BvS analysis 2- To Be or Not to Be a God (3100 words)
A little quote from the Coen's "Hail, Caesar" : "It's the foundation of our belief that Christ is most properly refered to as the son of God. It's the son of God who takes the sins of the world upon himself so that the rest of God's children, we imperfect beings, through faith, may enter the kingdom of heaven." Christ thus tells us that by definition we are not perfect, we are not enough. Someone had to sacrifice him/herself in order to make us acceptable and the only way we have to remain so (entering the kingdom of heaven) is to believe in the Christ's perfection.
Of course the similarities between the story of Christ and Kal-El are numerous. I didn't point them out in this article but it is interesting to reflect on what the movie tells us about religion. (And it annoys me that so many people comment on this parallel as if it was totally gratuitous and uninteresting "I know Zack Snyder, Superman is Jesus.")
"Look ! You can save her Kal. You can save all of them." ahem. "Of the threat that is upon them because of me." And obviously "to save" bears two meanings here.
Part 1: Man of Steel
In order to analyse Superman’s inner conflicts in Batman V Superman, it is necessary to go back to the beginning of his story. And I must say, as the movie was killed by critics, that I found the development of the character absolutely enthralling.
If there is one thing that guides Clark Kent, it is his yearning for love. Very early in his life, he’ll learn that he isn’t a human being and thus an alien to the world he lives in.
Integrating human society therefore becomes un-compulsory. Any clue that he is unwelcome, undesired, unloved he can take very seriously. If Clark can’t make friends, he can’t think “I should be able to make friends, it’s unfair, things should be different” because he truly doesn’t belong in this world.
There is something of that feeling when he stands up to an annoying client in a bar. After having had some beer spilt upon his head, he removes his apron and quits. Later the same evening, the aggressive truck driver finds his vehicle destroyed.
Clark gets into trouble with a man for a girl, again (we'll see when the first time was later). And cannot defend himself. Again. Except that this time, he seems a little less ready to act like a gentleman about the whole thing.
Clark abandons his job without any hesitation, he doesn’t insist and very easily come to the conclusion that “there’s no point.” There will always be annoying consumers. After this episode we see him hitch-hiking. A similar truck to the one he destroyed (trailer with trunks) passes him without stopping as if from now on, no truck would stop for him, as if this episode was only an example of how one-by-one all the doors close themselves on him.
Also, on the shot of the impaled truck, we can notice that snow is starting to fall. The whiteness and the cold are metaphors of Clark’s inner life; as his journey leads him further and further into loneliness, the weather becomes colder. There’s already more snow when we see him hitch-hike and then, we find him in the arctic pole: his attempts at integrating the world of humans without revealing his powers lead him nowhere.
It is important to state his bitter failure because Clark’s incapacity to find some space for himself in the society of men traumatizes him. From this moment, he knows/believes strongly that without his superpowers, he is nothing.
Coincidentally, when he reaches the Kryptonian spaceship, he also reaches a psychological extremity at which he cannot cope with hiding his superpowers anymore. There, at the core of loneliness, at the edge of human society, he gives up.
Twice before in the film we’ve seen him come close to find some love. In the bus that crashes into the river, there is a girl who likes him.
Clark fancies the girl. The girl fancies him. The other boy fancies her too and bullies Clark because he so obviously doesn't stand a chance with the girl as long as Clark exists.
And then suddenly, out of nowhere a tyre of the bus is punctured and Clarkboy gets an opportunity to show off his superpowers. Coincidence ? No no.
The waitress of the bar too likes him.
The problem is that he is the ultimate alpha male : because he is too dangerous, Clark Kent has to hide his power and is thus paradoxically emasculated by it.
That’s why he meets Lois Lane in these very particular circumstances. She constantly provokes carriers of the phallus. She states herself that she is in the arctic base only because she doesn’t respect male authority. For some reasons, she takes risks in order to fall victim of symbolic power. She is fatally wounded in the Kryptonian spaceship by a penetration. If it wasn’t for Clark she would have died that night.
