Rev. Fr. Russell Bantiles
WATCHING the most recent rendition of this classic American film, I could not help but point out some resemblances that the movie has with the Catholic fundamental doctrines, and imagine how the film could be of help in the New Evangelization. If “New Evangelization”, as Blessed Pope John Paul II understood it, is “new in its ardor, methods and expressions”, then, I bet “Man of Steel” could be an efficient tool for reaching out to young people and teaching them our faith; of course, only as a starter to attract their attention! Let us try to look at these striking similitudes.
It, indeed, is an eye-opener that the symbol “S” inscribed on the hero’s chest does not stand for “Superman” as most of us presumed since childhood. It is the Krypton symbol for “hope”. And hope is what “Kal-El” (Clark Kent’s Krypton name, which resembles the Hebrew words ??-??, and can be taken to mean “voice of God”) brings to the human world. Kal-El was rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father, Jor-El (a name which resembles the Hebrew Jorel, which literally means “God will uplift”), before the imminent self-destruction of their planet Krypton. Jor-El believed there could be peaceful co-existence between humans and Kryptonians.
By revelation, we know that Jesus Christ, the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, was sent into the world so that He may be the Mediator between God and man. God’s Eternal Word—His Spokesman, His Voice (“Kal-El”)—became man’s hope for salvation. God, indeed, uplifts (“Jor-El”) man from his damnation. He wills that there will be an eternal co-existence between heaven and earth. For this reason, “the Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men may become sons of God” (St. Irenaeus).
The “codex” of Krypton’s survival is embedded in the person of the one sent. The man of steel will save the earth but he must bide his time. For 33 years he was the adopted son of human parents. His foster father died for the sake of keeping his secret, leaving him to work hard to sustain his widowed mother. How long could one keep his secrets and hold his power when someone needed it badly?
Jesus carries in His person the “codex” of our salvation. Salvation is not something imposed on us from the outside, as Protestants would insist. Salvation is from within because it means transforming ourselves into the image of the Only Begotten Son. This is why the Son of God had to become a son of human parents. He had to work like any human being. Indeed, He is perfectly human except in sin. We know how He worked for 33 years (30 years as carpenter and 3 years as a Rabbi) to sustain His widowed mother. We know too how He could not keep His secret and saved the newly-weds at Cana from utter shame and disgrace – all because of His mother’s plea!
In a scene that recalls The Chronicles of Narnia’s “Sacrifice of Aslan” (by C. S. Lewis), our superhero decided to give himself up for the sake of humans. The enemies learned that in order to revive Krypton, Kal-El had to die to release the codex. But the sacrifice of the man of steel only brought about the utter destruction of his enemies. Yet, when all seemed to have reached the climax and the denouement, we see the seemingly interminable fist-fights between Superman and General Zod, which ended up with a remarkable dialogue that brings us back to the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Is this the people you are resolved to save, Kal-El? You can start mourning for them,” said Zod as he discharged deadly rays against human beings. The Book of Revelation pointed out that when the dragon could not get his way with the woman, he then persecuted her sons (cfr. Rev 12). In Gethsemane, it was said that Jesus’ last temptation by the devil consisted in dissuading Him from saving humanity because it was futile: humanity would still make its way against God. But Jesus took the risk with us! His sacrifice on the cross destroyed death, our greatest enemy, and brought us new life in God.
What more can we cite to bring home our point? Well, what about the scene that depicts Clark’s mother gathering what remained of their devastated house? St. Luke has a recurring line about Mary that curiously coincides with this: “And Mary kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2: 19).
Indeed, the whole film was not just about saving the world from utter destruction although it seems that it is the only argument behind every move of the man of steel. The movie was also about freedom, moral conviction and—why not—natural law. The Kryptonians were conceived through machines and each of them was programmed to fulfill a specific purpose or mission in their lifetime. General Zod’s, for instance, is the perpetuation of the Kryptonian race at all cost. He vowed to fulfill his mission even if he had to destroy the whole planet earth. True freedom does not exist when one is governed only by his basic instincts, lower appetites and disordered tendencies, which are “programmed” into him through the original sin.
Kryptonians evolved and with their evolution, their powers also augment. In a world where science, technology and the evolutionary theories are believed to be capable of explaining everything, moral convictions fall into ridicule. Hence, we understand the humor that this line had provoked the audience: “Your morality has hindered your evolution.” The only natural-born Kryptonian was Kal-El; hence, he was the only one who was truly free to stand for his moral conviction. The rest acted like machines. Their behavior and conviction are all determined by their programming. “Man of Steel” is indeed an apologetics in favor of the natural law, freedom and the truth of moral consciences. Are not these topics the best aperitif in the promotion of a “dialogue with culture” that Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI repeatedly emphasized?
Under God’s Providence, there’s no such thing as mere coincidence. If any film is nothing but its director’s discourse, then, I guess, Zack Snyder has succeeded in telling us that in today’s world threatened by self-destruction and moral erosion and in which man willfully shoves God aside, our hope lies in the Perfect Man, Perfect God Who believes that heaven and man’s world—like Krypton and Planet Earth—can, and, indeed, must peacefully co-exist.