Hypergraphia is a condition that causes people to transcribe their thoughts uncontrollably. I don't suffer from it in the clinical sense, but I may be borderline. My blog is the cyber-wall where I spray paint my thoughts for all to see. By the way, if you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.


I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why Yes, Thank You, the World DOES Need Superman

Jason and I are probably the last two people on earth to go see Superman Returns (that is, out of the subset of people who were ever going to see it). We went to it Sunday night and I've been mulling over my review/analyze-it-to-death blog entry, ever since. I think I'm finally ready to weigh in on the latest incarnation of the Man in Tights. Oh, sorry, he prefers "Man of Steel," doesn't he?

Needless to say, spoilers abound here, but as I said anyone who's going to see the movie probably already has, so we won't worry too much about that.

First up, you have to understand that I am not a comic book fan. Unlike my husband I wasn't raised on comics; I don't read comics. My only exposure to superheroes is through the movies, so to me, Superman is Christopher Reeve, in the 1978 movie -- that was the first time I ever saw him. So there won't be any of this tiresome comparing the movie to the comic book that all the real Superman fans always get on with. Superman, like Spiderman and Batman, is a movie character for me.

Superman 1978 set the standard. When I went to college in the early 80s, my cousin Jennifer and her roommate Grace had a life-sized poster of Christopher Reeve as Superman hanging in their dorm bathroom. Their Korean suitemate, Heidi, used to complain that "I can't do my Number One and Number Two with Superman looking at me!" But the poster stayed. (Heidi, we presume, adapted). Superman was iconic.

Another thing you need to know about me is that I hate action in movies. Action bores me. Chase scenes, explosions, suspense, people getting shot, people getting beaten up -- all this stuff puts me to sleep. I really can't concentrate on it.

What I enjoy in movies are the interactions between characters -- the human dramas. So for me, Spiderman II is a great superhero movie because of the relationship between Spiderman and Mary Jane. What interested me in Superman Returns was how they handled the "man" part of Superman -- his own understanding of his identity, and how he relates to the human beings around him, especially, of course, Lois Lane.

Here we hit my first and largest roadblock with this movie. I'm sorry, but I completely and totally could not buy Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. She can't even try on Margot Kidder's shoes, much less fill them. She looks like a little girl, fragile and uncertain. The movie can't decide whether Lois is a strong woman or a damsel in distress, a Pulitzer-winning reporter or a ditz who wonders how many "f"s are in "catastrophe." A strong actress could have pulled the role in an interesting direction; Kate Bosworth just flounders around looking sad and waiflike.

The worst part about this is that Parker Posey is in this movie -- as Lex Luthor's galpal Kitty Kowalski. Parker Posey. The one actress of this generation who could put on Margot Kidder's shoes, fill them, and stomp around making some serious dents in the scenery. How could they have put her in the movie and not cast her as Lois Lane? (I realize she's about 10 years older than Brandon Routh and that might not have worked for some people, although I wouldn't have cared. I also though Routh, while he looked the part and acted about as well as Superman/Clark needs to act, was too young for the role -- Superman would be a lot older than 26 by this point in his career, wouldn't he?)

So once I got past my annoyance at the casting of Lois, there were lots of exciting action scenes where I had time to mull over questions that bothered me, such as:

-What's with the fists? When Superman is flying, he sometimes has both arms extended with his fists clenched in front of him. Why does he do that? Does he have to do that? No, because sometimes he has just one fist extended, and sometimes his hands are open. Does hand position make a difference, aerodynamically speaking?

-If Lex Luthor has all those wigs on stands in his lair, why is he usually bald except when he's in disguise? Does he really think it looks better? Does anyone still buy this "bald is sexy" shtick?? (To be fair to this movie, BTW, I should add that Kevin Spacey rocks the casbah in this role. But he's only sexy in the two scenes when he's wearing hair).

-If a Big Mean Guy locks you in a small room, why would you immediately start pounding on the door and screaming, "Let me out!! Let me out!!!!"??? Because first, if he wanted you out, if he had any inclination to allow you to be out, would he have put you in in the first place? And second, surely nothing good is going to happen if Big Mean Guy is on the same side of the door as you are. Isn't it better to have a heavy locked door between you and BMG?

-Lex Luthor's dad always told him to buy land, because it's the one thing they're not making any more of. Oddly, my dad often says the same thing. Yet I have never had the urge to become an Evil Overlord and create my own continent at the expense of billions of lives, making everyone else come crawling to me for some of my precious Land. Why not? Clearly more goes into the making of an arch-villain than either nature or nurture.

