Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Faith In Film Series, Smallville, The Real Superman

What Is The Faith In Film Series? A type of Small Group with a focus on discussing spiritual truths that exist in the arts, not just film. We realize all truth comes from God and God’s truths are often spoken about in culture. Jesus used parables to teach spiritual truths. The Bible states, “He never taught them anything without first telling them stories.” Mark 4:33, 34. Movies, books, television, and music are the most popular form of storytelling today; using these media we will look for ways to deepen our faith as well as finding ways to share spiritual truths with the unchurched.

Your Facilitator: Mike Furches has been using the arts to share culturally relevant truths with those in the church, and unchurched for over 15 years. Recognized as one of the leaders across the country in this field he is adequately prepared to present this in a small group setting. Mike currently writes for one of the most visited review web sites in the world, Hollywood Jesus. He also facilitates and operates an online community of faith called The Virtual Pew.

What will we do? We will watch all kinds of movies, television shows, and listen to all kinds of music. The focus will be on popular arts within the non Christian sector. Some of these will be ‘R’ Rated and will include discussion while at times looking at adult themes.

Who can come? Anyone and everyone that is age appropriate. This is a great opportunity to invite unchurched friends or those who are open to these types of themes. Small children should not attend for obvious reasons. Media that has more of an adult theme will be announced in advance.

How often will we meet? 2 – 3 times a month. A calendar of meeting times will be made available. You can also access information about the events through http://www.thevirtualpew.com/ and via making contact. You may also email regarding a schedule of events to mike@thevirtualpew.com

Review some of former Faith In Film notes:
Make sure you check the archives and check out some of the comments on lighting, animals, names, situations, imagery, etc…

Particular to Smallville (Superman):
The following comes from the Hollywood Jesus web site at http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/. Credit for the following information is given to David Bruce and Maurice Broaddus with a few additional notes by me until otherwise indicated.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both Jewish, invented Superman in the late 1930's as a typically Jewish mythical hero. Jews were being oppressed by Adolph Hitler at that time and Superman or Super-Jew was their answer to Hitler. The "S" on Superman's shirt also stands for the last names of his creators. Superman comes from the planet Krypton -which sounds like "Tikkum olam" a Hebrew concept of restoring the world's wrongs. Joanne, the wife of the late Jerry Siegel, says she had often heard about the Jewish connection to Superman. Jerry Siegel is listed in the book Jewish 100 as one of the 100 most influential Jews of all time. He is listed along with Moses, Henry Kissinger and Steven Spielberg.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Daniel Schifrin of the US National Federation for Jewish Culture as saying, "The older I got the more I saw there was something profoundly Jewish about Superman, that he was one of us." He further states, "Like Clark Kent we've been Diaspora Jews for so long, being viewed as timid and bookish when underneath there are fierce Hebrew warriors doing God's work."

The 1978 movie was an 80 million dollar blockbuster - a phenomenon in its day. It was written by Mario Puzo (The God Father) and David Newman (Shena) and, of course, based on the comic book series by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

The movie Superman essentially retells the life of Jesus Christ -the ultimate Super Jew. Richard Donner, the director of Superman, had just completed filming The Omen (1976) which was a film about the Antichrist.

When Superman was released in Communist China in 1985 the Worker's Daily called Superman "a brave hero of incomparable strength who clearly distinguishes what to love and hate and culls strength from weakness." Sounds very Christ-like to me.

In many ways, we have to realize that Smallville is a retelling of the early Superman story with an emphasis on a contemporary society, and a focus on relating to youth, in today’s world. It is a form of, if you will, a modern translation in a language for today’s youth.

A being with strange powers descends from the heavens, sent to Earth as a baby. He takes on the role of humanity, embracing it, experiencing everything that man typically experiences. Then he grows up to enter into a ministry of sorts to save mankind from the many dangers that humanity faces.

Sound familiar? That's because the story of Superman draws a lot from the story of Jesus. The movie, Kill Bill Vol. 2, makes note of the mythology surrounding the superhero, singling out Superman in particular. What that movie notes is that most superheroes, like Batman or Spider-Man, are actually people (Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, respectively) who have alter egos that are superheroes. Not so with Superman. "Superman" is who he is, with Clark Kent being the alter ego.

