About "Superman Returns," Time magazine wrote, "Earlier versions of Superman stressed the hero's humanity.... The Singer version emphasizes his divinity... He is Earth's savior: Jesus Christ Superman." However, certainly Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie" stressed the parallels to Christ. Do you see your version as different or similar in that regard?
It celebrates that notion. These stories are told in so many different ways. From Sunday School to pop culture. But if you're going to have lines like Marlon Brando saying, "I send them you--my only son," and they're being spoken with absolute seriousness, then when you carry it forward and you have him return after five years, face an immeasurable conflict and then... I mean, if you're going to tell that story, you've got to tell it all the way. You've got scourging at the pillar, the spear of destiny, death, resurrection--it's all there. At the first of the movie, after Superman crashes back to Earth, he collapses into his mother's arms. The scene recalls the Renaissance images of the dead Jesus in Mary's arms.
Yes. The night of shooting that scene, Eva, Brandon and myself knew it was a mother cradling her son, but certainly an aspect [was of Mary and Jesus]. There were certain key frames that were very special, important to me artistically, and that was one that was very much inspired by that image.
Just as Superman is a Christ figure, do you see Lex Luthor as a Lucifer figure?
Yes. Because he doesn't care. He just cares about land. And he muses about billions of people being drowned. But he's very much the opposite of Superman.
There's another thing Marlon Brando says. It always felt very religiously allegorical to me. From the original film, the mother says, when they're putting the infant Kal-El in the space ship, she says, "He will be isolated. Alone." And Marlon Brando holds up this crystal and says, "He will not be alone. He will never be alone."
And that was the terrible thing that Lex Luthor did, the robbing of the crystals, it was just such a violation.
But he was finally alone. Superman was alone when the crystal was taken.
Again, the allegories. I don't want be the guy who says, "Why have you forsaken me?" [chuckles] But here in the Fortress of Solitude--and it's gone.
And that's what makes Lex Luthor such a wonderful villain, in comparison. There is no divinity to him. He is completely of the Earth. Now I'm not getting into the stuff I'd rather people discover as they watch the movie.
About another indelible scene: The New York Times wrote, "Superman... fights his foes in a scene that visually echoes the garden betrayal in 'The Passion of the Christ.'" Actually, I would put the imagery closer to Christ's march to the crucifixion. What were your influences for that scene? The scourging at the pillar. Clearly. It was what it was.
The blade in the back, the Kryptonite. And Lex--who was bald [like traditional depictions of the demonic Lucifer]. I wanted him [Superman] to be beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and stabbed and still have some life in him. And then instead of ascend, he falls.
And he falls into the water. And when he falls into the water, we hear the voices. He's with his father, in the water. His father is explaining to him things that are much larger than this miniscule moment.
That there are forces out there greater than even himself. And huge things about human beings, problems that human beings cannot solve for themselves. And then we cut to, what do we see--a seaplane. And this unusual, strange modern family flying around trying to find him. I remember sitting with one of my writers and we were watching the visual effects of him [Superman] falling to Earth [after pushing the kryptonite-laced landmass into space]. And his hands are extended and he falls to Earth in that very...
It's the crucifixion pose.
Yes. And he [the writer] looked at me--and he went to Catholic school, it's very interesting--and he said, "Are we? Are we? Shouldn't he open his legs a little bit more? Are we? Is this too on the nose?" And I said, "If we're telling this story, we're going to tell this story. Some parts are going to be subtle. But this one is not."
"Either we're going to have him float down kind of in the position [of the crucifixion] or not But if there was ever a time to hammer it home, this is it."
When they're wheeling him through the hospital, and they see him splayed out on that gurney, and you see the look on all those faces. I thought to myself what was it like for people who put that kind of faith into this being [Christ], who far exceeds their own lives, and yet in some way represents them, and then by his example in some way they feel a kinship to.