Unless you've been living under a rock the last few weeks, you are most likely aware that a pretty big film was recently released. No I'm not talking about the home video release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I'm talking about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. You're probably also aware of the critical lambasting of the movie. Yes it seems like it isn't enough just to dislike the film; one must unilaterally hate this piece of film. I, for one, enjoyed it even though I found the editing troublesome and disliked some of the characterization of the two titular heroes. I do have some very specific thoughts on the film itself, but this is not a review. These are some thoughts I had about who I am and who we might be as men while I was considering the themes of the movie.
It seems like the popular thing in this day and age to take one opinion, thought, or stream of consciousness and take it to its hyperbolic Fantasy Island. Everything is done to the extreme, even opinions of fictional characters. The Twitter and YouTube age has given everyone a microphone and given us carte blanch to over express. Heck, you get more followers that way. But one unique thing comes from our propensity to over analyze. Sensationalism has given birth to real conversations about life imitating art imitating life and so on.
For anyone who regularly follows my blog, I tend to find hidden truths in popular culture. This primarily manifests itself through cinema. I look to film to discover what mankind thinks of itself and about God. I also see hints of the way that God has wired us in the way that we entertain ourselves. The stories of the heroes journey often remind me of the way that God has designed us from the inside out. Batman V Superman made me think about the nature of who we are versus who we want to be.
As many men have, I grew up wanting to pursue justice much the way that Batman and Superman pursue justice. I would tie a bath towel around my neck and soar to the rescue of some damsel in distress. Like many boys I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to save others. I had a sense of adventure and wonderment. And I believe this is part of how God has wired us as men.
If you think about the creation story, we are reminded that Adam was made in God’s image. God is described as many things in Scripture, but one thing in particular is a defender. He rushes to the aid of his people with the sword to defend them from the wicked. He's a protector to those he loves. If we as men are truly made in His image, wouldn't it make sense that we are created to be protectors as well? If you consider Jesus as the man that we most want to emulate, we must remember that he came to seek and save. Jesus was the first superhero. And for generations since, young boys have tried to follow in those footsteps.
Ask almost any man and he will tell you at some point in his life he wanted to be the hero. For many of us, we wanted to be the superhero. But did we want to be Superman or did we want to be Batman? If we ask 100 men, we would probably get an equal amount of votes for both. They both have pretty cool costumes and they both share an equal space in the pantheon of heroes. But who are these men and why would we want to be them?
I believe that if we took a philosophical look at Batman V Superman, most of us would rather have been Superman. He is a man who is firmly rooted in who he is, his identity. He knows exactly what he stands for; truth, justice, and the American way. He isn't driven by fear, doubt, or pain. He is both literally and physically bulletproof. He can't be moved by ideology, the schemes of men, or his circumstances. He isn't guided by his emotions but rather he acts out of a sense of rationality and compassion. He does what is right no matter what the cost to himself. He is free from constant mental self second guessing and doesn't question who he is and what he should do. He is the perfect man; a Superman.
Much of who he is is instilled in him from his father; Jonathan Kent. It is a well-established fact that the creators of superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, believe firmly that if young Kal-El had been adopted by any other parents on earth he may not have become Superman (if you care to see an alternative, read Red Son). There is something unique about a young boy's relationship to his father that helps him to become the man he will eventually be. Jonathan taught Clark the lessons he needed to become Superman. He showed Clark the value of hard work, the importance of family, and the idea that we must pursue a better future for all no matter the personal cost.
Jonathan was a critical cog in the developing identity of Superboy; he let the young boy know he had what it took. Clark did not have to prove anything. If anything, he had something to offer. Our fathers are meant to instill that same value and purpose in us. They initiate us into Superman-hood. Or at least they should.
Bruce Wayne’s story is much different. His relationship with his father is cut off prematurely, while Bruce is still developing. The young Dark Knight is left with a physical and psychological hole in his life. He misses his parents physical presence, but he is also left devoid of the influence a father can have on a son. Thomas Wayne never had the chance to completely tell his son that he was becoming a man. He was never able to teach his son what it takes to be a man and could never encourage Bruce’s intrinsic value. And he never taught Bruce that ideal of doing right. And thus Bruce went through adolescence feeling alone, unsure, and in pain with no one but his trusty butler to help him through. And Alfred, while doing the best he was able, could not tell the lad who he was.
We see in Bruce's developing years that he tried to make himself a man. He spent hours learning martial arts, studying sciences and criminology, and honing his body. All of this is driven by the pain of his loss. He was subject to it. Never fully knowing what the end game would be. He fights crime for vengeance as much as justice. To pour his fear and pain into others. It is a never ending struggle, the war between the man he hopes to be and his own doubts. He never fully lives because he only thing he can give himself wholly to is the mission.
Unfortunately, many of us hope to be Superman but in reality we are Batman. Our fathers may not have been gunned down in an alley, but we still feel a void. Something was missing from our relationship with our father- something that maybe we can't even fully define. It is that innate sense of self – that I have what it takes to be a man. We enter into adulthood trying to either make ourselves men or to prove that we are men. We devote ourselves to work, to study, to owning things, to having the best looking girl on the block. But it feels like a never ending battle. Like we will never “arrive”. We do out of fear. Fear that we are alone, that we are not enough, that we will be discovered as a fraud.
This is the crucial distinction between Batman and Superman; a purpose/identity driven life versus a life of fear. Superman seeks to end crime by inspiring others to hope for the future, while Batman seeks to end crime via fear of retribution. What really drives us? Is it fear? Is it pain? Or is it the confidence in who we are as given to us by our father? And if we start down the Dark Knight path, can we get back to our day in the sun? I think we can. Like Ben Affleck’s character did at the end of the film, we can find hope again. We can put down the destructive ways and seek a truer, purer justice. We just have to be willing to lay the old life down. And if our earthly father was absent or simply did not know how to equip us to be the super men of our earthly father was absent or simply did not know how to equip us to be the super men of our time, we have a Heavenly Father who is ready to do that for us if we just enter in.