Superman: man of faith

By  Domenic D. Nicassio, The Catholic Register
  • July 12, 2006
{mosimage}Superman has returned to earth and he looks more like Christ than ever before.

The 2006 release of Superman Returns is directed by Bryan Singer and opened in Canadian theatres on June 28.

The film's introduction explains that Superman ascended from earth five years earlier to find out who survived on the planet Kryptonite.
Jor-El, Superman's heavenly father, has taken note of the world's suffering. Mankind is trying to be good but "they only lack the light to show the way. For this reason, I have sent them you, my only son.

"You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father. And the father, the son."

When Superman returns he finds a world worse off than when he left. Most upsetting is that Lois Lane has lost faith in the relevance of Superman. She lives in a common-law relationship with another man, and she is awarded a Pulitzer Prize for writing a cynical newspaper column called "Why the world doesn't need Superman."

But from his resting place in outer space Superman can hear the cries of suffering humanity. He tries to impress upon Lois Lane that the world indeed needs a saviour.

That need becomes more apparent when Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor, implements a plan to create a cancerous super-continent using the power of crystals.

Superman is brutally beaten in a quasi-passion and stabbed in the ribs with kryptonite (his only weakness is susceptibility to kryptonite). Mortally wounded, he spends three days in a symbolic tomb of a coma while his mother Mary waits outside.

Fr. John Pungente is a Jesuit priest from Thunder Bay and the host of the Bravo! monthly television show Scanning the Movies. He said the Superman genre traditionally carried messianic overtones but "in this film it could not be spelled out more clearly."

Pungente describes the hero of this film as a "secular messiah." In post-9/11 days, America "needed a hero." From that time the television image of Superman "became a wounded, vulnerable, sacrificial character who was empathetic with our times," he said.

Pungente sees this type of hero in the film along with Christ-like features.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with that because it will lead people inevitably to ask what he is being compared to."

Although Christ is not a myth, "the myth of Superman leads us to the reality of Christ," Pungente said.

"Anything that can draw us towards God is a wonderful piece of popular culture. Let's face it, this is where kids today are finding the start of their vocations," he said.

That Superman is a helpful way to spur interest in Christ is something author Stephen Skelton agrees with.

Skelton is author of The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero, published in May. His book chronicles the Christian inspiration behind the Superman legacy and the recent film, based on interviews with the storytellers.

"When director Singer went on the record, he said early on that he believes Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes," said Skelton.

"When it came time to explain that, he said he believes Superman Returns is about what happens when messiahs come back."

As for why the parallel exists, Skelton said it is partly due to the story's origin and partly due to the attraction of Christ Himself.

"They are looking to tell the best story they can, and so they are drawing from the greatest story ever told. They see the story of Christ has impacted generations around the world, so when they wanted to add depth and profundity to their Superman story, they drew from the Christ story."

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