Monday, March 28, 2016

SUPERMAN EPITOMIZED, for me



This is not a response or review of Batman v. Superman, which opened this weekend.  I haven’t seen it and, with my schedule, probably won’t until it’s available to stream.  With these two iconic superheroes currently flooding the internet, and, to a lesser extent, my iPod (shout-out to @ITMODcast  and to @sidewalksiren, who brought this scene up on the recent Fistful of Superman episode!), it got me thinking about what it is that perfectly encapsulates Superman, for me.  Took me all of three seconds to land on it.

1978. 
The first Superman film. 
Christopher Reeve. 
That scene where he turns back time by flying superfast around the Earth. 


Why I Love It

First: 

It fully embraces comic book physics.  With the rise of the internet, there have been people who’ve either tried to explain how this tactic could actually work to reverse time (Superman was moving at faster-than-light speed, and that’s theoretically possible) or worked to discredit this scene (time travel’s impossible; that’s stupid).  My response…who cares?  This is a great, comic-booky moment that reveals characters, evinces emotion, and exhilarates an audience fully invested in this story.  Sure, I know rotating the Earth backward won’t turn back time.  But this is a superhero movie, and superheroes do the impossible, especially Superman.  You don’t need explanations, you just need a sense of wonder.

Second: 

This scene perfectly encapsulates what it means, to my mind, to be Superman.  Superman is Kal-El, an alien from Krypton, orphaned and adopted here on Earth.  But he isn’t human.  Kal-El has amazing abilities—super-strength, X-ray and heat vision, flight, super-breath, et al.—abilities that alienate him further, from everyone around him, abilities that isolate him.  Kal-El can never be like us, and he is told, by Jor-El, his biological father, through teachings encoded on Kryptonian crystals, that “It is forbidden for [him] to interfere with human history.”  But, in this moment of anguish—and you feel that anguish in Christopher Reeve’s performance, as well as his relief at the end, when he returns to Lois; this is some bravura acting, seriously—Superman chooses humanity over his Kryptonian heritage.  This is the epitome of Superman, as a character—the immigrant, come to America (which can be read as a stand-in for all Earth) to find a new, and better life.  Kal-El is not an emotionless automaton, but a passionate human, thanks to his upbringing by the Kents, and, in the end, it is that nurturing that wins out over his inherent, Kryptonian nature, and we get all of that in this short, but powerful scene.  

-chris

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