So, Clark eventually finds some love (in Lois), the problem is that she was looking for him. She wouldn't be interested in a man (See her poor collegue at the end of this article), she wants a man who is so special that his existence cannot be revealed or else it would destroy all other men. She cannot help him live a quiet life.
And thus, he decides to “come out.” He’s done all he could to live Clark Kent’s life but it didn’t work, now it’s time for Superman to appear. Superman is Clark Kent’s failure at integrating the society of men.
As soon as he decides to acknowledge his own existence, Kal-El is confronted to two possibilities. Rebuilding a new Krypton on earth (thanks to the Codex even though it’s not quite clear how he would do that) or becoming some sort of god for humans. There are other paths possible (like saving his race and sparing humanity), but Clark cannot see them yet.
Zod and Jor-El incarnate these two possibilities, they are Clark’s psychological inclinations and the long long fight of the second half of the movie represents Clark’s inner struggle. Eventually, he will choose not to destroy humanity because he can’t find the strength to do so but when he kills Zod, he also kills one part of himself.
When he tells Zod “Krypton had its chance” before destroying the Kryptonian spaceship with his laser eyes, Clark isn’t aware of the fact that he exists only because his crazy father deprived Krypton of its last chance and that it’s why Zod is so ruthless with human beings.
Jor-El perfectly knew that Zod would do everything to save his race (How can you argue against that) and by sending Clark on earth with the Codex he condemned humanity. Jor-El is the culprit. If Zod forces Kal-El to kill him, it is because he wants at least to have made clear that Kryptonians were killed, that their extinction is not their entire fault but a crime.
Everybody was so pissed off by the fact that Superman killed in the movie. But I find the rewriting of the character very engaging. Everybody agrees that Superman is dull, why sulking when a writer tries to make him more interesting and manages to do so ? And what is truly great is that the movie does not end particularly well and allows Batman V Superman to exactly start where this one ended.
Superman decided not to eradicate humanity. Great. He chose not to rebuild Krypton, but at the same time, he does not want to integrate human society. He wants to be above everything, unpoliced, unchecked. America after second world war. And that’s where Batman V Superman starts.
Superman has become a god for many. Not because he is one, but because he acts like one, like Jor-El wanted him to. Jonathan Kent too thought Clark was destined to accomplish great things, Martha reminds her son of this on the grave of her husband. But Jonathan died because he preferred Clark to keep his superpowers secret than to save his life. How could Clark possibly decide that “now is the time to reveal my existence” after such a tragic event ?
"Don't save me son, the existence of a man as manly, pure and innocent as you are would transform all the women of the planet into vain insensitive bitches ! Grow a penis before you reveal yourself to the world."
The young man is in a position to feel that his superpowers are wrong. Having to hide them, to accept to be excluded because of them suggest that he should feel guilty of having them. Lex Luthor will echo this idea, “Do you know the oldest lie in America senator ? That power can be innocent.”
At the end of Man of Steel, Superman believes that his superpowers are acceptable as long as he only uses them for good. But that’s how he ends up being considered a god and “emasculating” humanity. He demeans humans by being the one people turns to when they need help, when they want a miracle. It’s true that Superman is better equipped to save them, but isn’t it quite dangerous that people should turn towards him when they would usually pray for a miracle ?
There is a whole theme of emasculation in both movies. Jonathan Kent wounds his leg before he is swallowed by the storm. He is emasculated by the power of his son and that is why he keeps on asking Clark to hide his powers, because he knows his existence will destroy people’s (or strangely only men's) sense of worth, usefulness and power. At the end of the film, there’s a flashback on the Kent family in which young Clark is wearing a cape. Martha laughs, but Jonathan looks very concerned and anxious.
This father is not afraid of his son's power one bit. He is totally happy to see him wear a cape and play with the dog.
Colonel Swanwick too is emasculated by Superman at the end of Man of Steel when his female subaltern laughs and confesses “I just think he’s kinda hot”after Superman has destroyed an over expensive satellite.
