Man of Steel is an extremely important movie when it comes to its themes, as almost every single person can relate to the film Let’s examine some of it
Whether you are a filmmaker or not, there is no denying that film is a form of art. Just like any piece of art in a museum, it is interpreted differently by the viewer seeing it. However, each artist — whether a painter or a film director — makes his work to express something about themselves. Sometimes this act is unintentional, or subconsciously done. Interestingly though, a viewer may find a connection of their own in the artist’s piece that may not have been placed there intentionally. Making personal and real-world connections to art the basis of what creating and viewing art is all about. Art — to me — is the expression of one’s point of view. That’s what Zack Snyder tries to convey in his films as well, especially with Watchmen and Sucker Punch.
Usually this process of connection is what we call themes. A good definition for a theme is the “underlying concept or meaning within a work of art”, which, we the viewer, hope to look for and the artist hopes to implement. Almost every work of fiction will have a theme; whether that theme was intended by the artist or not. Every time a director puts someone in front of his camera, they are expressing their point-of-view. Similarly, every time someone flicks on a movie, they’re looking to be entertained and make a connection to the art. To learn more about themes, I’ve embedded a fantastic video from Darious Britt on YouTube below where he explains what exactly themes are, and how to look for them.
So what themes does Man of Steel have?
Now, Man of Steel isn’t the greatest screenplay in the world. There’s no doubt about that, but it’s also not even close to the worst. I like to describe it as experimental; below all the somewhat odd dialogue (“what if I have to tinkle?“) there’s some great depth and weight to it, which Zack Snyder and David Goyer worked hard to convey. However, there’s plenty of themes that the viewer can come up with and make connections to as well, mainly because there’s a huge variety of diverse characters and situations in the theme. With stating diversity, I’m not restricting that term to race or gender, but on a much wider scope such as occupation, social status and more. Despite the screenplay having some wrinkles, Man of Steel still manages to be incredibly full of weight, for many reasons.
For example, using Darious Britt’s video as a basis, one theme you could come up with in Man of Steel is “Despite disagreements and fights, the bond of family keeps us going”. This is something I see personally when I watch Man of Steel, because Clark’s struggle with fitting in — within family as well — personally connects with me, but the scene where he argues and insults Pa Kent resonates with me on a far deeper level than I’d like to admit. As my family constantly got in altercations — sometimes physical — there were times where I felt like I never wanted to see them again, but I don’t think I could handle that, because we do need each other at some level. Moments later, Pa Kent is forever lost in a tornado and Clark realizes that he sort of took his love for granted. This is what I fear, especially now that I have separated parents, I connect with Clark in an interesting way. This theme of family bond is not something everyone can relate to on the same level as me, but it doesn’t mean it’s a false theme, it’s a personal connection I can make to the movie.
Interestingly as well, I also feel like a theme in Man of Steel could be “Despite society designing a certain role for us, we have the power to choose our future”. To create this idea, I look at how Krypton’s philosophy of breeding artificially connects to the real world. Jor-El explains that all of Krypton’s ideology is in the Codex and poured into Clark as he was sent away, the first natural birth in centuries. This is due to the fact that on Krypton, everyone is a artificially bred with a pre-determined purpose in their society. This is where Zod’s sympathy comes into play, but that’s a story for another time.
I connect this personally in the way that a lot of people are bred to believe that we can only have one job or one career in our lives; we have to go to college for one career path and stick to it for the rest of our lives. I, personally, struggle with this idea of having a singular job or career. To me, it’s based off the same ideology and theory that our life is predetermined in our DNA. This is something I completely disagree with, mainly because I’m looking at more than one career path for my life that I’d love to alternate between, and there’s plenty of other avenues that I’m not quite passionate about, but would love to explore nonetheless.
Despite Superman having the blessing of not being bred for a certain role, he was able to escape this societal lock at a young age. The use of the Codex, to me, signifies that baby Kal-El will always have the roots of his birth inside him, because let’s be real, we all do. However, he is also able to soak up all these new experiences on Earth, and he goes on a soul-searching journey to find what he wants to be, before DECIDING that he needs to be a beacon of hope and help humanity in any way possible. Jor-El and Martha Kent were only guides, or teachers on Kal’s path.
