Two Brief Reviews

1. The Shining Girls. I liked it, not quite loved it. I wish I could read a story that was as if The Shining Girls and Gun Machine had a baby. Because I feel like there’s something really important about Gun Machine‘s idea that any city has any number of maps, of ways people understand it, and that, when someone is time-traveling, he is, indeed, making his own map on an axis most of us don’t get to experience. Anyway, it’s pretty good. I’m just not sure the author’s map of Chicago-land quite matches up with mine.

2. The new Superman movie. I loved it. LOVED it. There are two really alarming parts, though. One is when Pa Kent encourages people to hide from a tornado under an overpass. NOOOOO, Pa Kent, noooo! That’s an incredibly dangerous place to be in a tornado. The second is the part where Superman is talking to a priest and the camera frames him and Jesus in the same shot, you know, in case you didn’t get the parallels. People in our audience groaned. But other than that, I thought it was a really lovely meditation on parenting and finding your way in the universe and all that jazz. It had a lovely, big heart at its center, which I was a little afraid about. I mean, the best superhero movies lately have been about brooding or snarky superheros. So, I was worried about how a sincere, good guy might play. But I have to say, I think they did a really, really good job. I found myself really, deeply moved by the depictions of loving parents and a guy who would have been a good guy even if he weren’t Superman. I kind of didn’t know how hungry I was for a story like that again.

12 thoughts on “Two Brief Reviews

  1. I also enjoyed Shining Girls, but not as much as Life After Life, which I just finished. Also has time travel, but in a looping, Groundhog Day, way. Very intense.

  2. Thesarcastro,like I said, when Jesus and Superman were in the same frame, people groaned. I’m like “Whew, when you’re too Jesus-y for Nashville, you’re too Jesus-y.” But otherwise, I really liked it. And, frankly, I thought that Kevin Costner did such a good job that I would have watched a whole movie that was just Pa Kent talks about things with his wife and raises a strange boy.

    Jess, ooh, I might have to check out LIFE AFTER LIFE.

  3. Please do check out Life After Life (your library doppelgänger is probably about done with it). I wasn’t disappointed in Shining Girls, exactly, but I wanted it expanded out; it felt a little–I dunno–closely cropped. Like for Stephen King, it would only have been outline-length. Nothing was confusingly short, but it just could have contained so much more and still told that story well.

    LAL, on the other hand, is more well-developed. The book is kind of like trying to get a really good outcome out of a Choose Your Own Adventure book (remember those?). It takes a looooong time to get the main character safely out of her childhood (that part got really hard on me after a while–all the little deaths) but I persevered and it was worth it. It’s also worth noting that after I bulled through enough of it to be sure I understood the “rules”, I went back and read th beginning again. It helped.

    Ooohhh, and in the first two pages, the protagonist tried to do the second most cliche time travel thing (right after killing your granddad) and yet it isn’t at all awful. She really shoots the moon deliciously.

  4. Supe seems closer to Moses than to Jesus. The baby found in the rushes. (And of course Superman was invented by two Jewish men.) I’m talking about the character in general; I havnt seen the new movie, which sounds like the latest in what has probably been a series of attempts to Christianise the hero. I think the story of Superman–the story (stories) itself as well as how it has functioned in our popular culture (I’m being massively clunky here but I think you feel me)–has a lot to say about assimilation, so it’s interesting that Superman has assimilated so well into the dominant, Christian culture that the Jewish immigrant has actually become a Jesus figure.

  5. Jess, I have requested it from the library! I can’t wait, based on your thoughts about it.

    Elias, I have been thinking a lot about that, weirdly enough.I mean, I wonder what it would be like to have a more explicitly Jewish-informed modern Superman, let people who really inherently know those resonances play with them on a movie-sized canvas. I would love that. And it’s not like there aren’t ways in which Jesus isn’t a Moses-figure, so it’s not like the story wouldn’t still resonate with a predominately Christian audience.

    But one thing I’ve been thinking of is that switching Superman to Christ from Moses makes Superman a lot less sad. And not that I need my superheros to be sad or compromised or something. But audiences want Superman to somehow have not lost his Kryptonian dad. Like the Christian god, even if he’s not physically present, he’s still vital in some way. But Jewish people can be atheists. They have a framework for being Jewish even when, to mangle the original meaning of the saying, God is dead.

    So, in this movie, Superman has two good dads, both of whom want him to be a good man, even if they have slightly different ideas about what it might mean, and both are dead, but there are still traces of them all around. So, it’s not like they’re really gone. And that’s quite Christian–two not-quite-present dads sharing the same boy.

    But Moses is the story of two moms and one boy. That’s a different dynamic. The dads aren’t central to the story. It’s about the moms giving him up or taking him in, trusting that there’s some woman out there who will take their boy in.

    And a more Jewish-roots-aware Superman would have to grapple, I think, with the Holocaust-like implications of Superman’s backstory. What does it mean to come to a strange place when literally your whole culture and all your people are being destroyed, on purpose? What does it mean to choose and strive to be a good man when you both intimately know and aren’t quite sure of the particularities of what happens when bad people get their way? I’m especially thinking of people who struggle with the knowledge that their families were most likely killed by Nazis, but who never know where or how or if they even can bear knowing those details. What role, then, does revenge play? I mean, I really found it moving how distressed Superman was in this movie to have to get rid of Zod, even though he was so terrible. You could tell he didn’t want to do it, that he knew he’d be losing a tangible connection to his people.

    I think that makes, too, for a more interesting Supergirl. Is a family member someone you can share your unfathomable grief with or someone who only serves to constantly remind you of what you’ve lost or both?

    I think we strive to make Superman more Christian because we’ve never been very good at sitting with terrible things that can’t be triumphed over. And Superman, at his non-Christian roots, is someone who strives to be good and do right, even though there is no end to it, no triumph, no standing victory.

  6. It’s news to me that anyone sees Superman as a Christian figure. He’s so very clearly the Jewish boy trying to be accepted in a Gentile world, almost completely misunderstood by those around him. There’s the Moses aspect, to be sure, but there’s also the awareness of difference, the inability to communicate the truth about one’s identity (partly because it’s dangerous, but largely because everyone else has such different experiences that you could talk all day and not be able to make people understand), the loneliness that results from all that (even without having one’s family destroyed), the having to be better than everyone else in order to be accepted at all…. All of that. I mean, I get it that most Christians don’t notice these things (there’s your difference), but that they could see the figure of a Jew and say he’s actually Christian? Bad habits of thought, y’all.

    I hate to add to your reading list, B, but in light of your last comment you need to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which deals, inter alia, with a lot of what you’re mulling over.

  7. NM, they pretty much clobber you over the head with it in the new movie. Apparently they even sent out guides to preachers to help them talk about Superman as a Christ figure. Who kills people. Which… you know… you’d think would make ministers uncomfortable about hyping him as a Christ figure, but what do I know?

  8. So, I dunno, do I laugh or cry about supercessionism moving out from areas of theology and glomming onto DC Comics?

    Not to mention that if Superman is Jesus, what does that make Batman? Or the Justice League of America? Inquiring minds want to know.

  9. I kind of wish I were smart enough to write about Superman and supercessionism for The Hooded Utilitarian, because I find it really interesting and strange.

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