Last weekend, I went to see Man Of Steel
, the new Superman movie directed by Zach Snyder.
always been a big fan of Superman movies – as a kid I watched each of the old
Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve over and over (even the one with Richard
Pryor as a computer genius!).
days, superhero movies were few, unlike today, when you can’t drive by a movie
theater without bumping into one (or two playing simultaneously!).
But Man of Steel actually touched me in a way that most
other films don’t these days. It had
nothing to do with the special effects or the over-the-top action sequences in
the last third of the film. Rather it
had to do with not fitting in, as a kid or as an adult!
Here are 5 very special moments from Man of Steel for those
of us that don’t fit in:
A Young Clark Kent asks: “Mom, What’s Wrong
Early in the movie a young Clark Kent, who realizes he’s
different from other kids and can’t fit in at school, hides in a closet at his elementary school. When his mother (played by Diane Lane) comes to rescue him, you can
sense his inner turmoil when he cries out: “Mom, what’s wrong with
Whether we say it out loud or not, most of us who grow up different ask that question at some point
in our childhood. In my own case, not
only did I not look like the other kids and
have a different religion, I was always drawn to geeky subjects (back when
being geeky wasn’t cool).
I think that one of the reasons that stories of heroes like
Clark Kent (or for a later generation, Harry Potter) appeal to so many kids is
that they reassure us that it’s OK that we’re not “like everyone else”. Secretly, it gives us hope that maybe we have
other abilities – not exactly superpowers or magic – but other gifts that make
us special. Maybe it’s the ability to
do math or write computer programs, maybe it’s the ability to dress weird and
sing strange songs, or simply the power to imagine whole worlds in our heads
that others can’t see or fathom.
Lady Gaga, in her Monster’s Ball concert in New York City,
talked on stage about how she still feels like “a loser kind in high school”
because of the way others treated her - she clearly didn't fit in. And
if like me, you were different enough that you couldn’t get a date in high
school, remember words of wisdom from journalist Lester Bang from another film,
Almost Famous: “That's because we're
uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art
in the world is about that very same problem.”
2. John Kent asks: What kind of man are you going to be?
There’s a great scene where a slightly older (but still
young) Clark Kent is being bullied by school kids.
His father, John Kent, played by Kevin
Costner, comes up and the kids move away to reveal that Clark is holding on
very tight to a fence and holding back his anger and power.
You know he just wants to belt those kids.
And you knew he very well could
Anyone who’s been bullied (whether in the schoolyard as a
kid physically, or as an adult verbally by bigoted or opinionated people) knows
this feeling of wanting to fight back! As
a kid this might mean curling up that fist and smashing them in the face. As an
adult it might mean some more sophisticated form of revenge, or maybe, you
still just want to belt them! But like
the teenage Clark, you don’t, because that’s not the kind of person you want to
As John Kent tells the confused young man at that moment: “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.” . I
believe we all have to make choices like these and collectively how we choose
affects the course of the planet.
What really touched me about Superman wasn’t that he was
able to punch out General Zod in the skies of Manhattan and save the Earth. It’s that the young Clark Kent saved all
those kids in the schoolbus, even after they had been bullying him and calling
him a freak. That must’ve been
tough. Forgive, be kind to others, and as
Kevin Costner says, “think about the kind of man you want to grow up to be.”
3. Lois Lane tries to publish a
story about UFO’s in the mainstream media.
In Man of Steel
a respectable reporter, Lois Lane, discovers that there is a UFO and an “alien”
(i.e. Clark Kent before he becomes Superman) hiding in plain sight, she
attempts publish an article in her respectable newspaper, the Daily
The editor refuses to print it,
saying “I’m not going to print a story about Aliens walking among us!”
She has to turn to some fringe conspiracy website as her only way to get the story out!
Now of course, this would never happen in real life...would it?
When respected investigative journalist Leslie Kean got a
call from retired members of European military saying that there was something
to the UFO stories that have been proliferating and that they were putting out
a report about this she got all kinds of warnings from her colleagues (spoken
and unspoken) about the stigma around the subject, which she feared
might be career suicide. She wasn’t fitting in. Luckily, she kept at it, and eventually wrote
a New York Times bestseller that is a great book the subject for believers and
skeptics alike: UFO’s: Generals, Pilots,
and Government Officials Go On The Record.
