This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 11 (oil rig rescue at seat) of Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder.
- Deepwater Horizon
- The Human Perspective of a Superhero
- Clark's Screams
- Forging a Hero
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Welcome, fans of Man of Steel, to the Justice League Universe Podcast where we analyze the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers studios. You can follow the show on twitter @JLUPodcast. My name is Alessandro. In this episode, we are taking a look at Clark’s heroics on the Oil Rig after hearing about the distress call aboard the Debbie Sue fishing boat.
Zack seems to use real world events as a way to reach out to audiences in his storytelling. In the opening scene of BvS we saw Zack use visual cues reminiscent of the 9/11 tragedy to provide a frame of reference for audiences to relate with on a human level. This Oil Rig scene in Man of Steel may have been inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which was the largest in history and lasted from April 2010 to September 2010, a month before Zack was hired for Man of Steel.
As we saw at the very end of the previous scene, the Oil Rig is still quite a distance away. But as this scene begins Clark is already making his way up the Oil Rig. This is quite a swim for Clark to have made in such a short time in addition to facing falling, fiery debris as he climbs the rig, all before the real heroics even begin!
The workers scramble for the last of the oxygen when Clark crumbles the door easily to save the men trapped inside, filmed from the interior view to show their perspective. This view is echoed later by James Wan and Jason Momoa in the beginning of Aquaman inside the submarine. Seeing Clark from the perspective of the people is important as it helps to reconcile the proposition of Zack’s approach to these films which puts an emphasis on what encountering a superpowered being in our real world would be like.
When Clark appears before the survivors he is engulfed in flames. Given his invulnerable Kryptonian skin would not act as fuel for the combustion, the only logical conclusion is that he was sprayed with oil amidst the explosions and debris. Showing Clark like this helps to emphasize the danger these men faced outside of that room, and that they would surely have died. The next shot of the US Coast Guard helicopter approaching the oil rig completely on fire enforces this real danger by showing the delayed arrival of the respondents.
We see a quick shot of Clark leading the workers through the rig, able to scout ahead thanks to his invulnerability, and with some knowledge about where the fire is concentrated having navigated the rig to find them. He leads them to the helipad where the Coast Guard is able to spot the survivors. But as they begin to board the helicopter, an explosion of intense heat compromises the structure, melting the metal and causing it to collapse.
And just as in the previous scene when the fisherman stepped in to protect Clark from the falling cage, Clark now places himself between the survivors and the falling derrick to give them time to escape the inferno. The Coast Guard, not having seen fire covering Clark earlier, assume him to be one of the survivors needing rescuing. So when they see him run away and stand before the falling structure, one of them yells, "Hey let's go, what are you doing?" Here, once again, we see Clark from the human perspective, this time from actual heroes which helps to elevate Clark further. Clark leaps toward the tower for leverage and holds it in place to give the helicopter time to fly away, which they quickly do, no doubt confused and shocked at his remarkable feat. We get a close up of Clarks muscular body which reflects his strength and struggle. We also see the strain in Clark’s expression and hear his deep-throated scream indicating this isn’t easy for him which helps us grasp the level of his strength in this rendition of the character. It sets the bar for what to expect of Superman’s powers. This version of Superman isn’t all-powerful as Lex notes in BvS or as some audiences expected. However it is poetic that the film is called Man of Steel after Superman’s epithet and we see the steel girders give at his feet but Clark doesn’t falter. We love the show of strength here, and the realistic physics of it crumpling around him.
Clark’s screams, now and after killing Zod, act as bookends for the story of his heroic origins in this film and is very symbolic of his difficult journey. And this scream coupled with his death scream in BvS act as bookends to his life as a hero. This scream here marks the birth of Clark as a hero. The scream following Zod’s death marks the culmination of his origin, hence the birth of Superman . And we can even consider his death scream at the hands of Doomsday as marking the birth of the Justice League as his sacrifice inspired Bruce to play well with others again. So we can see the significance placed on Clark’s screams throughout this story, especially when we consider Zack’s recent comments during the BvS watch party that his death scream awakened the Motherboxes to message Apokalips which birthed a new threat.
Continuing on with this scene, the helicopter flies away without a second to spare. Without Clark’s intervention, the workers, and possibly even the Coast Guard officers, would have perished. Helicopters have always been central to Superman, especially on film. In Christopher Reeves’ Superman, he saves Lois who fell from a helicopter and returns her safely to the Helipad atop the Daily Planet building. In Zack’s movies, this helipad is where we first see Clark as a hero on Earth, and a helipad above Metropolis is where we will also see him at his lowpoint with Lex Luthor in BvS. Helipads act as a launch and landing point, so their symbolism is relevant to aspects of the story and the character.
The fishermen aboard the Debbie Sue watch as the whole structure collapses in the distance. And Clark is left adrift, a hero forged in fire and quenched by the ocean water, like the blade of a sword, a symbol which embodies protection, honor, and justice, all qualities synonymous with Superman. And as we see in Zack Snyder’s “All the Gods” poster laying out the template for his story arc, Superman’s symbol appears on the pommel of the sword at the center of the story which may indicate he is the embodiment of protection, honor, and justice throughout the story. However this sword seems to have more meaning than just that.
According to The Film Exiles of The Exiles Network, the sword on the poster represents the Sword of Damocles. As they point out, The Sword of Damocles is a reference come to be used to signify impending doom. But, the tale from which the sword derives represents the idea that those in power always labor under the specter of anxiety and death, and that “there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions.”(https://www.history.com/news/what-was-the-sword-of-damocles). This is certainly something we’ve seen in BvS. In the story of Dionysius and Damocles, Dionysius is a supremely unhappy tyrannical king who ruled with an iron fist and is tormented by fears of assassination from his many enemies. Dissatisfied with the flattery from Damocles, he offers him the pleasures of his rule but hangs a sword from a thin horse hair above his head making it impossible for Damocles to savor the opulence and causes him to forfeit such fortunes.
In that context we can consider the powerful and always laboring Superman constantly under the specter of anxiety and surrounded by death as Damocles was. In performing heroic feats like the one here, he is always exposing himself to discovery, something we will see play a deep role in his upbringing. As we see in BvS, regardless of how hard he tries, death still surrounds him because he simply cannot save everyone. Like Dionysius and Damocles, as a being in power he is a magnet for enemies and death. And his looming demise reached its inevitable outcome when facing off against Doomsday. However, given the juxtaposition of the sword over Bruce Wayne’s coffin, we can also consider Superman the sword hanging over Bruce who is destined to die, whether it’s at the point of Superman’s blade or at the hand of Darkseid himself as a result of Superman’s existence.
On the quillion or cross-guard of the sword is the Greek word katafileo (“ΚΑΤΑΦΙΛΕΩ”) in Greek letters which means “Kiss”. As The Film Exiles also describe, this is with respect to the Kiss of Judas which represents a kiss of betrayal. The significance of the sword of Superman being labeled with a kiss of betrayal could be that Superman betrays the world, the other league members of the round table, and finally Bruce Wayne, all which the sword punctures in the diagram, as a result of succumbing to the anti-life equation. An additional point of significance could be that it is a double-edged sword that swings both ways, and that not only does Superman commit betrayal, but he himself is betrayed which likely leads him to the path of his own betrayal. Zack Snyder seemingly confirmed on Vero that the letter A on the world is a reference to the scarlet letter which represents adultery. The implication is that Lois, who is Clark’s ‘world’, would have been with Bruce akin to the story of Guinevere and Lancelot in Excalibur. In that scenario, Bruce would have also been guilty of betraying Clark. We’ve seen a nightmarish future in which Superman rules with an iron fist like Dionysius. In that future Superman says to Bruce “she was my world, and you took her from me.” The initial implication is that Batman let Lois die through his own action or inaction, but it could also pertain to the supposed adultery which in itself may have made Clark vulnerable to the anti-life equation.
With respect to the soundtrack in this scene, the minimalist approach helps to give a sense of watching real events instead of engrossing the audience into a blatant piece of art. The use of percussion provokes a pulsing sensation to evoke the feeling of tension brought on by danger. And the swelling Brass meshes well with metallic motif while providing the sense of grandiosity pertinent to such real world destruction and phenomenal feats of strength and heroism.
End of Episode:
Thanks for listening to this analysis of Scene 11 of Man of Steel. Next we’ll be looking back at Clark’s childhood in the very significant school scene with Martha Kent. If you like what you hear you can support the show and find bonus content at patreon.com/JLUPodcast.
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