Monday, August 22, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 54

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Lex's helipad scene with Lois and Superman.

  • Lex's use of Lois
  • Triangle inequality
  • Superman came back
  • High and low motif
  • Lex's villain monologue
  • Lex's wordplay and cultural references
  • Is good a matter of perspective?
  • The problem of evil
  • Editing, music, and Superman and his mother
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>
Following Lois to the helipad and then seeing, along with her, the image of Lex standing up on the top of his tower builds our anticipation for the forthcoming scene, and it marks it as one of the cornerstone scenes in the movie, even before we get into it. The importance is also highlighted by the return of Lex’s musical theme, which we talked about before as being a modernization of a baroque style and having a feel of him pulling the strings or of the gears of a clock that represent all his manipulations.

We could probably do a whole series of episodes, just on Lex’s helipad monologue alone. But we’re going to confine it to just one, and we’re going to focus on Lex’s motivations and characterization throughout, starting first with his brief interactions with Lois and then his extended interaction with Superman. We’re going to mention the above/below motif and Superman’s shift from a high point to a low point, and we’re going to close with some rough thoughts about philosophy that were inspired by this scene. And at the very end, we’ll make a few brief observations about the editing and the music.

So coming into this scene, Lex is at a high point in his long-term machinations against Superman. He had the huge victory that was the Capitol bombing and now he has gained substantial new knowledge from the scout ship and has already started the process of creating Doomsday. He holds all the cards, including now Martha Kent and Lois Lane as two pieces of leverage over Superman. He has also already seen his manipulations of Batman paying off with Batman now in Gotham awaiting his battle with Superman, and Batman has the Kryptonite just as Lex intended. He has also caused Superman to doubt himself, although Lex has not yet completely won in that department because Superman is still clinging to a strand of his hope and optimism, thanks to his scene with Jonathan Kent. But everything that he’s planned is coming together and Lex is definitely on top, which is represented physically by him being on the roof of his tower. This was also the scene where I just came to have a full appreciation of the filmmakers who have written Lex not only as a very complex villain but a very formidable one, as well. And just like the Joker in The Dark Knight was a conceptual counterpoint to Batman, Lex here is a villain designed as a conceptual challenge to the very notion of Superman. More on that later.

In this scene, Lex has a costume that seems inspired by Superman: Birthright, drawn by Leinil Francis Yu. And by the way, if you love Man of Steel and BvS and are looking for a graphic novel to check out, Birthright by Mark Waid is probably the one that should be first on your list. And then second on your list should be the Superman: Earth One series for the Superman side of things, and The Dark Knight Returns, of course, for the Batman side of things.

Lois arrives on the helipad and Lex is almost giddy to greet her because his confidence is at its peak and won’t start to crumble until his phone call from Batman. We see again his tendency to make cultural references, hinting at a personal life where his connections are more to film and literature rather than to real people. There’ve been a couple Wizard of Oz references, A Streetcar Named Desire reference, and the Paul Revere’s ride poem. Now he says to Lois, “Plain Lo in the morning.” “Lola in slacks.” These are references to the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, adapted into a movie by Stanley Kubrick. The full text from the novel is: “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Like we did with Streetcar in Scene 10, it’s worth taking a moment to think about why Terrio, Goyer or Snyder wanted to bring to mind Lolita. Clearly it’s some Lex wordplay based on Lois’s name. But also the main character in that novel is Humbert Humbert and both he and Lex are extremely intelligent yet morally reprehensible. Humbert Humbert demonized Lolita by depicting her as not innocent to justify his actions, just as Lex demonizes Superman by depicting him as not innocent to justify his own actions.  Lex uses word play and wry observations along with double entendres, multilingual puns, and coinages similar to Humbert Humbert in Lolita’s narrative.

In addition, speaking this line could also be Lex’s way of objectifying Lois and making her out to be a helpless little girl in over her head.  Lois happens to share certain physical characteristics with Lolita including her red hair.  Furthermore, Clark calls Lois “Lo” in private, so “plain Lo in the morning” could also be a clue as to how deep Lex’s surveillance of Clark goes.

Lex puts his arm around Lois and she tries to pull away but he vigorously holds on. This connects back to the earlier scene with Senator Finch when Finch stopped Lex’s thumping fingers and Lex had to bite his tongue and accept her demeaning action, though he vowed for revenge on her later. This time with Lois, he’s all in on his plan and he’s not going to put up with any of it anymore. He then starts his gameplay with Lois by referring to the building materials and then connecting that to the Lex Corp metal that Lois traced in her bullet investigation. This proves what we and Man of Steel Answers before us said about Lex keeping tabs on who exactly was looking in to anything from the African incident.

When Lois tells Lex she has proven what he has done, he replies that “Unfortunately that will blow away.  Like sand in the desert.” This is a reference back to the African incident, where the evidence was trapped because neither the CIA nor the Nairomi government wanted it known what had happened. In the Extended Cut, Lois has gathered evidence on Lex for even more than just the African tragedy.

Contrary to some points of view that at this point in the movie, Lex doesn’t care about getting caught anymore, this line still suggests Lex thinks he will get away with everything, and that the evidence against him won’t stand up. It’s possible that, similar to Superman: Birthright, Lex thinks he can later blame Doomsday on Superman or the out-of-control Kryptonian technology.

In Superman: Birthright, Superman calls Lex crazy just as Lois calls Lex psychotic in the movie.  Lex responds in the film by saying, “That is a three-syllable word for any thought too big for little minds.”
By saying this, Lex is touting his brilliance by placing himself above those who would judge him for his actions. He feels everyone else has little minds, and that he is smarter, by far, than anyone else on the planet. This echoes those sentiments he conveys in Superman: Birthright in which he responds to Superman by saying “Au contraire, I’m the only sane inmate of Asylum Earth.  I’m not eager to hand tomorrow over to an interplanetary extremist with laser eyes.  There’s only room on this world for one leader, Superman.  When I’m finished with you, every last gibbon out there will know you for the menace you are…and they’ll realize that Lex Luthor is their savior.”  