Interestingly enough, the double life of Clark being a reporter also fuels my connection of multiple-careers as he also becomes a reporter at the Daily Planet, juggling two jobs; alien or not. Superman wasn’t sent to Earth to be a reporter, but he believes that using that job also fuels his passion to help humanity — but in a different way. As a reporter, he can expose criminal organizations, signal boost community leaders and help keep the populace up to date on Metropolis. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see some classic Clark Kent reporting in Man of Steel, but now I fully realize how much of an origin story that film is.
As you can see, I just wrote four paragraphs on my connection to a singular theme in Man of Steel. Not everyone can relate to that theme, however, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for them. There is no such thing as a wrong theme, or connection. Zack Snyder touches on this on his 10 Golden Rules of Filmmaking, the important one here is “Point of View”, which has been the driving force of how I make and see film. Below, read Snyder’s quote on Point of View.
It’s the thing that is not right, not wrong. It’s the thing that can’t be put into a technical box. It’s the tone and texture of a story. It’s the individual way of looking at things that makes us different. It’s why we go to the movies.
I think the most important statement there is “It’s why we go to the movies”. We want to see stories that make us feel…something…anything. It’s why I believe most of the casual audience perceive certain films to be bad or good, because there’s nothing for that individual to personally connect to. Most of the casual audience don’t care, or take into account, the technical side of filmmaking such as cinematography and screenwriting. They mostly only care if the movie makes them feel something — a sense of thrill, emotional impact, inspiration — but if it doesn’t then they generally can’t find much to remember about the said film, and they’re not wrong in that perspective of viewing the art.
Additionally, themes aren’t just restricted to personal connection. They can also be seen by relating it to something in current events. While writing this article, I got inspired to ask you guys on social media what your personal connection to Man of Steel‘s themes are. One response from Benjamin on Twitter said “even with all that power, there are times where one can feel a bit hopeless and looking for answers”, and he’s absolutely right. I can’t connect to this theme, but I can relate it to what’s happening right now with Kanye West on Twitter.
Kanye is a rich man with tons of influence on popular culture and society through his genius artistic mind. One could see all those traits as “Power”. However, despite having all that influence already, he is still far in debt and wants to help humanity at a much deeper level, so he publicly pleaded for help from Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter because he’s feeling hopeless that he doesn’t have the right resources to contribute what he wants to society.
Superman is somewhat similar in this aspect, as he knows he has incredible strength and resources at his disposal but he never feels like he’s accessing his full potential. Before he meets his real father, Jor-El, his powers are used for the occasional superhero save, but also pranks such as destroying Ludlow’s truck at the dock bar he was working at. Eventually, Clark finally finds the help he needs when he stumbles upon the crashed Kryptonian craft.
However, as Darious Britt mentioned in his video far above, themes may be repeated in an artist’s work. Darious mentioned that he’s always coming up with characters who are dealing with some serious shit. Similarly, Zack Snyder also goes through thematic repetition, and it’s not a bad thing. There are themes that were started in Watchmen that can be traced back into Man of Steel, or even further continued in Batman v Superman. For more on Zack Snyder’s continuous themes, check out The MidSide and his Snyder Series podcast.
To finalize, when it comes to art, it’s all about perspective. We watch films, we look at photos and we play video games to find a sense of connection. It’s really fine if you think Iron Man 2 makes you feel connected because you somewhat have a drinking problem like Tony Stark briefly did in that film, it’s fine if you can’t connect to Rorschach’s eternal paranoia in Watchmen, because we’re all singular individuals. I always look at film with two different perspectives; the technical and the artistic side. In the technical side, I analyze the quality stuff like the cinematography, acting, production design and with the artistic side I analyze how it makes me feel and how I connect to it. If both of those are stellar, than it’s an unforgettable film to me.
I hope this article has taught you a little bit about themes and why we go to the cinema to watch movies, and I invite each of you to COMMENT below how Man of Steel personally connects to you.