IVP - Strangely Dim - RU X or S?

May 12, 2006

RU X or S?

Two blockbuster films are coming out this summer, films whose release dates are marked in my datebook, films that have already earned my thumbs up, sight-unseen. Both are sequels of a sort; one concludes an ongoing epic, and the other begins a new era for its hero.

If I were writing this in 2005, the two films would be Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith and Batman Begins. But this is 2006, so get ready for X-Men 3 and Superman Returns. Because I'm a comic-book geek and have a lot of youth-pastor friends, I've been asked by a few people to comment on how these two movies could be used with young people. I, of course, want my own spiritual excuse for seeing the movies multiple times, so I decided I'd spiritualize the movies sight-unseen. I can do that--it's my blog.

This summer our heroes will grapple with questions of identity and vocation. I'm inclined to think that X3 will appeal more to junior-high age kids than Superman Returns, but that's good, because X3 involves an identity crisis, and I think of identity as a key crisis of early adolescence.

The crisis in X3 is more existential than anything: a cure for mutancy is discovered. In X2, the distraught mother of the mutant Ice Man begged her son, "Have you tried not being a mutant?" With the latest film, mutants no longer have to try. They can choose to remain super, or they can choose to become normal.

Now when you put it that way, why be normal? If I could fly or couldn't die I'd be happy, believe me. But some mutants are blue, some are furry, some can't touch another person without killing them, and frankly some can't remain a mutant without losing their friends and family. The thing that sets them apart is also the thing that sets them apart.

Early adolescence is in many ways a crisis of identity. Your body changes, your social networks become more complex, you change schools more than once, you start to differentiate from your family, and so on and so forth. So if you're unsettled in your own skin, and you have the chance to redefine yourself, what do you keep and what do you abandon?

Suppose, for that matter, that not everything is on the table: suppose you can change just one little thing about yourself. Maybe ou've discovered that some of your friends think it's weird that you pray before you eat or that you wake up on Sunday to go to church or even that you have a youth pastor. Do you forsake your faith or your friends? Or do you subtly withdraw from both?

In X3 each mutant has to make his or her choice. The choices they make affect not only their own lives, but their relationships and in a very real sense, their society. I liken it to the choice one of Jesus' disciples has to make in his early encounters with Jesus: am I a fisherman, or a follower of Jesus? