Man of Steel: Chock Full of Christian Dog Whistles

Man-of-steel-Christ-poseAs we walked into the Man Of Steel movie, my wife and I ran into two groups of friends who had just seen the movie and were leaving the theater. One group was Christian, the other group was not. Our Christian friends agreed with what we had heard, that there were several Christian themes and images in the movie. Our non-Christian friends told us that they had not noticed any Christian messages at all. This fits the definition of a dog whistle, a message broadcast to all but heard only by certain ears. And we Christians are the dogs.

But that’s OK with this Christian. In fact, the movie was so chock-full of dog whistles for Christians, it almost felt intentional.

Christian images and themes were all over this movie, starting with the fact that Superman was a likable, humble servant, respectful of his parents, even having been born with the last name of “El,” the Hebrew name for God. The bad guys from his old planet, led by General Zod, fit the part of fallen angels, pursuing and trying to kill the Christ-like Superman here on Earth.

Crucifixion poses by Superman exist throughout the movie, as are crosses themselves. Superman’s mother wears a cross necklace, and a church is seen with a prominent cross on the side of the building. A cross is also seen formed from the i-beams of one of the collapsed buildings at the end of the movie.

At one point, a young Clark Kent is seen getting picked on by schoolyard bullies, and he is seen with out-stretched arms. As with Jesus on the cross, Superman could have easily fought back and killed those who were persecuting him. Whereas Jesus purposely offered himself a sacrifice for our sins, Superman didn’t want to blow his cover as a person with superpowers. Later in the movie, Superman even allows himself to be handcuffed when he turns himself in to the American military to be interrogated.

In one scene of a younger, grade-school aged Clark Kent, as he is getting to know his super-powers, sees through the flesh of his classmates and teacher, essentially seeing skeletons with eyeballs, talking to him. While the scene acquainted the viewer with the super-hero’s x-ray vision, the images of skeletons with eyeballs was clearly more graphic than needed.

And this was unique to the young Superman. Other immigrants from Krypton also experienced x-ray visions, but their views were merely of their hand bones, not of entire skeletons.

These skeleton visions seen by the young Clark Kent may have been meant to evoke the image from the Old Testament book Ezekiel, known as the Valley of Dried Bones, in which the bones await God’s breath to bring them to life. These visions may also have been meant to refer to the New Testament books Ephesians and Colossians, where non-believers are described as “dead in their trespasses and sins,” until they would accept the savior Jesus Christ, who brings them eternal life.

There are other similarities between Superman and Jesus. Clark Kent is 33 years old when he is fully engaged with his powers and risks his life to save the world, the same age as Jesus when he went to Calvary.

Superman’s Earthly father, played by Kevin Costner, filled the part of a blue-collar Joseph figure, having had a strong moral impact on his adopted son but having died several years before the epic battle.

There is even a parallel to the biblical scene of Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane. When General Zod and his team begin their attack, Superman struggles with whether to submit himself to Zod in order to ransom Earth. Superman consults a priest in a church, and as he asks the priest whether he should engage General Zod, immediately behind Superman is seen a stained-glass depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. A Christian in the audience can almost hear Superman ask God to “take this cup from me.”

Still, Man of Steel is not a coherent gospel message, and there are some serious differences between Superman and Jesus. For example, Superman is attractive, whereas Jesus, according to a passage in Isaiah, had an appearance that did not attract attention. And Jesus never disguised himself, unlike the casual suit and black-rimmed glasses that Clark Kent donned towards the end of the movie (and what a great disguise it was — those glasses never fail to throw everyone off!).

There may be other Christian themes in this movie, but what does it all mean? Is it all on purpose? I researched the director, all of the producers, the writers and the top actors in this movie, and none of them appear to have made any news proclaiming their Christian faith. If any of them are Christians and purposely injected Christian themes into this movie, it was done without any fanfare.

In fact, most of the Man Of Steel writers and producers have resumes filled with work on other superhero-type movies. A year or two from now, most of them will be rolling out the next Batman, Captain America, or Spiderman movie. Currently, a couple of them are putting the finishing touches on the movie 300: Rise Of An Empire.