What's the difference? "Clark Kent" is a disguise to blend in with us. Clark Kent is him taking on humanity, to be like us. If you think the comics are unaware of this parallel, or that somehow I am reading into things, consider the following. A few years back, DC Comics, the publishing house of the Superman comics line, had a mini-series entitled DC One Million. The premise of the series was to take a look at the DC canon of superheroes one million years from now. But what did the story revolve around? Superman, at some point in the future, ascends into the heavens to live a glorified life within the sun. It had been "prophesied" that one million years from now, he comes back to bring lasting peace.
Which brings us to Smallville:

Smallville is the small town Clark Kent landed in as a small child, and where he grew up, works under and within, its own metanarrative, its own overarching story, that of the Superman mythos. The show is also not unaware of the Christ comparisons: the pilot featured the image of Clark on a wooden cross (a freshman hazing tradition known as “scarecrow”-ing). The premise of the show is simple: what did Superman, then only Clark Kent, do from the time we see him as a child until he fully becomes Superman. Again, to draw Biblical allusions, we see Jesus as a child teaching in the synagogue (the story of him being lost was the inspiration for the movie Home Alone), but we don’t know what he was up to until he comes on the scene as an adult. So what Smallville explores is a concept known as “the Messianic Consciousness.”

After Show Notes Specific to Smallville (Discussion) (Mike Furches Material):

From the opening scene we see a view of earth from the heavens. There are heavenly objects approaching earth and among those objects is the small craft which contains a small boy.

We switch from there to the next scene, where we specifically see Lionel Luther who is not afraid, trying to encourage his son Lex who is terrified.

Lionel: [To Lex] This has got to stop. Open your eyes, Lex.
Lex: [Distraught and with his eyes still closed] I can't!
Lionel: Luthors are not afraid. We don't have that luxury. We're leaders. [He puts his arm around Lex's shoulders. He leans closer to Lex's face. Lex's eyes are still shut] You have a destiny, Lex. You're never going to get anywhere with your eyes closed.

While looking at this scene we can see how the Luthers, compared to the rest of us face fear. At this point we can ask ourselves the questions, how do we respond to fear? Like Lex, or like Lionel?

In the next scene we see a young Lana Lane. In that first scene we see young Lana dressed like a fairy princess. The image also resembles that of a young angel, complete with wings, and halo. While she is in a store with her Aunt we see Martha and Jonathan Kent enter the store. While there they go over to greet Lana.

Martha and Jonathan have two distinctive name associations that can not be ignored, both have Biblical connotations, Martha is like Mary and Jonathan is like Joseph. When Martha goes over to see Lana she makes a wish after being asked to do so. What does she wish for?

Lana: [To Martha] Do you want to make a wish?
Martha: I would love to make a wish.
Lana: Okay. Abracadabra.
Lana extends the wand towards Martha's head and touches her brow.
Cut to the street outside of the flower shop. We see Jonathan putting bags in the back of a red pick-up truck. Martha is in the car, staring out the window, looking dreamy-eyed. Jonathan gets in the car behind the wheel.
Jonathan: I know what you wished for.
Martha: [Wistfully] I see a little face. It's all I ever wanted.

The wish, the association can be seen as a prayer and a child or angel intervening on behalf of the person making the prayer. The interesting thing here is that we already know that something is getting ready to happen that will cause that prayer or wish to come about. It is coming from the heavens and it is about to make its entry into Smallville.

The next scene shows a mighty change about to happen not only for the Kent’s but all of those around Smallville. Something is coming from the heavens. Many religions have the heavens as a part of their faith system. None however have as much of a point of reference to what we see here in Smallville as the Birth of Jesus Christ.

In next scenes we also see some foreshadowing through other images for Clark Kent. Those involve the initiation during homecoming. There is a crucifixion scene where we see the character marked muck like Jesus, we also see them mocked, stripped down to their loin cloth or underwear. There are other things we see from the images on screen.

While looking at and seeing the crucifixion scenes we can ask ourselves; “Is it possible that Jesus, even as a youngster foreknew what lay ahead of him?” Did he know what his future entailed?” “How would he have looked at that as a young man as opposed to an older man?”

It should be noted the makers of Smallville speak about how the story of Clark Kent isn’t about making him a super hero as much as it is about how important the journey is in him becoming a super hero. From that association and thought we can even ask ourselves: “How important are our life journeys?” “What role have they played to get us to the point we are?” and “How will our decisions today affect our future tomorrow?”

After John and Martha’s accident, we see the approaching of a young boy. This boy is an answer to prayer, a future savior, a future deliverer. In looking at the dialog we see a reoccurring theme, John and Martha didn’t find the boy, he found them. In looking at our own relationship with God it is important to know that God is looking and searching for us. The comparison of him finding us is also a position we can relate to and think about when looking at this particular episode. We can ask ourselves the following questions in looking at how we come to relationship with God. How does he find us? How do we respond?

We kind of get a glimpse of how God reacts when we see the little boy look at Jonathan and Martha after they cross paths. We see simply a smile on the face of young Clark Kent. The same reaction God must have when he finds us, with a smile on his face.

As the program continues it passes on to the present, some years later. As the screen shot comes in we see a banner in the background at the school, which says "Fly to Victory" The background is a reminder and to be victorious. This message isn’t just for those within the story, but for those of us watching it. Sometimes we all have to realize that we need those messages and reminders?

As Clark is approaching Lana, he falls, as he falls he drops a number of books, Lana goes to pick up a book for Clark, the book is The Portable Nietzsche.
Lana: Nietzsche. Didn't realize you had a dark side, Clark.
Clark is hunched over looking sick.
Clark: [Looking up at Lana] Doesn't everybody?
Lana: Yeah, I guess so. So what are you? Man or superman?
Clark: I haven't figured it out yet.

Nietzsche was a philosopher who was the son of a pastor. His father died when he was a small boy. Nietzsche was on a journey to discover who he was, what his purpose was and how his past influenced him. Prior to an eventual mental breakdown and death, Nietzsche declared that God was dead. It was one of the concepts that he was noted for within the arena of philosophy. The truth is, many have stated that this search, and the conclusion he came to drove him crazy prior to his death.

An interesting question here is to ask why would Clark Kent be reading Nietzsche? Do the writers and producers of Smallville have this here for a reason? How do we go on our own journeys. Some may say that Clark is simply on a search for truth, and others may say that it is Clark’s way of knowing his enemies. I am not sure what the correct answer is here, but I know the search and the association with Nietzsche shouldn’t go unnoticed.

We also see several characters and what has become them, from Lex, the small red headed boy to Jeremy the boy hanging on the cross earlier in the show, to Lana and others. Each of these characters will take part in journeys, some with a focus on good, others with a focus on evil. Many of these characters have already been on a journey, a journey which we don’t see but we know has affected them and who they are. Many of these characters have faced similar situations but have responded in different ways. It is a good reminder for us to think about what determines the journey of good and evil they/we will partake in. For those that know of the superman story, and the Smallville series, we will know how the journeys of the characters influenced who they are and who they become.

There is a intriguing scene of Clark daydreaming while watching a football game. It is interesting to see what happens in that scene? If one notices the name of the team the Crows were playing they will see them playing The Sun Devils. There is obviously foreshadowing here, not just for the script but for the association related to Christianity. If we look at this in regards to your own spirituality we can understand that we are involved in the game of life and in a battle involving Devils.

Another interesting note is that the makers of Smallville have stated that Chloe, a created character for the Smallville story is based off of Maulder from the X-Files. What are some of the same characteristics of the two characters? When looking specifically at science what role does faith play for the characters. For those that review the previous Faith In Film Series with the X-Files you will see the significance of this discussion and character.

There is also what could be called a baptism scene in the program. In this scene we see Clark looking over the bridge at the water. He is hit by Lex after he loses control of his car and they both plummet into the water. It is after Clark goes into the water to save Lex that some would say his journey to become Superman begins. In this scene notice that Lex is in the water as well, his journey also begins. For those that have watched the series they will know what becomes Lex’s passion and purpose after this. He becomes consumed with trying to find out who Clark Kent is. So consumed in fact that he becomes more consumed with the passion than he does the friendship with Clark. For many of us in Christianity, our journey can be similar.

In this sequence we can also ask about the concept of baptism that this symbolizes. What did baptism mean for Jesus? What does baptism mean for people today?

The Pilot of Smallville also has as an underlying theme the concept of fear and our response to that fear.

We see Clark in the barn, a type of solitude for him. In that scene we hear music in the background. Music as a background and supporting of themes is extremely important in Smallville, and other programs, but especially so here as Smallville has made the effort to tell a good story with themes that we have to somewhat search for. We hear the song has the lyrics, “All of the signs were there for me to see. If I cry out with fear I feel more afraid.” As we listen or read this line we can ask ourselves; “How does fear control or influence our actions?”

We also see a scene where Lana is talking to Whitney her high school boyfriend. There is a brief dialog that we can think about here:
Lana: If you want someone to put in a good word, ask Clark. He saved Lex’s life today.
Whitney: You’re kidding.
Lana: Sometimes people can surprise you. I think it’s kind of cool.

Has anyone ever surprised you in life? How have maybe you surprised someone? It is important that people notice our actions, and listen to our comments. Not only what we say, but what we do has an impact on others.

We also see Jeremy return to the story to repay evil with evil. What good can come about from repaying evil with evil? We also hear “power can enhance sin.” How does power do this?

One of the things I especially appreciate about Smallville is the emphasis it places on the importance of family. Jonathan gives Clark some “fatherly” advice regarding the gift of a truck from Lex Luther after Clark saves his life.. He says:
Jonathan: Clark: I know how much you want it, Son. But you can't keep it. He walks past Clark, shaking his head.
Clark: [Argumentatively] Why not? I saved the guy's life.
Jonathan: So you think that you deserve a prize?

Do we ever expect something for doing good? Do we expect some kind of prize? We can also ask ourselves the question of what should our expectations be? Jonathan as a loving father knows that despite Clarks abilities, he has to learn lessons in life that will carry on as Clark matures and becomes the man he is to become. It is in part, the learning of these lessons that allows Clark to become more than just a Superman with power, but a Superman with a sense of morality.

Jonathan is a lot like Joseph, the earthly adoptive father of Jesus Christ. He knows that Clark came from someplace else, but raises him as his own son. What examples of this type of love can we observe in life? What can we learn about a father son relationship from watching these two?

John Schneider, a committed Christian, tells the story of playing the part of Jonathan Kent as someone for Clark to look up to. He wanted to play the role of a good father. In looking at this television and comic book character we can reflect on individuals we look up to in day to day life that excel at this type of relationship. We can also look at the contemporary view of family as portrayed on most programs. When doing that we can appreciate the role of a good functioning family and its importance.

We also see the concept of gifts and abilities. All through the program we see an emphasis on gifts and abilities, some used one way, some used another in regards to being used for good or being used for evil. Sometimes these are referred to as abnormalities. It is important that we ask ourselves the questions of how do we decide what our gifts or abnormalities are? We can also look at some examples of gifts, or abilities and how they are used with the characters in Smallville.

Many of us are on our own journey to understand not only what those gifts are but what influence those gifts can have on our lives. Here we can look and examine how those gifts impact Clark and his journey? Clark is on the journey to become a superhero. We can also ask, how the gifts impact Lex and his journey? Lex is on a journey to become an anti-hero.

In this search we need to ask ourselves, do we have a say in who we become? While others will have a say, and have some impact, we are ultimately responsible for the paths and decisions we make.

There is additional religious imagery in this program. One powerful scene occurs in the cemetery as we see Clark come out from behind an angel to talk to Lana. In this scene notice the where Clark appears in front of the angel and he appears as a Heavenly creature. This is the first time Clark is able to get close to Lana. There is obviously some reason for this, almost as if the heavenly creatures help make all things possible for Clark. It is almost as if an angel has intervened to help Clark along the way. Have angels ever eased your journey?

We can also ask, if Clark is a representation similar to Christ, why would a graveyard be so important when we see this type of interaction between he and Lana. We can also note on the gravestone that Lana is at states: "Lewis (1957 - 1989) and Laura (1959 - 1989) Lang. Forever Loved". We also see the two while at the grave, there are almost black and white images, or a heavy usage of shadowing. One could also notice how the lighting is almost a struggle of what the characters are going through in their characters lives.

We later come to what I call a crucifixion scene that involves Clark. The scarecrow scene, reminds me of the images of Christ on a cross. We spoke earlier about some of the specific symbolism that the writers put in here to make the obvious comparison. We have to ask ourselves why the makers of the series use religious imagery like this? We have to ask this especially when looking at the obvious intent. I found myself looking at Clark’s crucifixion scene. This scene gave understanding of how Clark could relate to and help one of the characters, Jeremy.