I thought it was great how Lex creepily moved his hand near Lois’s head. This is an invasion of space that no normal person would carry out, but it is right in line with Lex’s mannerisms as we’ve seen earlier with, for example, Senator Barrows and we’ll see again when he moves his hand around a kneeling Superman. It’s just another instance where this whole helipad sequences brings together all the aspects of Lex Luthor as a character that they’ve established in the earlier parts of the movie.

Lex continues by changing the subject, and again it’s like the library fundraiser when his mind seems to be going a mile a minute.  He says, “Next category: Circles.  Round, and round, and round they go to find Superman.”
This reminds us that Superman has been absent, and Lex is rubbing it in Lois’s face that she doesn’t know where he is either. But we the audience have the most information on this front because we saw that Clark may have reached a new sort of understanding of himself and his role. So we are primed to expect his return.

He moves on to his next train of thought, saying “wrong category, boy.” This reference to himself as boy could be Lex flashing back to his father being strict and punishing him, and perhaps Lex Junior has never really escaped that feeling of being a child in comparison to his father. Moving from circles he goes to triangles, specifically, Euclid’s triangle inequality. My profession is mathematics and mathematics education, so I was pretty excited when I heard this the first time. And it was also even better when they got the triangle inequality correct, in contrast to The Wizard of Oz which tried to include some mathematics in the form of the Pythagorean theorem but mangled it badly. I do have to say, however, that even though Euclid included what was basically a proof of the inequality in his first book of Elements, it is a result that generalizes even beyond Euclidean geometry. And in fact, it can be thought of more as a way of defining what is meant by “straight” than a real result about properties of triangles -- that is, straight means the path that is the shortest distances between two points. Anything longer than that is not straight. But a consequence of this is certainly that the sum of the lengths of two sides of a triangle is certainly larger than the length of the remaining side.

Now, on the topic of triangles, what Lex really wants to say is that he has found the straightest path to Superman, and we know that he already used it once before in Africa. This time, he makes yet another pun with her name and says that the straightest path to Superman is a pretty little road called Lois Lane. I just love these flourishes, like the one at the end of the Extended Cut with “wane” “manners,” and I think they’re a great part of the characterization of Lex.

Another part of the characterization is that he’s ruthless and seems to have no second thoughts about using people as pawns or even killing them. In this case, he grabs Lois, turns her toward him and shoves her off the building. It seems even more evil to face Lois as he shoves her off the side of the building rather than pushing her in the back.

Now, before we follow Lois down let’s think a bit more about the triangle inequality and its possible thematic meaning. It might also be that Lex is connecting to an inequality that he believes is created by Superman’s very existence. As Alessandro will describe later, there is a theme in the movie that there is no absolute good or absolute evil because what is good for one can be bad for another or from another’s perspective. Lex acknowledges the inequality of Superman’s powers over that of normal humans.

Any mention of a triangle in a DC movie also brings to mind the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and indeed we will be getting those characters together for the first time later in the movie. The triangle can also allude to Clark, Bruce, and Lex, one represented visually when the three meet at the fundraiser. Also, the shortest path between two points is also referred to by the phrase ‘as the crow flies’ and Superman, of course, is known to fly like a bird from the tag line “it’s a bird, it’s a plane…”  Therefore not only is threatening Lois the easiest way to get to Superman, but Superman alone is able to literally follow the shortest path flying in to save her.

That brings us back to Lois falling from Lex Corp Tower. Of course, Lois falling is a trope -- in fact, it is like THE trope in Superman comics, TV shows, and movies. But I think it’s handled well here because it is actually Lex using the trope and essentially recognizing it as a trope as he does so, and the filmmakers don’t try to stretch out the suspense here. Within a couple seconds of Lois falling we see Superman right away catching her, and I think this was a good call by the filmmakers because everyone in the audience knew Superman was going to save her. They gave us the great moment without insulting our intelligence by pretending we didn’t know what was going to happen. I give the same kudos to the filmmakers for the final shot of the film -- the dirt rising up on Clark’s coffin. We all know Superman will be coming back for Justice League, so don’t insult us by trying to pretend like he’s really dead permanently. Go ahead and give us an explicit hint that he’s coming back so we can be excited for his return.

One thing we should point out is that Lois screams at the top of her lungs -- so that’s much easier for Superman to trace than a bound and gagged Martha. Also, Lois is in Metropolis, where she lives and works. Martha could be anywhere from Kansas to Metropolis to Gotham.

And to answer another criticism -- no, it’s not a plot hole for Superman to arrive in time to catch Lois, it’s just a coincidence. And it’s not even a far fetched coincidence, because Lex wanted Superman to be there so he might have known Superman was within range when he pushed her.

Another thing here is an idea from PotterPointFilms on YouTube. PotterPointFilms acknowledged that of course Lex pushed Lois over the edge as a way to bait Superman. But there’s another possibility that Lex had a contingency plan even if Lois fell to her death -- this would mean that Superman failed to save her and thus is not all powerful. It might also drive Superman to anger and rage, proving that he is not all good -- that power is not innocent. In this case, with Lois dead, it might contribute to Superman going down the path that leads to the tyrannical Superman from the Knightmare scene. Thanks, PotterPointFilms for those ideas.

Next we see a beautiful shot of Superman and Lois flying through the city, and I believe this was filmed in Chicago rather than Detroit because a few set photos leaked out when they filmed this on location. They land and Lois says, “You came back.” They kiss and smile in an embrace. For Lois, she knows how much all the previous events of the movie have been weighing on him and she knows how significant it is for him to still be willing to return and face those challenges. For him, he is looking at the woman he loves and the person who his father had just said is a way to find strength and love and face all the slings and arrows and negative repercussions that come with being active in the world. We can see here a renewed dedication to his mission as Superman, and Lois is central to that conviction. Superman is pulling himself out of his despair and together they have possibly thwarted Lex’s plans to sour Superman’s image. This is somewhat of a highpoint or at least a part of his upward swing from the low point of the Capitol bombing, but as we’ll see very soon, it doesn’t last long --- Lex sees to that. And in a couple minutes when Superman is back on the street again with Lois, he has found that it is even harder than he thought to put his faith in humanity because humans like Lex and even Batman always ruin the good that Superman is trying to do in the world. In other words, Superman has decided to come back, he has his world in the one’s he loves and he’s willing to continue on as Superman. And then boom, right away, Lex corrupts it again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After dropping off Lois, Superman goes back up to the helipad to confront Lex. This gives us the classic shot of Superman hovering above Lex on Lex Tower. It’s worth noting that Superman first hovers above Lex and talks to him that way, but with Batman in a few minutes he comes down onto the street, on Batman’s level, before talking to him. And I would say that it’s true that Superman is morally above Lex, which of course infuriates Lex, but with Batman he comes down and tries to talk to Batman as equals, which Batman is not yet prepared to accept but which foreshadows their eventual partnering.

