Flying high at the box office, the Man of Steel has given us a fresh version of Superman that has everyone talking. What’s interesting – and really exciting – is how redundant an examination from Cinemagogue seems this time around. We’ve discussed Superman’s messianic mirroring many times on this site and events, and the narrative parallels play a pivotal part of how we look at engaging narrative in the Cinemagogue book. This time, however, mainstream media has caught on and been examining, discussing, mixing and matching all the ways Clark and Christ compare. It’s a great day when how our modern mythology mimics Jesus moves from Cinemagogue to CNN. I even received an invite to attend a free screening for pastors, complete with notes on how to mix the movie in as sermon illustrations.
Since we’ve covered a lot of ways in which the Man of Steel measures up to the messiah here on the site, it felt more poignant to discuss the amplified ways in which the film is a love letter to Dad and seemingly more appropriate for Father’s Day weekend than one might have expected. The trailer featured conversations from both Kal-El’s Kryptonian father (Jor-El) and Kal/Clark’s adopted earth father, Jonathan. In fact, based on the trailer alone it seemed as though the advise from these men might be in tension or conflict.
“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards.” – Jor-El
“You have to keep this side of yourself a secret.” – Jonathan Kent
Whereas Jor-El anticipates and hopes that his son will become “like a god” to the people of earth – someone for them to follow – Jonathan tells his son that the earth is not ready, and that his identity must be hidden. In the context of the movie’s story, however, these ideas are NOT in conflict, and it all comes down to a question of timing. Jonathan Kent realizes that the son he loves has a destiny, that while he is Clark’s earthly father the boy has a “true father” and needs to be patient so that his mission begins at the right time and place.
“I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason… one day, you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s going to change the world.” – Jonathan Kent
In flashbacks, we see a growing Clark Kent struggling to submit himself to the will, timing and counsel of his Kansas farmer father, and when “one day” arrives, Clark/Kal’s choice is assisted and led by his cosmic father’s “spirit” (thanks to the wonders of Kryptonian technology. What was interesting to me is how the film focused on Superman’s obedience to father’s will, and willingness to act (or not act) according to the will of both earthly father and – dare we say – heavenly father. One scene in particular, with Jonathan, is so moving it led me to tears and serves as the emotional core of the story. The way in which the recorded construct of his father’s consciousness leads Kal is even more direct and important than the poignant scenes with Marlon Brando in the Christopher Reeves film.
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:9-11
Not all of us had an earthly father who, albeit fallible, struggled to love and lead, care and protect us like Clark Kent did. We can wish for this, but we can’t change it. However, many of us have greater questions about life, about ourselves, just as this film’s unique Man of Steel struggles to grasp. “I have so many questions…” he confesses, and so do we. Why are we here? Do we have objective purpose or destiny? The discovery of a higher parentage, a heavenly father who sends his Spirit to guide us, is a wonderful wish that finds true hope in the story of Christ and – subsequently – all adopted sons and daughters of Christianity. Even if our earthly fathers looked nothing like Jonathan Kent, Ward Cleaver or Andy Griffith, the Christian finds the key to his true origin in the perfect father from above.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6:37-39
Jor-El has given his son a burden to carry, but also equipped him with everything he needs to bear it. Despite all the ways Superman may parallel with a Jesus who we need to look to for saving, the heavy emphasis on fathers also makes Kal’s story the story of the Christian walk… how this generation of god-fearing fathers should be equipping their sons and daughters with the temperance to wait on the ultimate wisdom and direction from their heavenly father. This Superman can’t put his faith fully in the American way, but instead we see a humble trust in the truth and justice of his “heavenly” father and a respect and deference to the earthly one he was given.
As a man who had a Jonathan-style father who passed away in 2005, who now rests in the guidance of the true house of El (Elohim), this made Man of Steel a very personal and moving film. I hope some fathers take this movie as an opportunity to talk of these things with own their boys and girls, and hope some grown sons and daughters take some time to reflect on the reality of our father in heaven. It reminded me that my daily struggle is to have the same spirit Jesus exhibited in prayer with God the Father in the garden of Gethsemane: