Sunday, July 7, 2013

Men of Steel

I recently saw the new Superman movie, Man of Steel. First of all, let me (regrettably) say that the movie was just...not that good. I read one review that said that "Man of Steel represents everything that a great Catholic film ought to accomplish," my response to which was something like this:

Please. If by "great Catholic film," the critic meant that the film includes really overt references to Christianity to remind us - lest we forget - that Superman is a Christ figure, then yes, this movie has that in spades. But if by "a great Catholic film" the critic means that it was Catholic, meaning that it embraced the Whole (for the word 'Catholic' means "the whole" or "universal") and really saw into the entirety of the truth of the great drama in the person while still making evident that all of it was to be seen via the revelation of Christianity, all within a wonderfully crafted story...then no (Dear God, I've been reading too much theology. My sentence structure is going out the window). More often than not, the story seemed to serve the action, and not vice versa. Poor character development, lack of chemistry between leads, and proportionalism from Papa Kent (also - he risked his life to save the puppy? Really?) meant that I just ended up not caring a lot about the characters on screen. Great ideas, mostly poor execution. It's the same reason I prefer bands like 'Mumford & Sons' to most Contemporary 'Christian music.' Fulfill, not abolish, remember? I get burned out when Catholics focus so much on a film being "Catholic," that they forget about a film being good. Not that Catholicism in and of itself isn't good. It's just that Catholicism, being good in and of itself, doesn't make everything else mean less - it makes it all mean more (cf. the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection, The Ascension, The Assumption, the Sacraments, Social doctrine, Theology of the Body, etc).

*sigh* I digress. This isn't meant to be a critique of Man of Steel per se. One of the scenes in the movie that really caught my eye was the one that shows Clark reading something by Plato. Now that was awesome. Because earlier on in the film, Jor-el says to a newly-costumed Clark:

"You will give them an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders."

The philosopher Plato believed in something called the Realm of the Forms, or the Realm of Ideas. He saw reality as mere images or icons of what was most real, which only ever existed as timeless universals in the Realm of Ideas, accessible to thought. It was impossible for any of the Forms themselves to exist in reality; the physical is the manifestation of the idea in time and space. So, an apple is participating in the form of appleness, and if by some chance we ate all the apples on the planet and destroyed all apple trees, the 'Form of Appleness would still be in the Realm of Ideas. Furthermore, all these forms or ideas all in some way image the Good, and the Good is the Form of the forms.

In Man of Steel, so much emphasis is placed on Clark being the perfect example of how to act and live, that when Jor-el says that Clark will give the people of earth an ideal to strive a sense he is saying that Clark is the ideal (and if we run with the idea that Clark is a Christ figure, then this makes even more sense). The movie tries to portray Clark as the ideal, and yet he is somehow able to walk among the images, among those that fall short. Clark is not just - he is justice; Clark is not strong - he is strength; Clark is not selfless - he is selflessness; and (for the ladies), Clark is not just beautiful, but is beauty. And all of it points to the sun, that beautiful illuminating thing that awaits those who walk out of Plato's Cave. It is that which holds everything together: the Good ("so come out of your cave walking on your hands and see the world hanging upside down; you can understand dependence when you know the maker's land"). Jor-el hopes that Clark will be able to get the people of earth to join him in the sun - in reality illuminated.

In another sense though, I think Jor-el is speaking to all of us, and is being very prophetic in doing so. We all know that we are definitely not the ideal. But we are all destined to be super men. We are all destined to share in the ideal, allowing that ideal to penetrate the very core of our being. Though natural beings, all of us were predestined - called - to achieve our supernatural end and spend eternity sharing in the very divine life of the Trinity - sharing in Love. "God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love, having destined us to be his children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace" (Eph. 1:3-6). We are destined to be sons in the Son; to be ideals in the Ideal.

By God's grace, we are meant to accomplish wonders. Christ gave us the Church to help us to do this, to help us to discern and pray and praise and glorify and be holy. But Christ also gave us the Church to help us fight, for our adversary the devil is always prowling around us like a roaring lion (1 Pt. 5:8). And unfortunately, there are times when this adversary finds a way to partially latch onto to us, or to those around us. As Jor-el rightly observes, we race behind the ideal, and we race behind that which we are meant to be. Along the way, we may stumble and fall, and we see others around us do the same. All of which culminates in us worshipping that which is not the Good, or at least, we begin to think that we are the source of our own Good, which gives us the free reign to form our idols, our vices, and our sins.

"My Lord and My Zod."
And in this lies the Christian struggle and the battle for our souls: we have to trek on. We have to see what is true, good, and beautiful, and fight for it at all costs, beating back all that will stand between us and God, because everything depends on it. If we are genuinely smitten with the Revelation of the Cross and have come to a personal relationship with Christ, then we have to fight for it. We have to trek on in the hopes that what we do - by the Grace of God - will set a good example for others, so that they too will join us in the sun Son, a joining that will not mean enslavement, but freedom. The ensuing battles will probably be catastrophic, and sacrifice will be required. But too much is at stake to not do anything. Society at large doesn't even believe that there is even a battle going on between Good and Evil anymore, and we all need to more fully realize this truth, because it will shape everything we do. Put on your red and blue suits, your armour, your crucifixes, your scapulars. We need to fight and become who we were born to be. We need to be men of courage, of strength, of patience, of love. We need to be Men (and Women) of Steel.

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