As we’ve mentioned in many past episodes, there is also an above/below motif going on in the movie. It is usually applied to Batman, but in this scene and then in the Batman-Superman fight, that motif is also going to engulf Superman. Here, Superman starts out up high, but Lex brings him down, first down to the tower and then down to his knees. As we’ve established before, up represents morality or goodness and down represents evil or a dangerous moral path. So after his trip to the mountains, Superman is again committed to his mission to do good in the world and thus he is up high. But Lex brings him down and coerces him into possibly doing evil, albeit against his will. Batman takes him even further and will defeat him and literally throw him down to the bottom floor of a building, then Batman joins him down there, in his own low point as he almost kills Superman.

Here on the helipad, this motion applied to Superman is also simply a mark of an effective scene. Good scenes take the characters to a new place than where they started. In this scene, Superman thinks he is coming to apprehend Lex but by the end of the scene Lex has exerted power over Superman, and what seemed silly at first -- that Superman would go fight a fight at Lex’s bidding -- actually does come to pass. And Superman goes from being happy with Lois and confident above Lex to being distraught at seeing his mother in bondage.

Lex starts out, “Boy do we have problems up here. The problem of evil in the world. The problem of absolute virtue.” Lex gestures at Superman when he says absolute virtue, and the word absolute has special meaning in this film because of the opening monologue when Bruce talked about a time of diamond absolutes. That was a time of his naivete before he realized that the world was cruel and only made sense if you forced it to. It of course is not a problem in the colloquial sense for someone to be virtuous, but what Lex is saying is that it’s a philosophical problem of absolute virtue because it cannot possibly exist -- there is no action that can be perfectly good because the world is so complex and, as we’ve seen over and over in this movie, something that was intended to be good or that is good for one person can have negative repercussions or be bad for someone else.

Superman responds to Lex: “I’ll take you in without breaking you, which is more than you deserve.” So Superman, still hovering above, is claiming the moral high ground of doling out justice but in a humane fashion. This contrasts later with Batman who says, “I’d rather do the breaking in person.” (But thankfully, Batman is eventually redeemed and pledges to rise to higher standards in the future.)

Lex continues, “The problem of you on top of everything else.” So this takes Superman’s hovering above and turns it into an indictment of Superman, and it also strikes home at Superman who himself is not comfortable with the deification that has been happening to him. For Lex, he definitely resents and hates Superman’s position above mankind and above Lex personally. He does not respond well to feeling powerless or emasculated in this way.

Lex now expands this into the general problem of evil. He says, “because that’s what god is,” meaning god is above everything else, too. He then lists several instances of these gods above men -- Horus, Apollo, Jehovah, and Kal-El. The Kryptonian name Kal-El might not be common knowledge, but Lex probably got it from the scout ship. But the real bombshell is next as Lex then says, Clark Joseph Kent, emphasizing each word and reveling in the moment as he reveals to Superman that he knows Superman’s secret identity. This stops Superman in his tracks as he’s coming down onto the helipad with Lex, and it buys Lex time to continue his monologue.

“What we call god depends upon our tribe, Clark-Joe.” Just like with June Finch, Lex tries to demean people and exert power by using their familiar first name. It’s these continued power games and power plays that thread throughout BvS as a film that explores power and powerlessness.

Then we get to probably the most important moment here for Lex’s characterization -- he says god is tribal, god takes sides. “No man in the sky intervened to save me from daddy’s fists and abominations.” An important line and Jesse Eisenberg performs it so intensely that it really comes across as something that cuts to the core of Lex. From his perspective, he was brutally abused by his father and this led to a hatred that he projected onto god because god allowed it to happen. We can imagine the abuse happening in Lex’s formative years, while Lex is forming his worldview and his deep seeded emotions. Pair this with his precociousness and his feeling that he’s smarter than everyone else, and you have a recipe for a manic hatred of the very concept of god, which for the past two years has now been acutely targeted at Superman as the man in the sky, the personification of the ideals of god and so something that Lex cannot stand. In other words, Lex’s hatred of god has boiled over into a hatred of Superman as well, especially because before the events of BvS people were adoring Superman as a godlike figure. And this adoration flew in the face of Lex’s perspective that god was not worthy of praise because god takes sides and god is not always there for everyone.

With regard to daddy’s fist, Captain Dove on Tumblr ( noticed that this isn’t the first time a father’s fist came up in the movie. In Scene 1, we saw Thomas Wayne clenching a fist to protect his family. For Lex, daddy’s fist was one of abuse, not protection.

Another connection is in a future scene, when Lex releases Doomsday, the fists of that abomination will be coming right at Lex and Superman actually will be there to save him. So in that moment, Superman actually outperforms the abstract god that Lex learned to hate as a child. But Lex is too far gone at that point and doesn’t realize that Superman did indeed save him.

The idea of god taking sides connects with the theme that Alessandro will talk about later -- basically, if god does take sides, as Lex believed when he saw god siding with his father rather than with a defenseless child, and as the Judeo-Christian god does take sides in favor of his chosen people over and over again, then this implies that god is not all good because to be all good would mean to not play favorites. Or it might just be that something all good is impossible because there are always opposing sides and so there is not always a right or best course of action.

