In this episode of the Justice League Universe podcast we focus on Scenes 13 and 14 (Clark coming out of the water and the school bus flashback) of Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder.
- "Seasons" by Chris Cornell
- Clark stealing the clothes
- Flashback to the school bus
- Lana and Pete
- Young Clark saving the bus and the bully
- Listener Angelo Mugisa - Christian Connections
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Sam's children's book MISSING LETTERS: https://www.MissingLettersBook.com
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 see Clark’s secret in danger of being exposed for the first time.
We start with the short scene where adult Clark comes out of the water. The most notable element of this scene as it begins is the music. The use of pop songs isn’t very typical of Zack Snyder, however this song helps to evoke a middle class, working man tone to match the types of jobs and lifestyle Clark is experiencing and learning about. The song is “Seasons” by Chris Cornell and it’s worth exploring the lyrics and how they relate to Clark.
“Summer nights and long warm days, are stolen as the old moon falls” are the first two lines. The general sense of long days and heat apply to working hard, specifically in blue collar jobs. This is something Clark is no doubt familiar with working and being raised on a farm. And he continues to be familiar with it in the various jobs he takes on, ones which require few qualifications and where people can be hired without much of a background check.
The idea of nights and days being stolen as an old moon falls suggests that time is slipping by unnoticed. It gives us the impression that Clark has been on this journey of exploring the world for some time. The reference to something being stolen also precedes Clark stealing some clothing from a car. We’ll talk a little about that in a moment. The sense of time passing is also conveyed through the title, “Seasons”, and hook “seasons roll on by.” On this journey of Clark’s he wanders aimlessly through the world similar to someone being lost as in the first line of the hook “And I’m lost, behind.” And it’s taken him to a new location, “another place to hide it all”, hiding who he is, his name and his extraterrestrial origin. Clark discovers this new location after emerging from the ocean which offers us a fun visual connection to Aquaman. Whereas our first look at Clark has him starting in the ocean and coming to land, our first scene with Aquaman in Justice League has him starting on land and going into the ocean.
Referring back to Clark stealing, we all know stealing is wrong, as we’re sure Clark knows as well. It’s something Jonathan and Martha would have instilled in him and he would’ve picked up from his socialization and his naturally good heart. Most people work hard for the money they use to buy products. Stealing therefore is taking away their time and labor. Some Superman fans have argued that this taking of clothing is an immoral act by Clark, something he wouldn’t do. They say he could have approached the people as someone in need and they probably would have helped him out with some clothes.
However, to say that stealing is always wrong is a fairly simplistic version of morality. There can be many situations where, when you consider the broader context, stealing is justified or is the lesser of two evils. In this particular situation in the film, Clark would have to explain why his clothes are in tatters which would risk him being linked to the oil rig and his identity being exposed, something that in the very next scene we will learn was instilled in him to keep secret until the moment is right. We also don’t know for sure that the people would be so generous or if they would be scared of him and possibly call the authorities. There are too many risks for Clark, which prompts him to clandestinely take the clothing. While stealing may be wrong, the need outweighs the dishonesty and crime. Does this mean that anyone who is in need around the world should steal? By no means are we encouraging or condoning theft, nor is the film. It is merely highlighting that we are compelled to go to extreme measures for survival, something that is in the nature of all living things. For Clark, hiding his secret is a matter of survival because he doesn’t know how the world will react to his existence. This fear turns out to be warranted as we see events unfold in Batman v Superman with both Batman and Lex setting out to kill Superman with Lex actually succeeding. All that said, you would think we could forgive Clark for this small transgression after having saved the lives of the workers on the oil rig that led him to the predicament of needing clothes.
In our last episode we mentioned how Clark is what’s wrong with Kal-El because it’s not who he is. This gives context and relevance to the lyric “And the mirror shows another face.” The face he sees in the mirror is Clark because that's who he grew up as and the face he recognizes as Clark, but it's not who he truly is but rather a human identity imposed on him. In that respect it's a face other than his own. We mentioned that Clark is searching for himself in an effort to find his place in the world, which also ties into this notion of being someone else. Paradoxically the version of himself he is searching for is also the version of himself he must hide from the world. As he establishes himself in a new town and a new job, it’s “another place to hide it all” as the song lyrics continue -- to hide his alien origin, his powers, and now even his human identity as he must assume new names to avoid any means of being linked to Martha Kent.
The hook ties everything together in meaning. Clark is lost in a whole different world from which he was born, left behind, sole survivor of an extinct race. And seasons roll on by with Clark not knowing who he is, where he’s from, or where he’s going. The rest of the song’s lyrics also fit well with the film and seem to be especially appropriate thematically for certain scenes. But as the reverb kicks in, and the gain fades, we can gather that the importance or relevance of the remaining lyrics are not the focus at this time.
Having put on the clothes he took from the back of the vehicle, Clark sees a short school bus which acts as a reminder of his childhood, not only having gone to school on such a bus, but because of an important moment in his childhood involving a bus. He watches the bus pass by and then looks down, which is an indication to us that he is thinking. All this segues us into a flashback of that school bus incident as the next shot is an establishing one that takes us to the farmlands of Kansas where we see another short school bus driving down a long road. We then see a close up shot of young Clark who we met in the previous scene, and Pete Ross, his early childhood bully, out of focus in the background watching him. This is significant as it represents Clark, even now as an adult, always having to look over his shoulder concerned with who might be watching him even when he doesn’t know it, that might risk his secrets being exposed. Those fears will soon be addressed in this scene. The establishment of Clark being the target of bullying is timed importantly here as it precedes a scene during the present in which he stands up to a bully.
From the get-go we can conclude Pete Ross is a bully when he addresses Clark as “asswipe” which isn’t very nice. Just before that we can see Pete look to the side with a smirk and lean over as if signaling to his friend “watch this”. Pete stands up to place himself in a position of power and intimidation over Clark and asks him what he thought, if he had seen “the game”. We can conclude that, given the geographical setting, use of the phrase “the game”, archetype of Pete Ross, and for existing Superman fans his backstory, Pete is referring to a football game, presumably played by the local team. This early, subtle reference embeds a loose tie-in to the football game in Batman v Superman and Cyborg’s backstory similar to how Clark’s emergence from the water provided a subliminal connection to Aquaman.
Lana quickly stands up for Clark, telling Pete to leave him alone. Here we see a girl showing strength and defending others by standing up to a bully. This is a nice setup for when we return to the present and see Clark defend a waitress against a bully. It shows that his experiences at an early age instilled in him the will to stand up to bullies, and to do so without needing to assert physical force against the person. It also helps to lay a foundation for Clark’s eventual relationship with Lois who is a strong, outspoken woman. It also makes sense that Lana would be the one to stick up for Clark being as she is not only his friend, but also a girl whose brain tends to mature sooner than boys’ in certain cognitive and emotional areas. Of course Pete, the bully that he is, reacts to this by turning this gender difference behavior for that age into a chauvinistic diminishment of her gender by implying her value lies in her attachment to a male figure. Note that given the context of this scene, the misogynistic behavior is shown as being wrong.
Pete proceeds to say that he wants to hear what Clark has to say. It’s hard to argue with merely opening a dialogue (something that would have benefitted both Batman and Superman in the sequel), so it doesn’t make sense for Lana to push back further. And we all need the opportunity to learn for ourselves. Pete urges Clark on with more name calling. Here was Clark’s opportunity to speak up and defend himself. Unfortunately it seems to be a trend in Clark’s life that he is interrupted by some disaster before he can do so. Similar to the Capitol Building explosion in Batman v Superman, before Clark can utter a word the tire of the bus blows out. However it is important to note that an important lesson being conveyed to us, the audience, and which Clark learns here and throughout his career as Superman going forward, is that actions speak louder than words. Superman’s actions speak to his character and motivations; in saving people, even those who don’t deserve it; in restraining himself, even against those who would be easier to punch or even kill; and in choosing Earth over Krypton, toward which he has no obligation.
