Superman Returns: A Movie Of Religious Themes

It’s inner-nerd reflection time!

Warning: I bust the plot wide open. A number of scenes are described. I’m not very religious, so pardon me if I get my metaphors mixed up.

Two millennia from now, if people looked back on this time, would they assume we followed Gods other than the monotheistic Yahweh, Jesus, and Allah? I know there are other religions, but I mention these based on my vague, yet not too great, familiarity with the three.

Today, our mass media depicts what is supposedly a reflection of our current culture. Imagine how much the language will evolve, or devolve, depending on your view. Today, English takes many forms such as XOXO, TTY l8r, brb, and other abbreviations that make me wonder – will anyone in the future be able to translate it?

And once they generate a rough translation, will their assumptions be correct? Or will they assume that our media was a form of mass worship based on the repetition of the same images?

Is the Comic Book Hero a New Deity?

What passes for entertainment sometimes appear to be the usurpation or supplanting of belief in the divinities. I often wonder: How is a lifetime reading of comic books following one character not like a religion? How is attending sci-fi, comic, and movie conventions not like adherence to attending a religious mass? How is repeatedly viewing movies based on a specific character or trilogy, and treating it as integral to a lifestyle or way of life, not the same as following religious dogma?

Is it because we tell ourselves that this is harmless stuff?

According to dictionary.com, religion is defined as: something one believes in and follows devotedly.

The God Gap

From the Old Testament to New Testament of the Bible, I was struck by how annoyed God was with the human race. He was a cruel taskmaster: harsh, mercurial, and unforgiving as the holy writer’s environment. God used to confer directly with Adam and Eve, but after many generations he spoke less directly to his children, and began using angels as intermediaries, until he stopped using any source to communicate. I view the New Testament as a fresh reboot: God would give us one more try with his Son, in his (our) Image, through a virgin birth to get his message across.

Is the clamor for superheroes a modern day yearning for a god-like figure? Is it because we’ve run out of faith? Is it because we’ve become cynical? Is technology to blame? The word superhero is nearly one hundred years old, so the phenomenon is certainly not new.

Superheroes fill what I would call the God gap. In a modern society, with more education, the number of people who believe in a deity grows smaller. In the current imagination, the superhero – this fictional near-God is accessible – whereas a true God, is an all-powerful being who ignores our prayers, pleas, directives, and utterances, doesn’t speak directly to us, unless one is a schizophrenic wandering the streets having a good chat with the Holy One.

Superman: A Look at a Modern God

Which brings us to Superman Returns: a movie with religious undertones and overtones. It does not adhere to Christian or other religious doctrine in a straight line, but it was there nevertheless.

Let’s look at, and evaluate, the following religious themes:

Scene: Marlon Brandon, as Jor-El, solemnly states he’s sending his only son, Kal-El, to planet earth to be the guardian humans will need.

My Take: God gave us Jesus, who is the Son of God. Yes? Sorry to state it so baldly.

Scene: Mrs. Kent cradles Superman on his return to earth, after his spaceship crashed in her yard.

My Take: Like Jesus, he is cradled in the arms of his mother.

Scene: Lex Luthor stating that we have a “god” who is selfish with his powers.

My Take: Obviously referring to Superman, and leaving no doubt to the religious theme of the movie.

Scene: In the last quarter of the film, Lex Luthor and his henchmen, on a piece of land created with crystal and kryptonite, beat Superman. Luthor stabs him with kryptonite.

My Take: Luthor will always be a combination of Pontius Pilate, Judas or the Devil to Superman.

Scene: Lois Lane saves a supine Superman, holding him like a baby as she pulls out the kryptonite.

My Take: She cradles him in her arms. There are many women in the life of Jesus who cradle him in her arms or touch him to wash his feet, etc.

The Resurrection

Superman goes up to the sun to heal and regain his strength. He plummets back into the Atlantic Ocean to remove, lift and toss the big rock into space. His exposure to the kryptonite weakens him and he falls back to earth, and fortunately lands in the city park of Gotham.

He cannot be treated, because his skin is impermeable. They can only leave him in his hospital bed, after he “dies” or loses consciousness.

Lois Lane comes to see him. She whispers in his ear. I suspect she’s told him he has a son. Then the little boy goes up to kiss him. In the next scene, his bed is empty. The hospital staff and cops glance at an open window.

Resurrection is a common theme in a number of theological tales regarding Phoenix, Krishna (depending on who’s telling the story), Jesus and others.

As the movie approaches the end, Superman visits his sleeping son, and whispers a lame speech about “The father and the Son.” It’s so ridiculously close to “The father, the son and the holy ghost” I was surprised he didn’t go through the physical motions of it (it’s a prayer, right?).

Our Father Who Art In Heaven

The movie ends with Superman ascending to the heavens.

Was I offended by the religious themes of this film? Nope.

I think it struggled enough with finding a good reason for Superman’s continued existence. (Comic book writers are so bored with Superman they’ve killed him off a couple of times.) Superman Returns gave us little or no insight into his character. He’s as smooth and bland as a small pebble. This effort to make him a God collapses like a cheap tent.

Superman was sent to save us. Yet with him, there is no incentive, no fervor on our part that we should feel for a God. An uninspiring figure, he fails to provide a strong, compelling, and moral reason why he should be in our lives. He couldn’t even show us the right way to live and exist. He is a baby daddy after all.

This movie about Him ends up being about nothing at all.

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