But speaking of all good, Lex continues with his statement of the problem of evil. He says that he figured out “way back: if god is all powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he is all good, then he cannot be all powerful.” I’ll say more about the problem of evil near the end of the episode when we share some philosophical musings, but right here it’s important to point out that Lex is not saying that it is a priori inconceivable for god to be all good and all powerful. Instead, what he is saying is that given the first-hand evidence that Lex has seen -- given the facts of the world, that pain and suffering and evil exist, in this case it cannot be true that god is all good and all powerful, because if he were all good he would want to protect the abused children and prevent the evil from happening, and if he was all powerful he would be able to protect them and prevent the evil. In short, Lex drew the conclusion that because of his own suffering at the hands of his father, it is not possible that a benevolent god is there just allowing it to happen.

It’s also important to realize that Lex is not saying god doesn’t exist -- he’s just saying that god is not good or not powerful. This positions Lex more as a misotheist than an atheist -- he hates god rather than disbelieves in him.

Having stated the problem of evil, Lex then makes the connection from god to Superman. God cannot be both all good and all powerful, “And neither can you be.” Thus, all the hatred that Lex has been carrying since childhood has now been directed right at Superman. Moreover, as Man of Steel Answers has argued, referring back to the line about Superman above all else, Lex is especially hateful toward Superman because of the public adoration that was heaped on Superman before the African incident. This is just like Lex’s father, who was a successful and popular man in the public eye, but in private he was an abusive father. So Lex is putting his anger toward his father and his hatred of god, all of this is being projected onto Superman. And Lex felt that he was the only one who knew Superman was actually a fraud -- it is impossible for Superman to be all good and all powerful like people assumed him to be. So Lex wanted to show the entire world that Superman was flawed, and after making that point and changing public opinion, then he wanted to kill Superman.

And in fact, that’s his next line --- “They need to see the fraud you are, with their eyes, the blood on your hands.” Lex sincerely believes that Superman is a fraud who just needs to be exposed under the right situations. And that’s where the brilliance of Lex’s Batman-Superman fight set-up comes in. It’s a perfect situation with respect to the problem of evil --- if Superman kills Batman, then it proves he is not all good. He can be driven to do something evil under certain circumstances. On the other hand, if Superman loses to Batman, then that proves he is not all powerful -- he can be bested by a human. Thus, regardless of the outcome of the Batman-Superman fight, Lex will have proven his point that Superman, and by extension god, cannot be both all good and all powerful.

The ironic thing here is that Lex has all this hatred toward god and godlike beings, but he is also basking in the feeling of his own power, of having Superman kneel before him and bending to his will. And Lex is also playing god by creating life with Doomsday. So perhaps Lex doesn’t really hate god, maybe he is actually just a frustrated man who is angry because he himself is not god. Perhaps he only hates god out of envy. And in this sense, Lex might represent the broader idea of mankind having the hubris to try to take the place of god as religious folks might say we are doing in some ways in modern society.

In response, Superman doesn’t ask about these philosophical issues or Lex’s past experiences as a child. Instead, Superman is worried about where Lex’s manipulations have led at the present moment. He asks, “What have you done.”  This is where Lex gets more practical rather than philosophical and he tells Superman exactly what he has done.  He lays out his plans and manipulations and takes responsibility with pride for what he has done.  He thinks either Batman or Doomsday will kill Superman, and so it’s not a risk to reveal his actions. And as a person who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, he needs to have this moment where he can brag to someone and rub it in, all that he has accomplished.

We aren’t going to recount all of Lex’s actions here, but it is worth mentioning his manipulation of Batman in particular, because Batman himself does not yet know he’s been manipulated, and that will be important in the resolution of the Batman-Superman fight. Lex says Superman has a date across the bay in Gotham. This date is the culmination of what the matchmaker Lex has been planning for. He refers to Bruce’s hate as ripe fruit. So it has matured over time, with just some subtle caretaking and prodding by Lex.  “Two years growing, but it did not take much to push him over actually. Little red notes, big bang, you let your family die!”  
By admitting to pushing Bruce over the edge followed by stating how he pushed Bruce over the edge, Lex reveals that he is responsible for the returned checks with the red notes on them and the Capitol Building explosion.  This is further confirmed in the extended cut. We can also now make more sense of notes because we know it was Lex sending them rather than Keefe, so the messages were designed more to enflame Bruce’s guilt and anger than to perfectly represent Keefe’s grievances.  ‘Bruce=Blind’ is one example of a message that makes more sense being from Lex than from Keefe because Keefe primarily blames Superman, not Bruce, but Bruce=Blind plays upon Bruce’s feeling of powerlessness and failure, and it’s also another one of Lex’s inside jokes because of the phrase “blind as a bat.” Lex is basically teasing Bruce with his knowledge that Bruce is Batman.

Lex then tells Superman, “And now, you will fly to him, and you will battle him, to the death.”  
Here we discover Lex’s ultimate goal.  A battle to the death.  Lex wants Superman dead.  He has been manipulating Batman for nearly two years and supplying him with the means to ultimately kill Superman -- the Kryptonite and the information about how to weaponize the Kryptonite. Lex refers to Superman as a god and Batman as a man when he says “God versus Man.”  He has been coaching and supporting Man’s stake in this fight because he believes in Man.

Superman says “You think I’ll fight him for you?” Lex says yes because of the special lady in his life. Superman says Lois is safe on the ground and he still seems fairly calm here, not knowing the full extent of Lex’s preparations for this moment. And in terms of the dynamics of the scene, the confidence that Superman shows here sets up a powerful contrast when he loses his temper with the photos of Martha.

To get to this point, Lex must have known a few things.  One, that Superman doesn’t kill unnecessarily.  Two, that if Superman does kill, then it would only be when innocent lives are in danger.  Three, that a negative predisposition toward someone or something leaves you vulnerable to being pushed to that extreme. And four, that there is nothing stronger than a love between a mother and child. Lex learned about Superman’s code of ethics from the encounter with Zod.  He created the negative predisposition toward Batman with the prison killings.  And finally he used Martha Kent as leverage to force Superman into confronting Batman.