The students are thrown in their seats and the driver loses control of the bus just as they reach a bridge. The bus swerves to avoid hitting a car which causes him to veer off the bridge into the water below. This scene is a bit of an homage to Superman: The Movie’s school bus rescue which also involved a school bus on a bridge, about to fall off into the water below. We briefly get a shot of the stop sign opening up on the side of the bus. This emphasizes the loss of control by the driver who must have stumbled onto the button to open it. The obvious indication of the sign is that the bus needed to stop or it would fall off the bridge, which it inevitably does. But in relation to this scene, and Clark in particular, it reflects what Clark must be feeling toward Pete, wanting him to stop. If we didn’t know better we might think the blowout was a result of a new power manifesting itself as a result of this stressful situation. At the very least it allows for the consideration of how easily Clark could stray down a dark path without the guidance of the Kents. The stop sign also portends the danger Clark faces should he NOT stop himself from using his powers to save the bus and its passengers.
A man from one of the cars on the bridge runs to the edge and we see from his perspective as he looks down at the bus sinking into the water. This helps to make the scenario real for the audience while also establishing potential witnesses to Clark’s rescue feats which could put him at risk.
We are then brought inside the bus where the action happens. Clark sees the water level rising and quickly stands up and walks to the emergency exit door at the back of the bus. He turns to look at the other kids and hesitates for a moment before turning back to open the door, no doubt pondering possibly being exposed and also to check if any of the other kids are looking his way. Given what we learn about Jonathan Kent’s warnings of being exposed, and the context of present day Clark “hiding it all away”, we should at least consider the possibility that Clark is thinking about escaping the bus and leaving the other kids behind. This of course wouldn’t necessarily result in a better outcome as being the sole survivor could raise just as many questions.
We see the kids trapped in the bus, struggling to get out and running out of air as they are completely submerged in water. I think it's some great acting by the kids. I do find it interesting that none of the other children think to go to the emergency door. But that simply speaks to the panic they all experienced in contrast to the calm, clear mind Clark would have not facing a life threatening situation.
After a beat, we see the bus rising out of the water accompanied by the Man of Steel theme’s identifiable note intervals conveying a sense of heroism. The kids gasp for air, and as the bus rolls onto land, we see Clark’s arm protruding from the water pushing the bus. Lana is the first to turn back and see Clark at the back of the bus. Arguably he could have jumped on and pretended to have been on the bus the whole time, which is one reason why it is important to the scene that he had to save Pete. It’s when Clark turns and jumps back into the water that Lana says “It was you” on her way to the back of the bus along with the other kids. They watch on with anticipation until Clark finally throws Pete onto the shallow part of the water. Pete looks at Clark, catching his breath and a little freaked out.
Even after being bullied by Pete, Clark chose to save him. This is paralleled in Batman v Superman when Superman saves Lex Luthor from Doomsday’s fist after he nearly had his mother killed and spent the entire film smearing his public perception. Of course we won’t delve into a discussion of nature vs nurture here, but suffice it to say the point of this is to show Clark’s inherently good heart. Though we can probably safely attribute this at least partly to the Kents’ parenting which we get a glimpse of in the next scene.
End of Episode:
This is Sam, and thanks for listening to this analysis of Scenes 13 & 14 of Man of Steel. In the next episode we’ll take a closer look at the Kents’ parenting and the fallout of Clark’s good deed. If you like what you hear you can support the show and find bonus content at patreon.com/JLUPodcast.
I also want to share a bit of bonus content right here. One of the things we most enjoy about doing this podcast is hearing from fellow fans about all the insights and connections that they make to these films. One of our most loyal fans is Angelo Mugisa and he has made several connections between the Dawn of Justice trilogy of films and his Christian faith. Our contributor, Rebecca Johnson, has also done some analysis of the Christian imagery in the Dawn of Justice films, but it’s interesting to get further perspectives and so I’m going to share some of Angelo’s ideas in his own words. What follows are Angelo’s connections, which I’ve lightly edited for flow. And even for those of us who aren’t christian, I think it’s worthwhile to see the meanings that people are able to draw from these profound films and the connections they are able to make across cultural touchstones like films and religious teachings. Those connections are just metaphorical and something to promote thought, they are not meant to be actual equivalencies.