When the late John Mack, a psychiatry professor at the
Harvard Medical School (and Pulitzer prize winning author), made waves by
writing that abduction phenomenon should be taken seriously back in the
nineties, he was subject to all kinds of “harrumphing” by his colleagues at
Harvard. To paraphrase Alan Dershowitz, a well known Harvard Law professor: There
were certain things that you were and were not allowed to study as a Harvard
professor. Angels? That was a fine. Aliens? Not so much. Angela Hind wrote, "It was the first time
in Harvard's history that a tenured professor was subjected to such an
Again, you are free to write or study whatever you like, as
long as it fits in. Sometimes, I feel that to be considered “respectable”, we
are given a modern, socially enforced, equivalent of Henry Ford’s choice about
the Model T: you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black!
The young Kal-El escapes from a dying
The scenes of Krypton in Man of Steel were visually stunning
and moving, a virtual “film within a film”. But there was something else about
this story that moved me.
The idea of escaping an advanced civilization during or just
before a cataclysm is really the latest incarnation of a very popular old idea.
Somewhere, in our collective
unconscious, as Jung called it, is the mythology of an advanced, dying civilization
and the dual archetypes of the wise “old man” who foresaw its destruction and the
“child” who escapes. These
patterns repeat themselves in stories that humans have been telling for
thousands of years, ranging from the Lost Continent of Atlantis, Aeneas
escaping the fall of Troy to found Rome, Noah escaping the Flood, the stories of the
Anunakhi from the Sumerian texts, and numerous Native American myths of coming from
“over the water” or “under the earth” after escaping a cataclysm (of fire, or
water) to start a new civilization here in North America.
Most popularly it’s called the “Atlantis myth”, and if you imply that it might be something more than that among historical scholars - well, let's just say you won't fit in any longer! In the modern view, civilization and technology advance linearly from simple to complex (like a very straight arrow). But times like the Dark Ages after the fall
of Rome, the loss of complex building techniques after the fall of Egypt, the
loss of the library of Alexandria put a lie to this myth – the true path of
advancement may be much more circular or spiral.
Whether it’s simply a collective psychological
archetypal story that appeals to us, or an actual genetic memory of some long
lost event in humanity’s deep past, there is something seriously worth studying
in this collective mythos of an escape from an apocalypse (not to mention, in
this latest version, as in some versions of the Atlantis myth, the Kryptonians
misused the resources of the planet and this was responsible for the
How do we know, for sure
, that we’re not living in an extended dark ages after the fall of some advanced civilization like a Krypton or Atlantis? Don't ask. You won't fit in.
“Come on! I grew up in Kansas. I’m about as American as you
After being very skeptical of Superman, the humans (all Americans
in this film), seem to realize that he brings them some benefits along with his
But this doesn’t stop them
from trying to use surveillance drones on him to find out what “he’s up to”.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Unlike Snowden in the recent NSA spying scandal, the
government doesn’t go after Superman for
“opting out” of the government spying program.
It’s too bad you or I can’t opt out.
In my opinion, this movie depicts an undertone in America
against those who are “different” going way back: Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Jewish Americans,
Catholic-Americans were all questioned about their “Americanness” and had to “prove
themselves”. And if, like Superman, a Kyrptonian-American, you
weren’t born here, so much the worse! Hell, in Obama’s case, he was born here but still had his “American-ness” repeatedly
questioned (though after the recent spying revelations, you might argue, like
the New York Times did, that he’s proving himself just fine by becoming, in
effect, George W. Obama).
This last scene of the film moved me personally. In the aftermath of 9/11, I was shocked at
the kind of questioning and looks I got whenever I left the big city, simply
for being a Pakistani-American. Sadly, I
felt I had to be careful and diplomatic, not cause any waves, and not always
say what I was thinking. What was I
Honestly, I wanted to throw up my hands, as Superman did,
and say: “Come on! I grew up in Michigan. I’m about as American as you get!”
These five moments in Man of Steel (among others) had a
profound resonance for me (and I hope for others who don’t “fit in”).
Maybe that’s why I like speculative and
fantastical fiction in general, it allows us to see truths about ourselves
without ruffling any feathers since it’s “obviously fiction”!
So, maybe these 5 moments in the story may not be the same ones
that appeal to the majority of the movie-going audience, or even to traditional
After all, I’m not
talking about Life, Justice, and the American Way here.
Or am I? After all, I never was very good at “fitting in”!
Labels: Aliens, Atlantis, fitting in, kansas, Krypton, man of steel, michigan, NSA, spying, superman, ufo's, zach snyder