Lex says that every boy’s special lady is his mother, and we know from Man of Steel that Superman does not abide any threats to his mom. But Lex’s comment also has interesting implications because Lex was also a boy and yet we haven’t heard anything about how his mom factored in to his childhood and his abuse from his father. But anyway, Lex shows Superman the pictures of Martha with the word ‘witch’ written on her forehead like a poker hand.  He is showing that he has the upper hand on Superman.  And really his entire monologue has been Lex showing Superman his “hand” by explaining himself and his actions. And it’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time Lex relied on polaroids. He also used polaroids in the envelope that he sent to Clark in Scene 30.

As Lex gleefully spreads the pictures, which just indicates how truly evil he is to be so pleased with someone else’s pain, he also returns to his playful references to pop culture, like this is all a game to him. He says “Martha, Martha, Martha” as a nod to Marsha and the Brady Bunch. And this is not only a moment of characterization for Lex, but it also helps prepare us, the audience, for the importance of that name in the fight scene.

He says “Now the mother of a flying demon must be a witch.”  
Lex goes from calling Superman a god to a demon. This is the same reversal that he alluded to in his father’s study when he said the painting should be turned upside down. He is saying that Superman is godlike in the normal sense of god, but to Lex god is actually evil, power is never innocent, angels and demons are not really different from one another. The mother of a demon is possibly a reference to Lilith, the most infamous witch, and the only one notably known as a mother of demons.  In Paganism, Lilith is the “first witch”.  In Jewish mythology, Lilith was Adam’s first wife before Eve, however she would not submit to Adam’s male dominance and cursed Adam before leaving the Garden of Eden.  This plays into the idea of “men having power over women” and the introduction of Wonder Woman later during the Doomsday fight.

Lex continues with his witch metaphor saying “And the punishment for witches, what is that?  That’s right, death by fire.”  
A reference to the Salem Witch trials. Of all the ways to kill Martha Kent, Lex is suggesting that she will be burned alive if Superman does not fight Batman. Finally, the ultimatum to ensure Superman fights Batman, Lex proposes that “If you kill me, Martha dies.  And if you fly away, Martha also dies.  But if you kill the Bat, Martha lives.”  
Lex is leaving Superman no choice but to fight Batman.  Because unless he actively fights Batman, Batman won’t have a chance to kill Superman.

And we have to mention the How it should have ended (HISHE) YouTube video, because that video says that if Superman has an hour, then that would be a piece of cake for him to go and save Martha. But that video, although kind of funny, totally ignores this part of Lex’s plan because Lex said if you “fly away, Martha dies.” And Lex has shown that he has surveillance everywhere, so Superman has to proceed basically as he does in the actual movie.

But anyway, in this moment, Henry Cavill gives an amazingly intense performance, filled with emotion --anger, fear, and sadness--that contrasts strikingly with the smugness and lack of empathy from Lex.

As Superman kneels before Lex, a powerless child in fear for his mother, Lex comments “And now god bends to my will.”  
Superman, the god, is now under Lex’s control, which gives us a striking new installment in the themes of mankind’s relationship with god and also the themes of powerlessness, because now we see Superman in a new kind of powerless situation.  Superman is Lex’s new chess piece in Lex’s long game of strategy and manipulation, following after Wallace the pawn and Batman the knight. Given all this leverage, there was no need for a “silver bullet” to accomplish the feat of keeping Superman “in check”.  Senator Finch was able to see through that “silver bullet” proposal ruse calling it what it was, a weapon of assassination.  Because it’s very clear now that ultimately Lex wanted Superman dead, not “in check”.   

Many people seem to have missed the beginning of the next line.
Now the cameras are waiting at your ship, for the world to see the holes in the holy.  Yes, the Almighty comes clean about how dirty he is when it counts.  To save Martha, bring me the head of the bat.”  Lex knows there are cameras at the scout ship whether because he called them, set them up himself, or it is in reference to the news crews due to the activity at the ship as a result of Doomsday cooking.  This of course explains away some of the complaints people have had about how the world would know if Superman kills Batman, and eventually how the world knew about Superman’s sacrifice.  And it also brings up the possibility that Lex intends to frame Superman for unleashing Doomsday, luring him to the “scene of the crime” at the very moment Doomsday will be unleashed, when the timer runs out.  In his plan, if Superman defeats Batman, Superman will arrive with Bruce Wayne’s head into the scout ship just before Doomsday is unleashed.  And it will all be on camera for the world to see.  And if Batman manages to kill Superman, then Lex will have won and still been able to frame Superman since people are already thinking Superman is at the scout ship, as indicated by Perry later stating as much.

Finally before parting Lex adds a final pun by saying “Mother of God, look at the time.  When you arrived you had an hour.  Now it’s less.”  The fact that Lex has a strict timeline indicates to us that he knows when Doomsday will be ready.  It’s all part of the plans upon plans. The timing also has the added convenience of explaining why Lex’s men are reluctant to kill Martha later -- because they are probably on strict orders of exactly how and when to kill her, and they don’t want to deviate from that plan, even as Batman bursts up through the floor.

With regard to those plans upon plans, we wanted to share this quote from an interview Jesse Eisenberg did with IGN. He explained Lex's "unhinged" attitude, as well as his motives for creating the monstrosity we see in the film. “I think Lex becomes increasingly unhinged throughout the movie. I also think he’s a guy who has 40 back-up plans and so when one thing doesn’t work out he has another and if that doesn’t work out he has another, which is why I think he never feels that threatened by Superman and Batman because he knows he always has the leverage and his final act, in my opinion; and this is now thinking back a year-and-a-half – was this kind of like last-ditch effort to leave it all on the table.” -

Again, I just want to say how great it was to see all of the aspects of Lex’s character come together in this scene -- his physical mannerisms, his gamelike attitude in the face of horror, his annoying grunts, his cultural references, his wordplay, and his manipulations. On top of all that, I’m not sure why, but I love that they had Lex walk backward before he turns and gets on the helicopter. Something about the physicality of it is just perfect.