So with that, here are some thoughts from Angelo to close out our episode:
Man of Steel definitely has Kal mirroring Moses being sent down the river in a reed basket, to grow up in Egypt and then lead his people out of slavery into the Promised Land. There is also somewhat of a parallel between Kal and Jesus where Jesus was sent by God from heaven to earth to save mankind and he was destined, or rather destined himself, to die for man and before that he performed miracles and feats of wonder. Kal also performed feats of wonder and then saved humanity in the Black Zero Event. Yet what happens after that? In BvS he is persecuted by the media and killed by Doomsday. It is interesting that Doomsday is Zod and Zod was initially from Krypton just like Satan was from heaven. And we can view Lex creating doomsday as a shout out to the real battle between good and evil and the Devil being the opposite of God. Satan was cast out for trying to incite a war in heaven, just like Zod tried a coup and was banished to the phantom zone. The phantom zone mirrors our idea of hell. Zod came from hell and just as Satan knew who Jesus as God was and tempted him to give him power and all dominion if Jesus would worship Satan, so did Zod offer Kal-El a deal to create a new Krypton and live with his people, while having all humans die. He was bitter because Kal chose the human side, just as Satan and the fallen angels hate humanity because Jesus became human, became weak and finite rather than spirit and majesty as they once were. Jor-El takes the role of God when God rebukes Satan for clinging to some sort of power he once had, Jor El even tells Zod he is a ghost and the Krypton he clings to is gone, just as Satan is doomed trying to fight a futile war.
Just like the powerful scribes and pharisees in the Bible plotted for Jesus’ death, so do we have Lex working from the shadows to do the same to Kal-El. Strangely the tragedy of Autumn is not only mirroring Kal’s loss of his father, it also has a Biblical parallel because Jesus himself lost his cousin John the Baptist. So even Jesus suffered tragedy in his life before his own death, just like Kal did before his own death, and in fact just like Zack did before leaving the Justice League project.
There are also parallels in the backlash. All the hate that Superman received in BvS from the media, even though all he did was save and protect humanity, is mirrored in Saul who was a persecutor of God’s people. But Saul eventually had an epiphany which is like Batman initially fearing and targeting Superman but then embracing him and what he stood for, especially after Superman died to save humanity. Then when Saul converts to Jesus’ cause he becomes Paul, one of the foremost fervent defenders of the faith who recruits others to work together toward the cause. There is also a meta-textual level where we also have the growth of the movement for the real Snyder Cut, those who knew it was out there but had to convince others to take a bit of a leap of faith. Although the disciples believed Jesus to be in heaven, they also heard him say, ’behold I am coming soon’.
There is a passage in the Bible where Jesus say something like ‘beware there are many false prophets that will come in my name, claiming to be me’ and in another passage he said something like ‘I come in the name of the one who sent me, and you do not accept me; there will come one who comes in his own name and he you will accept.’ This idea of the antichrist is one who comes before Jesus’ return and will pretend to be the Christ but won’t be; in fact he will persecute the church and try to destroy Christians worldwide. I am not trying to throw shade, but I see a bit of a mirror of this in Joss Whedon’s Justice League which tried to have us believe that it was Zack’s story and the completion of his vision, yet it turns out that it was completely redone. The theatrical release was not the true sequel to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and BvS.
The parallelism continues further now, with the movement started by the fans bringing Zack to the forefront. It mirrors Jesus’s church telling people to prepare for the return of the Lord. So we are anticipating the true return of Kal-El, where we can find out whether Zack planned to have the codex play a role, whether the whole anti-life equation was a set up to the big battle between ultimate evil Darkseid and Good Kal-El and the league (like Christ and his angels). One cannot put it past Zack because of how meticulously he seeded biblical references in his saga.
There’s also the clear parallels with Superman’s death and the death of Jesus, leading to the resurrections. 3 days later for Jesus, and in the 3rd film for Superman. But I also think about Lazarus. We have Lazarus resurrected after 4 days in the Bible, and we have the re-hiring of Zack to finalize his film to release it 4 years after the theatrical release. So in a way the Superman tale both resurrects the work of the director in the universe he helped create and also resurrects the hero, mirroring Jesus resurrecting Lazarus and then himself.
As a believer, I definitely see a hand of God in this whole saga. I think Zack channeling Christian beliefs in his saga pleased God, and perhaps that is why the hate for BvS was bordering on demonic, at least in my eyes. And despite all that, we will still be able to see the glorious return of Superman after a fake ‘antichrist/anti-superman’ was shown to us by Joss Whedon and Warner Brothers studios.
Thanks, Angelo, and thanks everyone for listening.