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Analysing Jor-El in Man of Steel

Released in 2013, Expectations were high for Man of Steel. All the trailers hinted at a deep and complex story in the vein of The Dark Knight Trilogy. In fact, the marketing of this movie smartly highlighted that this movie was a brainchild of visionary director Christopher Nolan (he was given story credit) instead of you know, “visionary” director Zack Snyder, the man behind Sucker Punch.

The movie opens with the birth of Kal-El. Right after that, the scene shifts to Jor-El’s meeting with Krypton’s council, where the former tries to convince the latter that Krypton’s (the planet) core is unstable. When asked by a council member if Jor-El was planning to evacuate the people of the planet to safety, he responds saying that everybody on the planet is already dead. As Jor-El tries to convince the council to handover the Codex (the thing that contains the DNA of unborn Kryptonians), the story’s antagonist General Zod attacks the council and attempts an ultimately unsuccessful coup (to save the planet), for which Zod and his co-conspirators are sentenced to the Phantom-Zone.

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The aforementioned scene serves as the backbone of the muddled philosophy of this movie. First of all, Jor-El comes off as really selfish. In the comics, he unsuccessfully tries to convince the council about Krypton’s impending doom and get authorisation to build a spaceship large enough to accommodate all of or at least most of Krypton. Same was the case in Superman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Movie (1978). In the former, Krypton’s AI Brainiac manipulates the council into dismissing Jor-El’s theories because the former believes that evacuation is a futile gesture. In the universe set-up by Man of Steel, the story doesn’t need the fan-favourite Kryptonian villain as Jor-El assumes the role and he doesn’t have the intention and empathy to save lives. Secondly, Jor-El has the galls to call Zod, “a monster” while he himself sentenced the Kryptonians to doom. It is troubling that one of the protagonists is the guy who has declared everyone “dead” while the villain is someone who is trying to save the lives of those “dead” people.

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This role reversal can be credited to director Zack Snyder’s utmost commitment to the ideals of “objectivism”.  Put forth by Ayn Rand, Objectivism suggests that “rational self-interest” a “sophisticated” term for “selfishness” is a virtue and that any kind and form of altruism is evil. So, if the aforementioned ideas were to be applied to the opening moments of Man of Steel, Jor-El was right in putting his son’s life over every other Kryptonian. But later, he goes on to say that he and his wife Lara risked everything because Kal was Krypton’s first natural-born in centuries. In the world set-up by this movie, Kryptonians were artificially created and the role each of them was supposed to play was programmed into them with the help of the codex. He calls the lack of choice created by this scenario a failure and sought to correct it by opting for a natural birth when it came to his son. This scene can be interpreted as Jor-El sentencing other Kryptonians to death just because they did not “have a choice” while he and his wife (both artificially born) chose natural birth. Since the argument about lack of choice doesn’t make sense, it looks like Jor-El simply chose his son over others because he thought that Kal was “superior” over others and deserved to live. This gives the Superman story an icky Randian feel. Is it surprising why Man of Steel was hated by the fans of classic Superman? And this post doesn’t even go to the other controversial moments of this movie like the one where Jonathan Kent tells a young Clark that the latter should’ve let his friends drown after their school bus meets an accident.

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This council scene sets up the nihilistic tone for both Man of Steel and the atrocious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. These two DC movies are filled with so much spite and hate that they can rival the guilt-trip of Mel Gibson’s torture porn The Passion of the Christ (2004). Thankfully Zack Snyder was fired and now DC has really good films such as Shazam and Wonder Woman (the film had very little Snyder involvement and had a really talented crew led by the phenomenal Patty Jenkins. So that counts). Hope, he is kept far away from DC and comic books movies in general.

EDIT: The “Snyder Cut” of Justice League is confirmed for a 2021 release in HBO Max.

About the author

Ravi Kumar Iyer

The only way his Archaeology degree comes into play is his knack for DIGGING out comic book movies. Be it from the current crop of MCU movies or the ones from the early 40s, Ravikumar knows a lot about the comic book adaptations.

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