But some people have complained about Eisenberg’s performance. Our opinion is that he played the character very effectively. Here is a genius with extremely advanced intellect who feels surrounded by a world of idiots (Asylum Earth as he says in Superman: Birthright) and those people deny him his Kryptonite and refuse to believe his metahuman thesis.  He resents Superman’s very existence as it corrupts the evolution of humankind and he is being beyond and above everyone, unleashed and seemingly uncontrollable. Perfect in the eyes of the public, but secretly wretched to Lex. The Lex we see is how someone suffering in that way would act, especially if that someone really has no personal connections or deep relationships to speak of.  His Cassandra Complex of knowing better than everyone else has him unhinged and feeling helpless and frustrated.  But he is not a man of physical strength like Bruce, so rather than turning to fighting he resorts to information gathering and scheming.

But looking beyond Lex and to the plot, this scene has put the final pieces in place for the big Batman-Superman fight. I really appreciate that the filmmakers gave multiple layers to Superman’s motivation for begrudgingly taking on Batman and also multiple layers to Batman wanting to take down Superman. We’ll of course see how all those layers play out very soon in the fight itself and its aftermath.

Philosophy Perspectives:

Now, the final thing we want to do in the main part of this episode is just share some rough philosophical thoughts, because Lex is a fairly philosophical character and this scene invites a philosophical interpretation because of its mention of the problem of evil. Alessandro is going to share some of his thoughts about whether a powerful godlike being taking sides can ever be a moral act -- spoiler, Lex says no and he believes that even the existence of such a powerful being is a sin itself. And then I’m going to share a few thoughts on the problem of evil.

[RECORDED] Lex says to Superman: “Problems up here.  The problem of evil in the world.  The problem of absolute virtue.  The problem of you on top of everything else.  You above all.  Because that’s what God is.”  
“What we call God depends upon our tribe...cause God is tribal.  God takes sides.  No man in the sky intervened when I was boy to deliver me from daddy’s fist and abominations.  I figured out way back if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good.  If he is all good, he cannot be all powerful.  And neither are you.  They need to see the fraud you are.  With their eyes.  The blood on your hands.  And tonight they will.”

Everything Lex Luthor says in this film has significance.  He often comes off as obscuring his words and meaning, however it’s merely a result of thinking beyond ordinary men.  In “The Empire of Lex Luthor” featurette, Phil Jimenez of DC comics specifically cites the comic Superman: Birthright in reference to the depiction of Lex in this movie.  He describes this Lex as being “too smart”.  Jimenez continues by saying, “He understood too much.  He was crazy because his brain could not turn off.  This is the smartest man in the room.  This may be the smartest man on the planet.”  If we consider this in our analysis of Lex’s monologue we can paraphrase and derive its meaning as follows:

In the world there exist decisions that are inherently skewed toward being moral or immoral; too far in either direction can be harmful because the consequences are a matter of perspective. What is good for one may be bad for another. Superman does not define these lines of morality, but has reign over everything in between.
Superman decides, with his supreme power, how and when to act and interfere without limitation. He decides who lives and who dies. But it is through our suffering that we grow stronger, as individuals, and as a species. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Superman interferes with this Darwinian progress.
If a supreme being has complete control and influence over people and events, he cannot be beneficial for them or act in a way that is morally sound for everyone. And even if this supreme being wishes to benefit everyone and act in a way that is morally sound for everyone, it is impossible for him to have such complete control and influence over people and events therefore he could only help a select number and inadvertently create an imbalance.
The people need to see the deception that Superman is good for the world. They can’t be told, they must come to that realization on their own, that Superman’s interference with human history is a death knell for humanity.

This echoes themes presented throughout the movie by Jonathan Kent in his story about protecting his family’s farm from flooding resulting in the Lang’s farm flooding, and by the Senate witness of the African incident who comments that Superman doesn’t answer to anyone, not even god and asks how Superman chooses who lives and who dies.  Note that in the Extended Cut we learn that these lines by the witness were scripted by Lex.  And twice in the movie Superman acts to save a woman that he loves which would have resulted in others dying, an example of Superman’s taking sides which Lex had set out to show the world.  In fact, the premise of Man of Steel is based on this very idea.  General Zod specifically says that every action he does was for the greater good of his people.  However what was good for his people was not good for the people of Earth.  Zod was choosing sides, choosing who lives and who dies, just like a god.  Just like Superman.

Lex mentions there was no Superman to save him from his father’s fists and abominations. It does tell us how fractured he is due to his father’s abuse, but his purpose for saying this to Superman is the matter which warrants consideration.  The logical significance of this within the context of his speech is in the fact that he survived those hardships arguably making him stronger for it.  And the fact that there was no Superman to save him when he was a child exemplifies the fact that Superman can’t save everyone.  God helps those who help themselves, because there is no divine hand to manipulate the strings, it is in Man’s own hands to decide its fate, yet people and mankind will become complacent by Superman’s presence.  These sentiments are prevalent in Lex’s statement about not having to “rely on the kindness of monsters.”  This idea harkens back to Faora’s statement in Man of Steel that “Evolution always wins.”  The fact that Superman is now saving people creates an imbalance in the world and interferes with that evolution.  Eisenberg states in “The Empire of Lex Luthor” featurette that “Lex views himself as a kind of savior of mankind.”  By eliminating Superman, Lex believes he is saving mankind.  Ironically there is a foreboding that Earth will suffer the same fate as Krypton if Superman continues to save people.  Krypton was plagued with overpopulation and resorted to genesis chambers to breed.  With Superman saving those that would otherwise have died, he is contributing to the overpopulation problem.

If God favors one army over another, then the clashing army will suffer losses as a result.  Each life that Superman chooses to save is inadvertently another life that Superman chooses not to save.  Therefore, with each life Superman saves, he is taking sides.  According to Lex it is unacceptable for a being to have such power to tip the scales, hence when he says “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin, and your sin is existing,” he is saying that Superman’s very existence is a transgression against the rules of nature.

