Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound — painted from his early incarnations as an incredibly powerful savior to mankind, Superman has been compared to Jesus Christ time after time, and the case is no different in Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. In this film, there are overt references to the level of allegory present (in one scene, Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent sits in a church as the camera zooms in on his face, a gigantic stained glass window of Jesus acting almost as a mirror in the background), and then there are the bits and pieces of the allegory itself.
Clark is sent to Earth as a child by his well-meaning father (“He’ll be a god to them,” says Jor-El as he loads baby Supes into the rocket that will guide him to our planet). When he arrives on Earth he is raised by an average, rural family who knows of his power and otherworldly origin, but also are aware that he will fulfill his destiny when the time is right. He convenes with his father in spirit throughout the movie, who tells him (in a very baptismal scene): “You will give the people an ideal to strive toward. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Superman’s story, in basic terms, is an allegory for Jesus’ time on Earth.
But to talk about Superman as Jesus here would amount to little more than a book report, a connect-the-dots argument of “Superman does this, and Jesus does that. Look at the similarity! Wow!” It would accomplish nothing but to show you that the two have some things in common. Of course they do; they are both savior figures to humanity, so naturally some traits are going to be shared and borrowed and the like. But pointing out those shared traits and plot points isn’t going to help any of us take away a deeper understanding — to do that, we have to look beyond the obvious, and see the spiritual meaning of Man of Steel.
Use your talents for good
At the heart of the film is a dialogue between Superman’s two fathers: his Kryptonian biological dad Jor-El, and his earthly adoptive father Jonathan Kent. Jor-El wants him to flaunt his powers, and use them to set an example for those around him, but Jonathan feels that he’ll be outcast if he reveals them, ostracized for being as different as he is. Yet even Jonathan Kent knows that it is not in Clark’s destiny to keep his gifts a secret forever.
“You’re not just anyone,” he tells his son, “One day, you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s going to change the world.” Kent’s advice here is crucial: in essence, he tells Clark that he must use his powers to shape the life he wants for himself.
The advice from Jonathan Kent is reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the talents, which tells of a man who gives three servants a number of talents (in this case, a type of currency) each, to be put to use while he is away. Two of the servants make use of the man’s investment, increasing it as a result, while the third buries his share in the ground out of fear of losing it. Upon the man’s return, the two who used their talents are rewarded, while the one who was ashamed and afraid is scolded and punished for his misuse of the gift he was given.
We, too, have talents and gifts given to us by God, abilities that (like those of Superman/Clark Kent) can change the world for good or for evil. Sure, we may not be able to change it on the scale that a character like Superman can, but even in our own small way, if we each harness what we have been given and make sure that our talents and our character shine for good, we can make a difference; and, like the servants in the parable, if we put what God has given us to good use, in the end we will meet our reward.