(Not only are there spoilers here, but you will probably appreciate this post much more if you have already seen the movie)
I really liked the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I understand that many of you were not huge fans of it. For a while I was right alongside you, laughing at the parts that I thought were silly, such as the fact that Batman and Superman having a mother with the same name ended up being the show stopper for the great showdown.
“You’re letting them kill Martha.” ~ Superman to Batman, who was standing above him poised to kill.
The second time I watched the movie, however, it was almost as if I was watching the movie for the first time. That was because I watched it after writing down the first words spoken in the opening scene; it was through these lines that I watched the entirety of the movie once more:
“There was a time above
A time before
There were perfect things
things on earth
And what falls
My re-evaluation of the movie showed it to be much more deep and intelligent than I originally thought.
Before I go on I would like to state that the truest meaning of any creation is what the creator intended it to have. I do not know for certain what the creators of the film meant by the lines that they used. I will instead be focusing on what lessons we can learn from the movie: lessons that will likely deviate from the ones the writers of the script had in mind.
The opening poem (it sounded like a poem as listened to it, anyway) was spoken as we were introduced to Bruce Wayne’s history. We see his parents die, but what does that have to do with the poem?
The close up to the gun with Martha’s pearl necklace gives us a clue. “A time before,” to Bruce Wayne, was the time before his parents’ death, specifically his mother’s. Her white pearl necklace symbolized the purity of Bruce’s world as a child (“there were perfect things”). When the necklace broke, and the pearls fell (“things fall”). Bruce’s own viewpoint of the world fell. When he fell in the midst of the bats, he no longer saw the world as holding on to the “diamond absolutes” as it formally did. The world no longer functioned in a way that made sense to Bruce, as it became unfair. And so in order for him to uphold a sense of justice, he had to make up his own. In a sense, he had his own “dawn of justice.”
When Bruce became Batman, how justified was he in pursuing righting wrongs in his own way? Was he justified in his sense of justice? The reason I ask this question was because of what was spoken by the narrator as a conclusion to the opening poem:
“And the dream
“And the dream
It took to the light
A beautiful lie.”
What was the lie, and what made it beautiful? There was nothing beautiful about the next scene – at least to Bruce Wayne. The scene depicted the destruction of Metropolis.
I’m not sure if it makes me a bad person, but I enjoyed this scene as it was shown in Man of Steel. I thought the skyscrapers being blown apart looked cool.
The perspective Bruce Wayne had of the event was a sobering one. The buildings being torn apart in the battle between alien invaders held innocent people. The fallen residents of Metropolis were innocent people, collateral damage. The travesty cemented in Bruce’s mind the lesson that he had learned as a child.
“They [Bruce’s parents] taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.”
What was the beautiful lie? The fact that a sense of justice and fairness could be had, even if it was only a false one. Bruce Wayne justified his actions as Batman through his belief that he was doing what was necessary to balance the scales by punishing the guilty.
The mention of “Martha,” was enough to stop Bruce from slaying Superman not just because it was his mother’s name, but because what the name represented. It represented a time when his mother was still alive, and that everything was still right and fair in his world. It represented innocence: his mother’s innocence, his innocence, the innocence of the world. Bruce’s deepest desire was to return the world to the way it was when his mother Martha was still alive. His choice to save Superman’s mother Martha wasn’t just one of convenience or an act of stereotypical heroism. He needed to save Martha not just because he didn’t have the chance to save his own mother as a child, but because saving her would be his attempt to return “a time before,” when “there were perfect things.”
Why couldn’t Superman have joined Batman? It was his mother, after all. With the speed and ease that he saved Lois Lane in the desert, he probably could have easily done the task himself once Batman pointed him in the right direction. He even would have gotten the task done before Lex’s timer ran out. If what Lex was doing was really more pertinent than the rescue of his mother, it probably wouldn’t have taken him so long to reach the Kryptonian ship.
To answer the question, we need to look at what Martha meant to Superman, and to do that, we need to look at how Superman viewed the world.
Superman was too young to grow attached to his birth world of Krypton before it was destroyed. Bruce Wayne may not have had a chance to save his own parents before he became Batman, but Clark Kent had a chance to save his adopted father before he became Superman. Clark’s father dying in Man of Steel wasn’t an unlikely outcome given what killed him, so Clark didn’t learn the same lesson that Bruce did. From Superman’s perspective, as broken as the world was, it still followed an order that made some sort of natural sense. He became a hero, and people worshipped him as a god, for he was far more powerful than a human being. His sense of morality was able to remain intact because he did what he believed was right and the results of his actions made sense.
Clark’s view of the world took a blow after he saved Lois Lane from the desert. People died as an apparent result of his rescue mission to save Lois. She told him afterwards that she didn’t know if it was possible for Clark to continue to love her and still be Superman. After all, Superman was seen as a figure of virtue, and it would be hard for him to hold on to this kind of image if he “selfishly” chose building and keeping his relationship with Lois Lane over being a hero.
When criticism of Superman grew despite his continual heroic actions, his view of the world continued to deteriorate. The final blow took place during the bomb blast at the congressional hearing that Superman showed up to. He showed up believing he was doing the right thing, and the direct result was many deaths, along with the apparent death of his good standing with the American people. This event was to him as the death of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne was to Bruce. Superman saw firsthand how unfair the world could be.
When I first heard Superman tell Lois after the bombing that “my world doesn’t exist anymore,” I assumed he was referring to Krypton. However, taking the events in the context of the opening poem, I saw the line in a completely new way. Superman’s world was his viewpoint of his sense of morality and justice on Earth. The bombing broke his very belief system. That was why his visit with the ghost of his earthly father was necessary.
His father then told him a story of his own heroic action that had the unintended consequence of causing harm to the neighbours’ farm. He admitted he had nightmares of drowning horses until he met Clark’s mother, Martha. The line that he used was, “she gave me faith that there’s good in this world. She was my world.”
“This world,” and “my world.” Two different worlds, one perspective. But the thing that is the distinguishing mark of this viewpoint is the word “faith.” Faith that there is good in the world isn’t as solid as known “diamond absolutes,” but it can be stronger. Faith shows a trust in the unknown.
It is clear that Superman adopted his father’s view of the world when he tells Lois Lane that she is his world. It is reasonable to say that Clark also gained faith that there was good in the world. So even if Martha did not make it, Superman’s worldview had a chance of surviving. He did not have to save the physical representation of a diamond absolute like Batman did. He held on to a hope that despite what he could see, good could be achieved. So while it may have made sense for Superman to join Batman in the quest to save Martha, they would be doing so for two different reasons, and Bruce’s reason was more immediately pertinent to the integrity of his world view.
After the apparent death of Superman, Bruce Wayne speaks a line to Wonder Woman that shows that he adopted some of the hope that Superman had into his own worldview.
“Man is still good. We fight. We kill. We betray one another. But we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.”
By those words we can see that while Bruce adopted some of the hope that Superman had, he didn’t adopt Superman’s entire faith. “We have to.” Bruce added those last three words because he is still trying to force the world to make sense.
Is Batman right to place hope in humanity? Is he right to maintain less faith than Superman had? After all, Superman was the poster boy of virtue, and he ended up in a casket. If that was the fate of the best mankind had to offer (if Superman could truly even be considered as lowly as part as mankind), what did that mean to any future attempts the species had to achieve greatness? To get any kind of closure to that question, we will need to dig further than the film itself, and we can do so with the aid of the character of Lex Luthor.
Click here to go to Heroic Doubts Part II: Lessons from Lex