Another man who sees his manliness mocked as soon as Superman is around. Thank god Wonder Woman exists.
In their last scene together, Martha asks Clark: ”What are you going to do when you’re not saving the world ? Have you given any thought to that ?” Clark has now found an official role in society, he’s got a lot of symbolic power but as Superman. He is still not accepted or loved as Clark Kent. It is the end of the movie and he is still stuck, people are interested in the alien, the messiah, the god, not in the man.
He finds a place at the daily planet pretending it is in order to get information for his role as Superman, but he is answering Martha’s question about “what he will do when not saving the world” and truly, it’s Lois that makes him choose the Daily Planet. Love. “Welcome to the Planet,” she says.
And what’s the first thing we see when he arrives at the daily planet ? A poor guy getting rejected, humiliated and laughed at by women. Men are not enough anymore, women want Superman and consider men like dogs. "Throw me a bone Lois."
Guy humbly asks a woman out. Woman reacts as if it was demeaning and insulting of him and goes as far as dissuading her female colleague from accepting the same offer. Second girl laughs because you know, he is obviously ridiculous to think a princess like her could have any interest in a guy like him. Later in the night the bodies of two vain insensitive bitches are found in the river.
PART 2: Batman V Superman
When BvS starts, emasculation is still going on. This time it is Bruce Wayne who finds himself powerless in front of the death of all his employees in Metropolis. Wallace Keefe (the guy played by Scoot McNairy) becomes the incarnation of this phenomenon. His legs are amputated because of a wound resulting from the fight between Zod and Superman (and the destruction of the city). Legs amputated => loss of the phallus.
More and more people are gathering against Superman although he is also becoming the object of a serious cult. Poor Clark Kent is only doing his best. He is trying to act for the good of mankind and to make it obvious that his decisions are never questionable morally. Saving people from fires, explosions etc… he allows himself to use his powers only when it is for the common good. The thing is, he’s a hypocrite. When he behaves like this, he pretends that he has no personal motivation to do it, that he is completely selfless.
And that’s why the principal person who is going to accuse him is the handicapped guy. He writes “false god” on the giant statue of Superman. A true god would only do good but he wouldn’t stage his interventions so as to be acclaimed or idolized. Superman's actions deprive men/human beings of their symbolic power and this guy is the living incarnation of that fact. He is a victim of the guy who pretends to only do what's good.
So, the evolution of Superman’s status in Batman V Superman is the acknowledgment of the hero that he has weaknesses and desires and also that moral perfection doesn’t exist. Which means he confesses that he cannot be the "son of god" taking the sins of the world upon himself to save the rest of God's children. His love of Lois Lane lead him into a trap, made him make a mistake. He even confesses that he might have avoided the bombing of the senate if he had truly wanted to.
In his behaving like a god, there is a revenge taken for all the years of solitude. Clark Kent was rejected by humans, now he teaches them how much he doesn’t need them, that they are nothing compared to him and that if he is kind it is only because he chooses to be. In his arbitrary kindness, there’s an indirect threat, and there’s hate actually and condescension. Senator Flynch and Colonel Swanwick understand this very well.
As for Batman, he knows that Superman and Zod’s fight through metropolis was a fight between two men who didn’t much care about collateral damages.
(Here I have to make a little parenthesis. In this film it seems that men are metaphorically used as owners of symbolic power and women as witnesses of men’s fight for symbolic power. It feels a bit forced. The handicapped guy who climbs Superman’s statue could have been a woman for example. The way it is written, it’s a bit as if Superman only made Men feel powerless and useless, not women.)
Batman also feels reduced by Superman’s behaviour and the idea of his branding the criminals he captures is absolutely great. He wants his efforts to remain noticed although that leads him to a much darker and more radical path.
