Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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A super faith-based film.  You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder’s heartfelt, high-voltage reboot of the most iconic of all superheroes, but it helps. Officially opening tomorrow (Friday), I’m not certainly not the first to preview the film and note its Christian symbolism. For instance, Superman is 33 years old when he reveals himself and there is one particular scene where he visually strikes very Christ-like posture. But, while the symbolism has a certain emotional resonance to the Christian faithful, I don’t see an attempt to equate Superman with Jesus.  The similarities simply amplify, in an allegorical way, the positive Christian values Superman carries forth.

(BTW, while a line in the trailer has Russell Crowe’s Jor-El saying that his son will “be a god to them (the people of Earth),” I don’t recall actually hearing that line in the film. I’m not sure if it didn’t make the final cut or if I missed it. Regardless, while I personally would have advised the producers to lose the line, my own view is that Christians should interpret it as merely a description of how some might view this guy and not a conflation of a comic book character with the Son of God.  This film is no snarky denigration of Christianity, quite the opposite.)

The plot, in a nutshell, is yet another retelling of the Superman origin story but with an execution that compellingly and paradoxically turns almost everything on its head while somehow remaining remarkably true to its foundations. With the planet Krypton on the edge of destruction, the infant son of Jor-El and Lara, is placed in an escape pod that finds its way to Earth. He’s found and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent on a Kansas farm where he slowly discovers and comes to grips with his other-worldly powers. While his first encounter with Lois Lane and the Daily Planet plays around a bit with the mythology we’re used to, nothing that is vital to it is seriously altered. And his encounter with the genocidal General Zod (who is determined to wipe out the people of Earth to reestablish the Kryptonian Empire) is spectacular on every level. The special effects are amazing (especially in 3-D) and are grounded in an edge-of-the-seat script (by David S. Goyer) actually has you caring who wins.

The performances are also great. British actor Henry Cavill plays a quintessential square-jawed American hero as well as John Wayne.  Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as, respectively, his two dads Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, both convey the sturdy values that live on in the heart of their son. Amy Adams is an intelligent and wholesomely-sexy Lois Lane.

And, again, while the film works on a cinematic and universally-human level, Christians, in particular, will find much to like here. Here are 12 things I can think of right now:

1.) Its visual depiction of a baby in the womb could be considered gently pro life.

2.) The “S” on his uniform is the Kryptonian symbol for the Christian virtue of hope.

3.) His father idealistically stands in of favor free will against an over-reaching state. “What,” he wonders,“if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”

4.) Clark is determined to use his powers (talents) to help others and not for his own glorification.

5.) He chooses to turn the other cheek and forgives those who hurt him.

6.) Speaking via a post-life hologram, his father (Jor-El) urges him to be patient with those who stumble and fall.

7.) Superman clearly represents all that is good while General Zod (for all his self-justification) is fighting for an evil cause. There is no ambiguity presented regarding the stark divide between the two sides.

8.) When confronted with darkness, Superman refuses to succumb to cynicism. 

9.) Clark Kent is explicitly shown to be a believing Christian who seeks out the counsel of a priest when confronted with a major moral choice. What’s more, the clergyman offers wisdom that girds the superhero with the inner strength (built on faith) he needs to confront his foe. 

10.) He honors his parents, is grateful for freedom and unabashedly affirms his American roots (which is, of course, a 180 degree shift from a controversial edition of Action Comics in which Superman pointedly renounced his U.S. citizenship).

11.) He seeks to avoid violence and resists killing with all his might.

12.) If necessary, he is willing to give up his life to save others.

So, to sum up, fly don’t walk to see Man of Steel. I highly recommend it. It’s nice to know that Superman is on our side.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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