Amid all my musings I did stop to reflect on the more serious themes of the movie. Just about every superhero movie has to do the superhero-as-Christ-figure thing at some point. It's just a given. Spiderman II did it to the extend that I took to calling it The Passion of the Spidey after I'd seen the train scene the second time. Superman Returns lays the Christ-imagery on pretty thick. Superman's real father, Jor-El, does some heavy voice-overs telling Supe how he's sending "you, my only son" to the people of earth. People keep referring to him as a "savior." He gets not one but two death-and-resurrection scenes -- the first comes complete with an ascension, and the second includes the obligator body-stretched-out, arms-at-sides cruciform pose as Supe floats through downwards through the air (see also: Passion of Spidey, front of the train scene for further examples). In other words, they're laying it on pretty thick to make sure we don't miss the parallels.

I suppose the hero-as-Christ-figure is irrestible, and perhaps even unavoidable, and some might suggest that the paradigm even predates the historical Jesus, going right back to savior-figures in pagan mythology. Maybe it's the oldest story because it's the only possible story: if God were to enter our world and save us, He would have to suffer and die and be reborn. Maybe it happened that way because there was no other way it could happen. And every hero story before and after echoes some element of this essential reality.

The central question of Superman Returns is, thus, an interesting question from a Christian perspective: Does humanity need a savior? More specifically, do we need a savior from outside, like Jesus or Superman, to come down and do what we can't do ourselves? Superman returns from a five-year absence (hitchhiking around the galaxy, Finding Himself) to discover that Lois, who has Gotten On With Her Life, has won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial entitled, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." He reappears at a crucial moment, saving Lois' life and the lives of many other people, and swings back into action doing all the stuff we humans can't do for ourselves -- moving planes out of the way, thwarting criminals, grabbing people as they plummet to their deaths, etc. At the end of the movie, Lois sits in front of her computer screen to write an article titled: "Why the World Needs Superman." But, significantly, her cursor blinks on an empty screen: she writes nothing.

It's the quintessentially modern question, and the movie answers it in a typically postmodern way: Yes and No. Superman does save humanity; we do need him. But he also needs us. Lois and her son and her perfectly decent boyfriend save Superman when he can't save himself: that good old human spirit proves tough and resilient again, and leaves us wondering whether humanism doesn't offer the best answer after all.

As a philosophy, I love humanism. I love humans; I think we're a great race. If I were picking beliefs based purely on their appeal to me, I'd be an all-out humanist. I watched Superman Returns and cheered when the humans saved the superhero. I watch Star Trek (any series) and want to believe that someday we'll solve all humanity's problems, clean up the earth, and zip up in our matching spacesuits to go explore the galaxy. Part of me wants to believe that humans alone have the answer, without needing saviors from space to rescue us.

The problem with humanism is that, much as I love humanity, our track record at saving ourselves pretty much sucks. Every bit of human progress we see turns into one-step-forward, two-steps-back (Exhibit A: Israel vs. Lebanon, Summer 06). I can't seriously believe we'll ever rescue our race, or our planet, without outside help. Which, fortunately, I believe is on offer, though not from Krypton. So I guess I'd come down on the side of saying that we do need -- not Superman, but the Superman's prototype: Jesus Christ.

There, that's some pretty heavy reflection for a mediocre Hollywood summer blockbuster. But if you snooze through all the shoot-em-up action scenes, you're left with quite a bit of time to think.


Blogger Heather said...

Since we live near the cheapest movie theatre in NB, I see alot of movies - mostly with boys in tow. One movie I had no interest in seeing - was Superman. I just can't get over the suit. In Spiderman, which I quite liked, there was some funny dealing with the suit (seeing it hanging pathetically in his closet). The blue tights with red underoos, are just too corney for me - added to the "sending you my only son" bit just went far over the top.

My new superhero...Jack Sparrow...followed closely by Barbossa.


5:51 PM  
Blogger TrudyJ said...

I would have given it a miss too if DH hadn't wanted to see it. Whereas with Pirates2, I made sure we were lined up the second night it opened ... no way was I missing Captain Jack Sparrow!

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Jamie said...

You are right about Lois Lane. I thought Bosworth was "okay"...but recently watching the first and second Christopher Reeve movies really showed how little she offered compared to Margot Kidder.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Melessa said...

I'm glad I wasn't the only one disappointed in Kate Bosworth. I was 8 years old when I saw the first Superman movie and I remember how much I wanted to be like Lois Lane. I took my 8 year-old daughter to see this one and I sure hope she doesn't want to be like THIS Lois. I will confess with a red face that I liked the movie, though.

3:46 AM  

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