Monday, June 17, 2013

Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun

There is a new Superman movie out called Man of Steel. It is a fairly mediocre movie with some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. Seriously, it is hard to explain how bad the dialogue in this movie is. I don't know what to compare it to, since Ed Wood never wrote anything this bad. It's not that the lines are out of character, just incredibly lazy. It's as if the writer just wrote down the first thing he thought of for each line and then never went back and thought about any of them again, because second drafts are for suckers. However, there's only so much you can say about how painful every line of dialogue was in this movie, so I would instead like to dwell on an aspect of the plot that just seemed downright peculiar.

Superman has a secret identity. That is one of the basic things that everyone knows about Superman. Everyone knew going into the movie that Superman leads one life as a superhero and another separate life as a reporter named Clark Kent. What we didn't know was why this interpretation of Superman decided to take up a double life. There are many compelling or logical reasons for a person to keep his identity secret. None of them are presented in this movie.

To understand the rationale the movie decided to go with, you first must understand something that we have all known instinctively at least since Watergate, perhaps even since the first Kennedy assassination: The Government is evil and cannot be trusted. The Government is also omnipresent and all-powerful. By "the Government," of course, I mean the United States government. That is the only government in the world that is affected by or qualified to take action regarding any extraterrestrial life that is found, even if (come to think of it, especially if) that life is found in Canada, as it was in this movie. The Government has a protocol in place for dealing with any intelligent non-human life that may be found on Earth, and the first and only step in that protocol is vivisection. We all know these things are true. If you think that the government consists of human beings who are capable of rational thought, some of whom want what's best for the citizens they serve, then you don't live in the same world as Jonathan Kent. I should probably mention now that Jonathan Kent is completely batshit insane in this movie.

I am not exaggerating when I call Jonathan Kent insane. He is quite literally a danger to himself and others. We first see his willingness to endanger others for no reason when his adopted son Clark saves a bus full of his fellow students from drowning, and Jonathan gets angry with Clark for revealing to these students that he is an alien. When Clark asks if he should have just let them drown, Jonathan shoots back, "Maybe!" Jonathan explains that there's more at stake than the lives of the people in their small town. As you might be aware, but Jonathan doesn't seem to be, Smallville is not the Shire and the United States government is not run by Sauron. No government agency has any reason to harm anyone in the town. The only one who might be in danger (aside from the danger that everyone is in by the existence of a creature that could accidentally kill them very easily) is Clark, and then only if the Government's Automatic-Vivisection-For-Everyone protocols are in effect. Jonathan explains to Clark that when he first found him, he was afraid that the Government would come around asking questions. The fact that no Government agents ever contacted him should have tipped him off that Clark was not a huge priority for them. Also, after he saved the busload of children, the fact that the parents of those children were grateful to the Kents rather than frightened might have been some indication that the other people in Smallville were fine with having a super-powered alien among them, and the fact that the knowledge of Clark's powers never left that town indicates that these people were fine with keeping it secret. Even if someone for some reason went after Clark, you know who would be really hard to catch? The boy who can outrun a bullet. Still, in spite of all of this, Jonathan insists that the slight possibility of harm coming to yourself is not worth risking, even by saving people who otherwise would definitely have drowned. These are the values that Clark was raised with: Paranoia at all costs.

Jonathan's paranoia was not just dangerous to other people, but to himself as well. Jonathan died in a tornado while he was saving the dogs of people who had abandoned their cars to run for safety. Perhaps it was noble or just sentimental that Jonathan thought it was worth giving his life for a dog or two that may or may not have been able to run to safety in time. What was flat-out crazy was that he knew that Clark could save him AND the dogs, yet he insisted that Clark stay in the shelter (which really made Clark no safer than he would have been in the middle of the tornado), because he couldn't risk people seeing him and knowing he was an alien. This is despite the fact that all of Clark's classmates and their parents already knew that Clark was an alien and hadn't told anyone. Until this point, it was possible that Jonathan was afraid that if the Government found out about Clark, Clark would be taken out of the Kents' custody. This actually might be a reasonable thing for the Government to do, but I understand why Jonathan would fight to prevent it from happening. However, the pain of losing your son is kind of irrelevant if you're dead. By sacrificing himself to his own delusions, Jonothan demonstrated that he was not just selfish, but completely out of his mind.