We ultimately see Clark help Jeremy by helping bring him back to reality. Jeremy even recognizes the concept of gifts, he even refers to his gifts. What Jeremy does with his gifts is not so far fetched in that many would use their gifts or abilities for revenge or to increase their own power. Have our gifts ever been used for things other than their intent? Have they ever been used for selfish reasons, maybe even bring harm to others by being used in the wrong way? There is also a scene that again involves water, a type of baptism scene where Clark assists in saving Jeremy’s life and Jeremy becomes a new creature.

Another aspect that follows some spiritual lessons is the concept of passing judgment on others. We see this weakness even in one of the more positive characters in the series, Jonathan Kent. While he is a good father, he passes judgment on the Luthers To Clark and others in the program the judgment is unfair? Yet, Jonathan has this weakness that will have an impact on Lex Luther. How do we pass judgment on others? What are the effects of judgments based on a first impression without getting to know or understand the person we are judging?

We ultimately through the series see how Lex responds to judgment from Jonathan Kent. For those who follow the series we know how much of an impact this judgment has. We have to ask, that with the judgment and thoughts and perceptions from others if Lex ever had a hope?

There are hints all through the series that we see Lex had the potential for good. We see what kind of an impact others had on him, either by giving him a chance or prejudging him. There is no place better in this particular program that we see that than an exchange between Lex and Clark. This dialog took place shortly after Clark saved Lex from the accident and drowning.

Lex: Do you believe a man can fly?
Clark: Sure. In a plane.
Lex: No, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about soaring through the clouds with nothing but air beneath you.
Clark: People can't fly, Lex
Lex: I did. [He turns away] After the accident, when my heart stopped. [He turns back] It was the most exhilarating two minutes of my life. [He stares off into space] I flew over Smallville, and for the first time, I didn't see a dead end. I saw a new beginning. [He looks at Clark, smiling slightly] Thanks to you I have a second chance.
Clark looks down.
Lex: [Intensely] We have a future, Clark... [Clark looks up at Lex] And I don't want anything to stand in the way of our friendship.

Clark and Lex, for many reasons have all kinds of obstacles between them over the duration of the series; many know the ultimate relationship between the two. Is it possible that prejudgment led to the doubt and conflict between the two? Without the doubt, without the judgment, could the relationship have been different?

Is there anyone like this that Jesus had this type of relationship? When looking at his relationship with the disciples I see a similar relationship between Judas and Christ as existed between Clark and Lex. Many assume or presume that there was never anything good between these two. I like Smallville, because it presents the possibility that things could have been different. For those watching the series, is Lex is very similar to Judas.

In the closing scenes we see Clark in his refuge, the barn, some say a reminder of the simplicity of even Jesus who was born in a manger. He is looking up at the stars as he often does. What do you think is the association of why he is looking into the heavens? hat do the stars cause us to think about? Do we ever think about Heaven or life after death when observing the stars? Do we hope for more?

In this scene we see Clark and Jonathan in the barn. Jonathan goes to leave, and starts to walk down the stairs. As he goes to leave the following conversation takes place.

Clark: Dad... [Clark is standing at the loft railing looking down at his dad on the ground floor] I'm glad you and mom are the ones that found me.
Jonathan: We didn't find you, Clark. You found us. They smile at each other.

In areas of faith, is God looking for us, or are we looking for God? Who finds who? An interesting note about this particular scene is that the makers of Smallville in the commentary feature states, “This is the Sermon on the Mount shot. We filled the program with similarities between Clark Kent and Jesus Christ.”

One needs to also remember the importance of the music in the program. Remember the intelligent and intentional use from Smallville in its use of music. The closing song has the lines: “You steal my heart, you take my breath away. Would you take me in, take me deeper now? How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you? Cause you’re all I want, you’re all I need. You’re everything, everything. You’re all I want, you’re my everything.”

How could you look at these verses and relate them to your own individual spiritual journey? Are you a person of faith? Do you see the similarities between Clark and Jesus Christ? Are you willing to let the real Superman be your everything?

Here is a clip from the Smallville Pilot. If the video does not appear, click on the provided link.

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