So what happened here? How did a group of apparently-secular Hollywood veterans produce a movie with so many Christian dog whistles? While there are some biblical undertones in the original Superman story, I would like to think that this may be a case of what is described in the book of Romans, that even a non-Christian has the law of God written on their heart. And in producing this movie, the hearts of the cast and crew led them to produce quite a Christian-themed but otherwise secular action movie.

It worked for me. Not every movie will remind us of the gospel message like Passion Of The Christ, or The Gospel of John, but I was still glad I saw Man Of Steel. And I would definitely recommend it to other Christians.

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  • kevinsorensen

    Tom, good article. I enjoyed reading of your perceptions of this movie. My son and I went to see it on opening night, therefore, we had far fewer ‘preconceptions’ from reviews and friends’ thoughts/opinions before viewing. This may have made me miss a few of the things you cite, but I still agree: the symbolism is really quite clear in so many scenes, I wonder how any could miss it. And yet miss it they did (do and will). I think this is, in part, due to nearly complete ignorance of the storyline of the Gospel and Christianity. We live in a very post-Christian society/generation. As to the writers/directors ‘beliefs’, I’m wondering if they aren’t aware of many of the symbols of Christ and redemption, but without a ‘receiving’ of such truth, can only depict them as an alien superpower unlike anything humanity has ever known.

    One thing I was disturbed about from this motion picture was the seeming conflict between Superman’s near disregard for the city of Metropolis (get Zod to fight you somewhere other than the middle of the city, like out on the fringes of wilderness) evidenced through mass destruction of buildings (granted, not all the buildings destroyed were by the superpower’s brawl) and then Superman’s tremendous angst seen when he finally has to kill Zod to save a family. I fear the directors/writers did not think this through well enough. It was probably more a reflection of their own hearts’ and minds’ view of humanity than what Superman’s truly was (even though a fictional character).

    All in all, however, a very good film.

    • Tom Thurlow

      Thanks Kevin. I have enjoyed your work here as well

    • Skaught

      Not sure what your point is with the “angst” part, but as for fighting somewhere else, I doubt Zod would have followed Superman anywhere. His intent was to destroy Metropolis, not to fight Superman.

      At some point we have to realize that the filmmakers were making a summer blockbuster; their desire to infuse it with any kind of message would have to be secondary to that if they’re to have such a big budget.

  • Gitmo

    Our culture is packed with tales, stories and myths that point to God’s story, to the fall of man, his redemption through the sacrifice of God’s Son, to the epic battle between the forces of evil and the forces of Righteousness, to the replacement of corrupt wicked hearts with hearts of goodness and righteousness.

    For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

  • terryinindy

    Oh Puleeze.

    The whole Biblical epic is nothing more than the rehashed and repeated stories from other myths in the area, and resemblance in the movie is nothing more than a repetition of themes found in MANY examples throughout history and myth.
    Contrary to the propaganda, the entire world doesn’t revolve around the Christ Mythos.

    • Forgiven

      You obviously know nothing about the bible, otherwise you’d see the signs are clearly there…don’t put down something you know nothing about.

      • terryinindy

        Actually I know quit a bit about it, I’ve simply been able to refuse to fall into the trap of believing it was either true or accurate.

        Don’t try to sell fairy tales as a true story, the best lies are the ones that contain enough truth to make them believable, even if the historical evidence doesn’t hold up.

  • Skaught

    I think the answer is twofold: One, the filmmakers did intend for there to be some parallels (I read an interview that said as much); and second, this caused you to see many more than were actually there. For example, I think the Ezekiel thing is a HUGE stretch, and things like Superman’s name of El have existed in the comics for a very, very long time. (These may have been intentional on the part of the comic writers, but here it is simply a matter of the filmmakers being true to the canon.)

  • Tim

    Actually, I’ve read that the Superman story has many Jesus parallels, and that this movie is nothing new in that regard. If my memory serves me correctly (and if the sources I’ve read are correct), then Superman was originally invented by two Jewish people who wrote it as a Moses allegory, but over the years it morphed into a Christian Messiah story.

    A book I’d recommend is The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero, by Stephen Skelton. It was written directly prior to the release of Superman Returns.

    http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Worlds-Greatest-Superhero/dp/0736918124