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'Man of Steel': A Christ Figure at the Movies

"Man of Steel leaps box office in single bound” was how USA Today characterized the news that director Zach Snyder’s take on Superman, the most enduring of all superheroes, raked in $113.1 million last weekend. That’s an all-time record for a movie opening during the month of June. The previous record was held by “Toy Story 3.”

Far more interesting than the box office numbers, however, is the story being told, a story that should resonate with Christians.

Like the Superman movies of the late seventies, Snyder’s telling of the story does not obscure the oft-noted parallels between Superman and Christ. In the 1978 version directed by Richard Donner, Jor-El, Superman’s father, tells him “I have sent them” — that is, humanity — “you, my only son.”

With Man of Steel, Snyder sees Donner and raises him. Without giving too much away, Snyder’s Superman is 33 years old; his birth was, if not miraculous, definitely out-of-the-ordinary; and a chunk of his life between age 12 and his early 30s is passed over in silence. As one critic disapprovingly put it, the film’s creators “don’t dramatize the analogy [to Christ], they presume it.”

Let’s be clear: Man of Steel is a superhero movie, which means there are plenty of action sequences, some of which seem to go on too long. But it’s also, believe it or not, a story about vocation. Once he learns his true identity and why he was sent to Earth — to save us from ourselves — Superman has to decide if he will do his father’s will despite the risk of rejection.

That’s “father” with a small “F.” This is not the story of Christ, after all. But it is a story that brings to mind what Flannery O’Connor once wrote about her native South: “While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

Likewise, while our culture is even less Christ-centered than the South of the 1950s or early 60s, it is also haunted by the One who came down from heaven. Our books and movies are filled with “Christ figures,” characters whose actions bring to mind Jesus. As my friend Barbara Nicolosi, the founder of Act One, a screenwriting program for Christians, has noted, “the notion of the ‘Christ figure’ early on became a cinematic archetype.”

As someone who came down from the heavens and whose true identity is a mystery to his contemporaries, Superman may be the quintessential Christ figure in American popular culture. This may be why attempts to give him an “edge” have failed. Take Superman Returns from 2006, in which Superman was depicted, in Nicolosi’s words, as an “angst-ridden small town guy who’s obsessed with a girl... and then becomes a deadbeat dad." As you might guess, that movie sank without a trace.

Similarly, Superman is one of the few characters in popular culture who is unreservedly good. To quote Nicolosi again, “stories are supposed to be better than real life.” Too often, what we get are stories and characters that are, if anything, even worse than the people in the theater seats.

A colleague of mine, who saw the movie just this past weekend, plans on taking his teenage son to see Man of Steel and then to discuss the parallels between Superman and Christ, and other themes in the film. You might think about doing the same. I plan to do the same with my daughter.

In fact, to help you talk to your kids about the movie, we’ve prepared some discussion questions. You might want to use them at youth group or perhaps at your home group.

Please come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary. We’ll even link you to some reviews of the movie you might find helpful.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: June 20, 2013

Be sure to visit the Pastor Resource Site for Man of Steelwhere you'll find everything you need to educate and uplift your congregation including Free Videos, Sermon Outlines and Images!

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