返回

No doubt - Superman is deity figure

Brandon Routh strikes a familiar pose in "Superman Returns."
 
From the July 14, 2006, Deseret News
 
When Hollywood's Production Code went into effect in 1934, one self-censoring rule was that movies could not ridicule religion.
 
Thus, priests, ministers, preachers and general churchgoers were portrayed with the utmost respect from that time through the 1950s.
 
That changed rather quickly, of course, with the breakdown of the code in the late '50s and early '60s. Now, religion was more often treated with mockery than respect, which remains true today.
 
So it is perhaps years of conditioning — of watching movies wherein faithful people are portrayed as foolish or evil — that caused me to be taken aback recently by the conclusion of the 1936 MGM classic "San Francisco."
 
The film has a lot of religious chatter, to be expected since third-billed star Spencer Tracy plays a Catholic priest. He is the best friend of the decidedly non-religious character played by Clark Gable. In fact, it's fair to say that Gable's womanizing gambler spends the first two-thirds of the film being anti-religious, and more than a little self-righteous.
 
But in the end, after the city is leveled by the devastating 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, Gable spends a lot of time roaming the ruins, looking for Jeanette MacDonald, whom he loves and thinks he may have lost.
 
During his trek, he sees people — rich and poor, in a variety of circumstances — coming to grips with the deaths of loved ones. But he also sees others finding spouses and children.
 
And he hears these people, over and over, thanking God.
 
It has a dramatic affect on the character, and in the end, when he finds MacDonald, but before he approaches her, Gable tells Tracy he wants to pray but doesn't know how. Tracy tells him to do whatever feels right, so Gable turns toward a half-demolished wall, drops to his knees and prays aloud!
 
I found this sequence tremendously moving, but I also know we'd never see it in a Hollywood film today.
 
The closest we get is Christ symbolism, which crops up every now and then. And even when it doesn't, someone says it has.
 
"Star Wars"? "Star Trek"? "E.T."? Take your pick.
 
But with Superman? No debate.
 
Superman is the only son of an advanced being in the heavens, sent to Earth as a baby to grow up among humans and act as a savior.
 
Of course, most movies and TV shows have downplayed the parallel. If you weren't looking for it, you probably wouldn't notice the symbolism in early Superman serials and cartoons, or in the various TV series and movies.
 
Until you get to "Smallville," which sometimes plays it up.
 
That show — which is still on — is about Superman as a teenager, growing up in the Midwest and trying to understand the extraordinary development of his own body, as well as his non-human identity. Teen angst and puberty with super powers.
 
And in one episode, Clark Kent/Superman is tied up and mounted as a sort of human scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield — looking very much as if he has been crucified.
 
That moment was unquestionably the most heavy-handed Christ imagery to appear in any Superman show.
 
Until the latest film incarnation.
 
Christ symbolism is even more heavy-handed in "Superman Returns," dubbed by one critic, "The Passion of the Superman."
 
When his father (a resurrected Marlon Brando) in the heavens sends him to Earth, we hear: " . . . I have sent them you, my only son."
 
As an adult, Superman tells Lois Lane, "You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one."
 
"The son is in the father, and the father is in the son," is another recurring line.
 
And at one point, villain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) says, "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind."
 
In the film, Superman "dies," is "resurrected," and in outer space, as he falls backward with his arms outstretched, the visual moment is an obvious nod to crucifixion.
 
And not to give away secrets, but a "Da Vinci Code" twist follows.
 
I guess if Hollywood must have a Christ figure in a movie, we should just be thankful he's the hero.