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Does the World Really Need Another Superman?

 

In 2006, when I heard there was another Superman movie in the works—Superman Returns—I questioned whether the public really needed yet another take on the Superman saga. For a lot of Superman fans, Christopher Reeve had become identified with the character more strongly than any of the actors who previously filled that role. It seemed opportunistic to trot out the same basic storyline with a new, look-alike hero so soon after the deaths of Reeve and his wife. Would Brandon Routh be able to fill Reeve’s large shoes—and even if he did, so what?

 

Well, in spite of some minor unevenness in the storyline, the quality of the acting, and the special effects, this Superman won me over. Whether it was intended or not, it came across as one of the most obvious Christ analogies Hollywood has turned out. A number of sequences, in fact, could have come straight out of the Bible.

 

I admit I’m not a particular fan of Superman comics and the previous movies. I only saw the first movie with Reeve, and I’ve never paid much attention to the minute details of the story that rabid fans probably have an encyclopedic knowledge of. Call me slow, but this was the first time it really sank in that the name of Superman’s father and his own original name both have the ending –El, common in biblical times, and a reference to God. Hmmm.

 

That started me thinking. I was, of course, aware that Superman’s father, Jor-El, sent his son, Kal-El, to earth, not only for his own survival, but also to save the inhabitants of this troubled planet—an obviously christological reference to begin with. In this newest installment, however, Lois Lane has garnered a Pulitzer Prize for her article “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” inspired by Superman’s unexplained five-year absence. After his sudden, equally unexplained return (does that call to mind any biblical comparisons?), one night he takes her high above the earth to look down on the glowing lights of the city spread out below them.

 

When he asks her what she hears, she responds that she doesn’t hear anything. I don’t remember the exact wording, but Superman tells her something like: “You say the world doesn’t need a savior. But every night I hear all the voices crying out for one.”

 

And there were other powerful images that gripped me: Superman, stabbed in the side with a spear of Kryptonite and mortally wounded, yet with the last of his strength lifting the huge ball of the ugly, invasive landmass villain Lex Luthor created to obliterate our coasts and casting it far away into outer space; Superman then drifting downward spread out in the form of a cross to fall into the earth; his death and unexpected return to life; his promise to always be around.

 

In spite of the movie’s minor shortcomings, for me these images gave the story a higher meaning. Watching it, I was astounded at how God can use even such an ephemeral medium as a movie about a cartoon character to bring honor to himself—whether the creators consciously intended it or not.

 

Since seeing the movie, I’ve been reflecting on the world scene today. As so often throughout history, Israel is locked in a bitter battle to defend its very existence. Terrorists are rampaging out of control in the Mideast and all around our globe. Even nature is piling on, repeatedly unleashing its fury on large areas of our planet. Many people wonder whether there is any hope left for us. Certainly we seem incapable of learning the lessons history would teach us. In spite of unequivocal past experience, we humans continue to so pervert our lives and pollute the perfect creation God blessed us with that the only conclusion anyone can draw is that no power on earth could ever turn this mess around.

 

So if you’re one of those who still blindly insist that the world doesn’t need a Savior, then clearly you haven’t heard all the despairing voices in this dark night that are crying out for one.

 

 

Reflections on Fiction and Truth: United 93 and The Da Vinci Code

 

I originally wrote this on the weekend the movie The Da Vinci Code opened in theaters nationwide. Let me admit up front that I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to see the movie. I have read reviews and commentaries about both versions, however, and I’ve been doing some serious thinking about the relation of fiction to truth, especially as that truth is revealed in historical fiction.

 

Since I write historical fiction, this subject is naturally of interest to me. I have friends who also write historical fiction, and each one of us is committed to writing stories that are true to the history of our chosen time period. I extensively research the era I’m writing about in order to portray the people, culture, and events of the time as accurately as anyone from our own time can so today’s readers can learn the important truths revealed by history. But let’s be honest. Is it possible for a person born in one century to understand and describe with complete accuracy the beliefs, value systems, worldview, culture, and events of another time? No. Is it possible to handle history with a respect and integrity that illuminates history and conveys life-changing truth? For the writer who is honest about the inherent limitations of this endeavor, I think it is.

 

Earlier that same week, I went to see the movie United 93 about the airliner hijacked on 9-11 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. From all accounts, Paul Greengrass, the British writer/producer/director who made the film went to great lengths to accurately portray the events of that infamous day. Some of the air traffic controllers and military personnel even play themselves in the movie. Greengrass also consulted with family members of many of the victims so that the actors who played them would act their parts in a way true to the real persons.

 

United 93 is incredibly heartwrenching precisely because it is not spectacular. There are no amazing special effects, no heroic speeches, no posturing, no “acting.” There is no Superman on either side aboard the recreated flight. The terrorists are portrayed as individuals, some fanatical zealots, some fearful, even hesitant—but all determined to play their monstrous roles. The passengers and crew are initially terrified, confused, uncertain what to do. In all cases the dialog is believable, exchanged in covert snatches by men and women who move from fear to comprehension to desperate determination, and then to rage. In the face of an unimaginable necessity, unlikely leaders step forward to build an impromptu community of resistance that in sacrificing itself saves countless lives.

 

How does this relate to The Da Vinci Code? Well, if you’ve read Dan Brown’s book, as millions have, or have access to the media, you are undoubtedly familiar with the controversy surrounding the book and now the movie. Although The Da Vinci Code is admittedly fiction, the text states up front that the story is based on fact. Brown has at various times also maintained that the claims he makes in the book are true.

 

I also make the same claims about my books. And I guarantee they are solidly based on well-researched facts. In contrast, legions of scholars have pointed out numerous gross errors throughout Brown’s work, errors that have an obvious agenda. Even so, these errors would be no problem if Brown acknowledged that the book is fiction from beginning to end and made no claims about his work’s accuracy. Tragically, many readers believe his claims that the book—an attack on the truth of the Bible and the integrity of Christianity—is founded on truth.

 

Compare this to United 93. Paul Greengrass created a stunning work of integrity that honors the truth it portrays. This unsparing look at the horrors of that day reminds us that freedom is under attack and that, if we would survive as a free nation, we must take a stand against those who would enslave us. Like the Americans who stood their ground on Breed’s Hill against an implacable foe more than two centuries ago, the passengers and crew members aboard United flight 93 acted with a courage and patriotism that changed the course of history and serve as an example for all of us.

 

As to be expected, United 93 did not receive anywhere near the publicity that The Da Vinci Code did, and I suspect it hasn’t attracted as many viewers. The events—and the heroes—it memorializes deserve better. That is why I urge you to skip The Da Vinci Code, and if you haven’t already done so, see United 93 instead. Watch it in spite of the memories and the pain it will inevitably evoke. Watch it as a witness to the unexpected courage of ordinary people on that most extraordinary day. Watch it as a witness to courage, honor, and truth. I guarantee this story—this truth—will grip your heart and strengthen your resolve to stand fast against the worst that evil men can do.

 

Let us never forget.

 

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