For the past 3 years, my wife and I have been attending South Bay Church in San Jose. We love it. I especially like the young, entrepreneurial feel of the church. Whatever your preconceptions of church, I guarantee you South Bay is very different. It sounds weird to say, but it feels more like a startup than a church.
I was in a men’s group at South Bay Church that went through the book by John Eldredge. The book is about true manhood, and the main thesis is that manhood is passed down from father to son. However, as imperfect humans beings, our father’s usually do a bad job at this, if they are even present at all.
Last night, a group of us from the group went to see Man of Steel. Now, due to the themes of the book, Braveheart is brought up as a perfect companion film. However, after seeing Man of Steel, I think Braveheart has been supplanted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Man of Steel is a better movie by any stretch of the imagination. Braveheart is one of the greatest movies of all time. But, Man of Steel does a great job bringing out the fatherhood themes in the Superman mythology, and it tracks very closely with Wild at Heart.
** SPOILER ALERT **
This comes across in several ways in the film.One of the main themes Eldredge talks about is “the wound". Basically, when a boy grows into a man, he has one overriding question: Do I have what it takes? This question manifests itself in many ways: girls, athletics, popularity, academics, manly things. The wound is the dagger that cuts to the heart of every boy when he is told he doesn’t measure up, that he doesn’t have what it takes. It could be an absent, abusive, or neglectful father. But it doesn’t have to be. Even the best intentioned fathers can leave wounds.
In Man of Steel, the wound is clear. “Clark, you can’t let the world know who you really are," says Jonathan Kent, Clark’s earthly father. Jonathan is overprotective, and as a result Clark is a shell of his real self. This is made evident in his first battle with Zod’s forces. One of Zod’s lieutenants tells Clark that he fights without confidence. Even though Clark has enormous powers, he doesn’t know how to maximize his abilities. This is epitomized in the heart wrenching scene where Clark is forced to watch his own father die because Jonathan refused to let Clark reveal his powers.
Contrast Clark’s earthly father Jonathan with his “heavenly father" Jor-El. Unlike Jonathan, Jor-El always intended for Clark to step into the fullness of what he was made to be. If you’ve seen the trailers, it’s clear that Clark is special, even by Kryptonian standards. While the majority of Kryptonians are artificially birthed, Clark is the first natural birth in centuries. Instead of following what society predestines us to be, Clark has the potential to break the mold and forge his own path. Jor-El knew this, and the first encounter between Clark and his heavenly father is riveting. First, Jor-El gives Clark his true name. Readers of Wild at Heart will find this familiar. Throughout the bible, our heavenly father reveals the true name to many heroes of the faith. Jacob becomes Israel. Saul becomes Paul. Abram becomes Abraham. The list goes on. Jor-El not only reveals Clark’s true name and purpose, but his meaning. The symbol of the House of El stands for hope. Not just hope for Krypton, but hope for humanity.
Once Clark is armed with this knowledge from his father, he literally comes alive and becomes a different person. He is born again in a sense, with a clear understanding of his mission and purpose. Even though Jor-El is actually dead, his spirit lives on and guides Clark in his journey. The spiritual parallels are uncanny. In Wild at Heart, Eldgredge says that to receive healing for the wound, we must let ourselves be fathered by God, our heavenly father. When we open ourselves to that possibility, God gives us a new name, which represents the purpose and calling He designed for us. It’s almost as if Man of Steel was written by Eldgredge himself.
After Eldgredge talks about our new name and purpose, he talks about the enemy. In the biblical sense, that enemy is threefold: Satan, ourselves and the world. In Man of Steel, all three come into play. The “Satan" character is clearly Emperor Zod, a villain with evil intentions for humanity. But Clark has other enemies as well. One of his biggest enemies is himself, or more accurately, the version of himself that resulted from his wound. A shell of his true self, his “fleshly" self is beset with guilt, doubt and frustration. So much so that he literally spends much of the first half of the movie in hiding, a nomad wandering the Earth with no roots and no sense of self worth. He is bullied and terrorized by men much weaker than he is, afraid of showing his strength. Clark’s third enemy is the world, the geopolitical system that fears his strength. This is represented by General Swanwick, who spends much of the movie trying to find and contain Clark. In the final battle scenes, Swanwick’s forces literally fire on Superman as much as Zod.
By the end of the movie Superman conquers all three enemies. He defeats Zod by overpowering him. He defeats his own demons through the help of Jor-El and Lois Lane. And he defeats the world through being in the world but not of the world.
Finally, as Clark steps into his calling, he becomes part of the greater story. The final chapter in Wild at Heart talks about our story being part of the greater story, which is the Redemption of Mankind. Similarly, Man of Steel ends with Clark’s story being part of the greater story of humanity’s redemption and salvation. It couldn’t be summarized any clearer than by the from the trailers, spoken in the voice of Jor-El.
"You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will stumble, they will fall. But you will help them, you will guide them, you will give them hope. That’s what this symbol means. Hope."