The confrontation between Batman and Superman is very well put into place. Humanity wants to see Superman confess that he is no god, that he needs them. But Superman won’t do it because he hates human beings for the way they’ve treated him all his life. He cannot say “I need you, I wish you would like me when I’m only Clark Kent” when he has tried all his life to be accepted and never succeeded. One element I haven’t underlined yet is how, in Man of Steel, they surrender him to Zod without any hesitation when they are actually ready to fight for Lois Lane. It was an intelligent move from Zod to ask for her to come on his ship.
Mankind surrenders Superman to Zod when they don't even know they are confronted to überaliens. But Lois Lane NEVER !
Clark’s moral purity is a way of telling humanity “I’m not like you” because he actually feels the need not to be like them, he needs to feel superior in order to cope with the fact that he is unloved. In Superman’s eyes, Batman incarnates the reason why humans cannot love him. They are immoral and violent and thus cannot appreciate his innocence (although Superman killed Zod, Clark Kent remains a conflict-avoiding self-effaced person).
In the eyes of Batman, Superman is an arrogant hypocrite who pretends to do good when obviously there is a part of him who wants to hurt people. But also, and more understandingly, he knows that Superman necessarily has the equivalant to a Nietzscheen will-to-power, that he necessarily desires more than to simply give and therefore is a liar when he pretends the contrary.
The resolution of their fight is quite complex. With the Martha thing Batman understands at the same time that he is going too far in his hyper-violent vigilantism (Killing Superman as a pre-emptive strike) and that Superman actually can acknowledge his weaknesses. Because by saying “save Martha” Superman confesses his need for help. But the fight was necessary because if Batman had listened to Superman before it, Superman wouldn’t have asked “for help” but would have presented things as if he was doing Batman a favour: “I could solve everything by killing you and bringing your head to Lex Luthor but I’m not going to do that”
This approach is exactly how he behaves towards humanity: “I’m your saviour but only because I feel like it. I could kill you all in the exact same way.” When the senate explodes, Superman later admits that he didn't prevent the explosion because he didn't want to (and that's why I think Lex Luthor is metaphorically a part of Clark Kent). Well, his fight with Batman is the result of that, he had the opportunity to accept to "submit" to some regulation of his own will and didn't. Now, he needs to have his ass kicked and then submit to some regulations.
There’s a moment in BvS at which he is following Bruce Wayne and catches a glimpse of the news on TV. The commenter underlines explicitly that a young woman is going to die burnt alive and that nobody is doing anything to save her. Of course, Superman goes and saves her. But in the context of this essay we can see where the ambiguity lies. Did he do that to humiliate all the people who failed at saving her ? Superman cannot intervene each time someone’s life is in danger, he necessarily chooses all the time. Why choosing the girl on TV ?
So the fight with Batman humbles him a bit, but also, the fact that Batman could spare his life once he has admitted his weakness is actually a step toward getting some affection. He has found a friend ! The first.
Now, there is another aspect that I haven’t tackled yet when it comes to Superman godliness. When Batman is kicking his ass he tells him: “You are not brave, men are brave.”
I actually believe that Superman agrees with that and that it doesn’t help him. He knows his superpowers don’t make him courageous or worthier than any human being and his hate of Batman and of humans could also rise from the fact that he feels inferior to them although he was born more powerful.
In the end, getting his ass kicked by Batman is the best thing that ever happened to him. It must be such a relief to hear the vigilante say that he is taking care of Martha’s liberation. Someone cares !
But Lex Luthor resurrects Zod. Why ? What does that mean ? Zod is Kal-El’s desire to revive his own race. Doomsday, Zod 2.0, is Judgment Day, it is the day when god judges people. And in this case, god would be a Kryptonian. So Doomsday is the Kryptonian god who descends on earth to judge mankind and eradicate it because they haven’t been good believers. In Man of Steel, Clark abandons the idea of saving his race, in Batman V Superman he abandons the idea of making Kryptonians the gods of human beings. Doomsday is the other side of Superman’s coin. “You didn’t want to kneel in front of a benevolent god ? Here comes the anti-god.”
Now, I’ll have to think about why it should be Lex Luthor who creates Doomsday and what it means that he cuts his hand and pour his blood on Zod’s face.