Earlier in the film Lex told of his father waving flowers at tyrants every Saturday.  He also expresses the purpose of his silver bullet is to prevent the same scenario from happening to our children.  It’s no coincidence that Batman’s ‘knightmare’ consists of a world not so different from the Injustice comics in which Superman becomes a tyrant over Man because he feels he knows what’s best for them.  In actuality in this potential future he is hindering Mankind, like a protective parent, from developing and learning from their mistakes, and taking away their free will, something which even God cannot take away.  This shows a clear connection to Lex’s mention of waving daisies at a reviewing stand and insight into Lex’s fears about a being like Superman interfering with Darwinian evolution which also leads us back to his relying “on the kindness of monsters” statement.

If a parent prevents a child from touching a hot plate, they will never learn not to touch it.  If they do the child’s homework for them, they will never learn the subject of study.  If they carry their child everywhere, they will never learn to walk or gain the muscles necessary to do so.  If the parent does everything for the child, the child will rely on the parent for everything to the point where they will not know how to exist without them.  This interference in the child’s development is unnatural, just as Superman’s interference in mankind’s development is unnatural.

Before the capitol tragedy, Lex tells Senator Finch, “You know what the biggest lie in American history is?  That power can be innocent.”  When you consider Lex’s speech to Superman it encompasses that very statement.  As Man of Steel Answers points out, Lex’s ultimate goal is to expose this to the world, and about Superman in particular.  I would even go a step further and say power is not innocent, but for sake of consistency, Lex’s statement captures this notion.  And it is because of this that Lex deems Superman’s existence a sin, one that must be ended.

Let’s take a moment to establish what that statement means.  Power, the capacity to direct or influence the course of events, is NOT innocent, not without culpability for action that is considered bad or wrong.  According to Lex, Superman IS culpable for actions which result in bad things, and every action is good for some and bad for others.  Accordingly, every action by Superman has a negative consequence whether directly, by acting in the interest of one party at the expense of another such as in Jonathan Kent’s story, or indirectly, from inaction.  Furthermore he implies that Superman’s actions directly affect the course of human history and therefore are bad for humanity.  Concordantly, Superman, with the power he possesses, is not innocent in that his action or inaction has a cost, one that is paid by Mankind.

Going back to Lex’s line from the extended cut, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin.  And your sin is existing,” surely this is not a new sentiment that Lex has suddenly adopted, but one that he has felt since Superman publicly revealed himself to the world exacerbated by the discovery of the other metahumans.  It doesn’t help that the Black Zero event cause massive damage to LexCorp property.  Batman v Superman’s bonus featurette “The Empire of Lex Luthor” found in the extra features of the home release has Jesse Eisenberg echoing these same sentiments.  He says about Lex, “He views Superman as just existentially wrong.  This guy should not exist.  And that creates a very dangerous person.”  So given that Lex is opposed to Superman’s existence, and that Lex views himself as a savior of mankind which Eisenberg also states, it’s natural to conclude Lex has wanted to save mankind from Superman by killing him from the moment he appeared.

During the rebuild of Metropolis, Lex’s crews discover Kryptonite which Lex learns is harmful to Kryptonians.  At that point he has the information needed which could kill Superman.  He then sets out to find more, which he eventually does, which allows him to execute his plans.  

Lex reveals to Superman that he is responsible for sending Bruce the checks with the little red notes, and takes credit for the Capitol Building explosion.  He admits that he planned to force Superman and Batman into fighting, to pit man against God.  Lex’s original plan of pitting the two heroes against each other was a win-win tactic used by Lex Luthor the second in the Death of Superman storyline.  Here, if Batman were to win, then Superman dies and Batman can continue his hunt to kill the other enemies of mankind, the metahumans.  If Superman were to win, Lex would have the head of Bruce Wayne, a high standing and valuable member of society, as proof of the threat that Superman poses.  The US Government would then be the ones to kill Superman.  Unfortunately Lex’s plans did not go quite as planned which led him to resort to creating Doomsday to kill Superman. [/RECORDED]

For me, it was Lex’s mentioning of the Problem of Evil that got me thinking a lot, especially back in March when I saw the movie for the first time. Frankly, I was amazed and impressed that a comic book movie was willing to tackle such weighty philosophical ideas, and that they were willing to push the analogy between Superman and god or christ even further than they did in Man of Steel. Superman has long had links to religious figures, and now Snyder and Terrio were pushing beyond just the Moses connection of Superman being sent as a baby down the river in a basket and beyond the idea of Superman as a savior or miracle worker. With the Death of Superman adaptation here in BvS, they were also going to the crucifixion and sacrifice of Jesus, but with Lex, they are also including the Problem of Evil and mankind’s challenges or rebukes to the idea of god itself.

The Problem of Evil is one of the most longstanding and widespread arguments against the existence of god. A while back I read a book called “50 Voices of Disbelief” that was a set of 50 essays by a variety of people, from different professions and backgrounds, who were sharing in a nutshell why they didn’t believe in god. I think at least 30 of the writers included the problem of evil as a reason for not believing in the Judeo-Christian god, if not a metaphysical god altogether. And of course you can find philosophers and theologians who’ve been writing on the problem of evil for centuries.

It’s important to point out that the argument from the problem of evil does not disprove the existence of god, it just disproves the existence of a certain kind of god -- namely, a god who is all knowing, all powerful, and all good. If god was all knowing, he would know that evil exists. If he was also all good, he would not want the evil to exist. And if he was also all powerful, then he’d be able to prevent or abolish the evil. But there is evil in the world, both natural and manmade, and so god must not have all three of those characteristics -- at least one must be missing. We can consider, then, what god would be like if we started removing one or more of those characteristics. What would it mean if, for example, god is all knowing and all powerful but not all good?

Counterarguments to this line of reasoning can involve an appeal to some greater good that we don’t see that goes beyond the evil that we do see. For example, perhaps it seems evil for a serial killer to go on a killing spree or for hundreds of priests to molest children, but maybe this evil is worth it because of the benefits of free will. Free will is a great gift to humanity, even though it comes with some evil deeds by human beings. Or some people say that evil has to exist because without it, goodness has no meaning -- things can only be defined along a spectrum, not in an absolute sense.

