Man of Steel
Man of Steel
Kal-El doesn't have the very best of upbringings -- though it is still very, very good. His Kansas parents genuinely wish him the very best, but struggle sometimes -- owing to their own limitations -- to provide what Kal-El needs, what any kid would need, to in fact become an adult who through belief in self might just change the world (not impossible: in certain favorable times -- times of permission, not times of crisis or war -- near lone-individuals in fact do). His father is worried that if his son shows his super abilities too early, he'll be overwhelmed by how the world would react to him, and the alarmed world wouldn't have an adult him, to calm them down some and help them stay sane. And this is sensible, but clearly installs in Kal-El a sense that any time he summons his natural instincts, summoned along with it is a frustrating grapple-hold of restraint that'll frustrate and infuriate him. His mother will do what she can to calm her son down, but never quite soothingly confidently, but rather as if, if she isn't particularly skillful, a genius at calming down her own aroused fears and self-doubt, her son will be lost to inner-torments and feel all alone in the world. The son grows up in a world where everything is so heightened. Apparently with the littlest thing, any understandable natural kid instinct given life, his whole known universe could go up in smoke, however much he still does have a mother and father always ready to step in and stomp down some of the impact. The result of his confounding upbringing is that when Kal-El's father refuses to let his son save him from the tornado, one feels not just sympathy but anger towards him: don't you know that you've confounded making your son feel perennially tight with some conviction that his agreeing to cede himself so totally to you has meant losing you as a father?
No wonder he ends up wandering about spare, terse landscapes awhile afterwards, working one little-thanks, scarce-contact job after another: he needs to be in a long zone where his need to temporarily refute his upbringing -- all affections -- is given echo by his surroundings. And fortunately, he eventually finds company with his original Krypton father, who is a bath of cushioning natural ease of self-comportment, and who is given time to enclose his much-loved son safely within it. From him, and from allowing himself a good span just to practice and get used to all his abilities that he has for so long kept under-wrap -- bounding up and arcing against Earth's atmosphere's kiss with deep space, and the like -- his son could stop being someone who looked naturally bound to Christ-like sacrifice himself just to cleanse himself of his Earth-parents' expectations of him as epic, to being a true super man, who not just through physical abilities has it in him to have a formidable impact on the human race.
It should be noted, that this is what he does do: when he allows himself to be captured, agrees to have hand-cuffs placed upon him -- and without any dis-comportment -- people aren't taken aback by any physical ability but by his ability to let himself be humbled, appear humiliated, if it serves a larger purpose. Yes, some of us have still been raised with enough support and love to evolve this much maturity, is what he communicates. There is still hope for Earth.
Many critics find the destruction of good portions of New York really bothersome in this film, offensive, I'll explain why for me this was not at all the case. There is a way of experiencing this film, including the alien world stuff, as really just documenting a normal human life, some good person born outside of privilege, who's potential to realize himself will ultimately have to grapple with the fact that our contemporary world isn't one that is interested in seeing class divides being crossed. I promise you that I actually experienced the Krypton bit, the pre-birth, as something uterine: all the oval shapes, placental tentacle entities, pools of great significance.... So to me Superman could have just been an everyman, whose developmental story, from embryo knowing only a uterine world to a child birthed into a vast blue-skyed "Kansas" cosmos, is the fantastic story everyone experiences, and which we sometimes attend to -- document -- to show how magnificent and remarkable each and everyone of us is. The everyman version of this story would have the parents perennially amazed by their child, perhaps because he was a late-birth, when all hope of it seemed lost. And their belief that their child will change the world, every really loving parents' difficulty in accepting that such a beautiful, glorious miracle could ever not just continue to incrementally grow to affect our collective destiny. And so when Kal-El's fate ties him in with New York, a feeling I had the first moment he made contact with a Pulitzer-prize winner -- Lois -- I couldn't help but think of what New York society would do to him if he was an everyman hoping to become upwardly mobile in the big city.
Without super powers, it'd recognize him only as someone without an ivy-league background, without establishment connections, and without all the mannerisms that are causing many of the well-to-do to not really be able to recognize the rest of their human kin as human in the same way they are. With them, New York would actually kind of do the same. "You're out of Kansas; your father is a mechanic … this is what we cannot shake as mattering most; so how now do we account for the fact that your super abilities and true alien status make us feel silly for still intrinsically experiencing you this way?" The answer is to make you into a Lebron James (credit Andrew O'Hehir for this reference), a super athlete we talk all the time about at the water coolers, but who is never found outside a circumscribed categorization as some kind of super-machine. He could in reality become someone who kind of is like Christ in being morally ahead of a people he was born into, but because recognizing this would mean crediting that they have something to learn from the Kansas-born and raised other than some accomplishment of great physique, it'd be consistently waylaid, in preference for the always-available great-physical-feat bit. He’d eventually be taken as a moral example, but only when elite society had decided it was ready to make the American proletariat in general as much as well, which would happen when it could be done in such a way that it showed them to be great suffering workhorses, not those who really ought to be directing the world.
And so what would an everyman do to still have his say in New York? It wouldn’t matter – he’d have no chance. But what would a super-powered everyman do?: he’d shock the elite, the establishment, clear some way amongst them, and start setting up something of his own from where they had scattered away. The big blast of New York in this film, the buildings going wither and tether, is a manifestation of what this Superman would do (figuratively, not literally) when he had to reckon with the big city (yes, there is a way in which I see the villains as mostly an extension of a universe that empowers Kal-El). He wouldn’t be a Clark Kent, because such a figure would be only allowed to work mail room, and would never be introduced to anyone important (Clark Kent’s appearance in this film as someone who’d work close with prize journalists/editors/publishers, is really just a momentary substitution of a previous cinematic Superman – Christopher Reeve – as a cute and expected way of dolling up a legacy picture (The film had really ended at this point).).
It’s harsh, but this is the only way available to him. If it had been a different era, the 1920s say, rather than the very 1930s-like now, when a regular man from the Midwest – a Gatsby – could shake the core of a big city like New York and find it actually grateful for his great awakening stir, there could have been near simultaneous integration included with his meteor-level impact. But since our times are the opposite, with our Sears and iHops not reminding us of what they long to do (at least) in the film -- of post-war American mid-America; of true heartland virtues held by those who hold the blandest, the least discriminate of tastes -- but of American dregs, even something fundamentally good is going to be taken as bombast missileanic.