll be isolated, alone." And he places the crystal in and says, "He will not be alone. He will never be alone." I'm an adopted kid who grew up as an only child. So this seemed--these two things to me were very stirring.
You mention growing up as an adopted kid. How did growing up Jewish, influence your career, or this movie in particular, if it did?
I had a kind of mixed up upbringing. I was a Jewish kid, although I was not Bar Mitzvahed. We celebrated Jewish holidays. I went to a Christian youth club in my neighborhood. My Jewish friend Jeff--my best friend--and I went to a Christian youth club for the sports and things. And then, one of my best friends, Ravi, was a Hindu. I grew up in a completely Catholic neighborhood. I was, like, the only Jew on the block. So, there was a lot of religion going on, and yet I never considered myself particularly religious, but there were a lot of things going on religion-wise that interested me, or that I found interesting.
I was an only child and adopted, with Jewish parents. My biological mother was Jewish. My biological father was not. But this is the very little information I know about them. He was actually not even from the United States.
Who would you say your real-life superheroes?
Steven Spielberg has always been an idol of mine growing up, just the films he made and the passion. He could literally take me outside myself as a kid and make me feel inspired. When I first saw "E.T."--I had seen "Close Encounters," I was a big fan of "Jaws," and then I saw "E.T." when I was 16--I had already made a number of eight-millimeter films, but after that movie, and after I saw a profile of him on the TV show "20/20," I decided that night, actually, I would be a filmmaker, and I have not deviated from that for my life.
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