For me, these counterarguments fall flat when I try to comprehend the full extent of evil, where evil encompasses not just the actions of people but also cruelty and needless suffering in the world. Like children born with terrible, painful diseases. That was not due to anyone’s free will and it doesn’t seem like the lessons others would learn from it would be worth it at all. Or I think about needless suffering that doesn’t even involve humans. Like imagine, for example, a baby rabbit in a forrest who is suddenly partially crushed by a falling tree or limb. That has certainly happened in this world if you think about how many thousands of years mammals have existed. To me, there is no conceivable purpose for that baby rabbit’s suffering, and an all good, all knowing, all powerful god would not have designed a world in which that could happen so easily and so often. Now, if this is a natural world governed by natural laws instead of by a supernatural power, then it is still sad but it is totally understandable why things like that occur.

So even though it’s odd to side with Lex Luthor, I can honestly see the merit of arguments from the problem of evil. But where I differ from Lex is that I don’t see a need to manipulate people and force them to see things my way. And I also don’t see why a broad argument about the nature of the universe has to be applied to an individual like Superman or anyone else who happens to have power of some sort and is just trying to do something helpful, I don’t see why the problem of evil should be applied to that person. I think it really only applies to anyone purported to be the creator of the universe. Now, if Superman were himself claiming to be all good and all powerful, like some Superman fans seem to want him to be, then I would agree with Lex all the way in saying that it is unacceptable for someone to claim that mantle of all good and all powerful. We are all limited, we are all corruptible, and in modern times we have come to realize that there are no diamond absolutes with respect to morality. There are ethical nuances and matters of perspective. This is not an argument for moral relativism, but it is an argument for the recognition that morality is complex, not black and white.

Lex decided as a child that the problem of evil is an indictment of god and anyone purporting to be godlike. He has maintained that conviction and is frustrated with the world for not seeing things the same way he does. But it’s not just the philosophy of Lex presented here in Scene 54 on the helipad. There were also some hints at things about his psychology. Man of Steel Answers, in the first BvS episode, talked about Lex from the perspective of his relationships with his parents -- an abusive but publicly adored father, and a mother who was either absent, ignorant, or ineffectual. As we alluded to above, this can be directly connected to his hatred of Superman as a beloved public figure and Lex’s desire to prove that “power can be innocent” is a lie. There’s just so much to work from in this scene, we still have this feeling that we’re missing whole swaths of it even in this extended analysis. But life gets in the way, so we have to wrap things up.

End of Episode:

Just a great, great scene. I would put this right alongside the Wayne murder, the Capitol bombing, the warehouse rescue, and the death of Superman as high quality and iconic scenes in this movie. And it’s not just the writing and the thematic development here on the helipad. It’s also the editing and the music. In his interview with ProVideo Coalition, the editor, David Brenner, said that he used punch-in cuts, rather than shot-reverse-shot, because punch-ins are unexpected and a bit unsettling. For example, they did a punch-in cut on Lex’s line about his father’s fists, because this is at the core of what Lex’s issue was, and he also makes a physical move with his own fist, so by doing the punch-in it gives a physical energy to the cut.

The music was also great here. We previously mentioned Lex’s theme returning as Lois approached, and Adam Potter (PotterPoint, again) from YouTube, noticed that when Lex Luthor shows Superman the polaroids of Martha Kent and when Martha Kent was kidnapped, the music was an eerie reinterpretation of the track "Goodbye My Son" from Man of Steel. Potter goes on to say that he believes this chilling variation was meant to be a nightmarish contrast; in Man of Steel Jor-El and Lara lament that they'll never be alive to watch Kal-El grow up. In BvS, on the other hand, it's the son who now fears for losing the parent.

@SonofArrogance on twitter noticed the same thing. He wrote that “the music playing when Luthor shows the images of Martha to #Superman is the same music that plays when Lara dies in Man of Steel.” A beautiful musical connection between Kal-El’s mothers.


  1. I think that the motif of "envy" fits Luthor perfectly as it places him alongside other religious villains like Cain (who was envious of his brother Abel) and Lucifer (who was envious of his father God). Very-very great analysis.

    1. I think I agree with you. The problem-of-evil motive for Lex against Superman is explicit, and the daddy-issues motive is pretty clear as well. But I really feel like that envy, "If I can't be god then I hate god" motive is definitely there, even if it's kind of unspoken and maybe the subconscious motive for Lex. (Harder to find evidence for it, but I think it's there.) If that is the case, then to me it's amazing how rich both Lex and Bruce are -- with Bruce he also has an underlying motive (failure and powerlessness) that explains his anger toward Superman, despite what Bruce says aloud to rationalize it.

    2. Abdias -- we mentioned you in the new episode!

  2. I noticed that motif for Bruce. In his first dream he is elevated by the light in a very religious way, Jesus like. In his second dream there is a painting of Archangel Michael, often sees as a protector using a spear/sword to kill the dragon (magical being/demons). In the third dream the complexification has gone crazy but i think he projected his inner demons on Superman while acceding to the role of Messiah, he is crucified with some of his men and Sup perforate his chest, which evoque the death of Superman by the end.

    From my first viewing i thought he had some kind of inferiority complex. Superman is a magical being and Bruce has a hard time dealing with that, his unconsciouss eats him more and more, he looses sight. He act like the rational mind wanting to shut down it's opposite. This is reminiscent of Excalibur which is about the spirit of nature, gods and magic, letting place to the age of men in their shiny armors. I see the process has being reversed in some ways in BvS and i think it is one of Snyder intent, from his love of mythology.

    I have written a few analysis on different aspects of BvS, maybe it will interest you and complete your view (here is the one to the dreams: I really appreciate your work, keep it up, it's amazing, thank you for your time and dedication!

    1. (I meant Bruce is on a religious quest and saw himself as a messiah, he embodies Michael exemple- he switched side between himself and Superman (he makes him the demon) but in the end things are balanced and his vison was prophetic already. Batman has a symbol but when he is confronted with Superman, who is a living symbol in flesh, it's shattering for him.) maybe it's more evident in my analysis though my english can be confusing.

    2. I definitely get what you're saying. Very nice connections and a powerful lens on Bruce's story here.

    3. And thanks for the link. I'll check that out.