Knowing the man who raised Clark may help in understanding Clark's desperate need for secrecy, but it doesn't explain everyone else. Take Lois Lane. She went to Canada to investigate an ancient Kryptonian probe that was found in the ice. After a quick robot battle, the probe flew away in full view of all of the United States military personnel present. When Lois tried to file a report, Perry White told her that she was hallucinating. He told her that the Pentagon denied the veracity of her story. Lois, incredulous, exclaimed OF COURSE they denied it! That's what they do! Oh, of course... wait, what? Why? Why in all of the hell would they deny that? I suppose we all know of science fiction stories where the existence of extraterrestrial life is kept secret. However, there's generally a reason for the secrecy. Perhaps the aliens have plans for our planet that they don't want us to find out about. Perhaps, like in the X-Files, the Government made a deal with the aliens that involved keeping their secret. In this movie, the Government had made no deal with the aliens. They knew nothing about the Kryptonians or their plans, except that it was essential to deny that they exist. They say things like, "You know what would happen if people found out we weren't alone." Actually, no, I don't know. There are plenty of real people, many of them severely mentally ill, who think that we have made contact with alien life, and most of them aren't panicking. I don't know what horrible things rational people might do if they found out the same. Apparently, neither did the Government, because later in the movie, an alien tells humans point blank in several languages that aliens exist, and everyone seems fine with it. I bet the Government felt really stupid at that point.

After her story was rejected, Lois went out to find the alien that she was sure existed for herself. Following a few leads eventually led her to Clark Kent. Clark explained to her why his father felt that he needed to be kept a secret and how he stupidly died protecting that secret. This would have been the perfect time for Lois to tell Clark that his father was a paranoid nutbag and that he has to live his own life, but she didn't. She seemed to agree that Jonathan was right, that the world wasn't ready for Clark. So Lois is probably also crazy. But if Lois was able to find out Clark's identity with normal investigative work, couldn't anyone else? And wouldn't they inform Clark of what a dangerous loony his father was? Maybe Lois was afraid that this super-strong alien would go berserk if someone insulted his father. Maybe the Kents' backyard is full of the corpses of those who spoke ill of Clark's hopelessly insane dad. This is a darker take on Superman, after all.

Still, for someone who was raised with this Cheney-like obsession with secrecy, Clark is terrible at keeping his identity secret. When he first moved out up North (where there was no Government), he took an a false identity, ostensibly so that he wouldn't be traced back to Smallville and his parents. However, at the end of the movie, he takes up his identity as Clark Kent again. Why? Why doesn't he keep his fake identity? Wouldn't using his real identity put his loved ones in just as much danger as they would have been when he was living in the North? Did his loved ones not matter to him any more? Also, when he is being tracked by a Government drone at the end of the movie, he destroys it. Yet, when asked by a military officer if his actions were against the United States government, Clark replies that he was raised in Kansas. WHY WOULD YOU TELL HIM THAT?! If he had just told them that he was raised in America, it would have made the same point, and the military officer probably wouldn't have even asked what state. Now that the fact that he was raised in Kansas is public knowledge, people might start to figure out that it might have been in the small town in Kansas that was just attacked by aliens for some reason. It might not take much prying at all for anyone to piece together why this town might have been important to the aliens. Maybe they would hear about the boy who miraculously saved a busload of children, then disappeared for a few years, and is currently working for the Daily Planet. All of this information is readily available. Seriously, Clark, you suck at secret identities.

So why does he even have a secret identity in this movie? Because we, the audience, know that Superman has a secret identity. That's the answer to why anything happens in the movie. Things happen in the movie the way the audience knows they happen. You shouldn't think too hard about it. The writers sure didn't.


Blogger Mariam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:03 AM  
Blogger JaredMithrandir said...

That "Maybe" moment is no different from the apprehension we often saw from Johnathon Kent on Smallville. But we don't see out of context lines used to bash that Johnathon even from the show's harshed haters.

You don't actually understand Johnathon's concerns, it's not just about The Government. It's about how Clark's existence will redefine everything, maybe even religion.

2:32 PM  

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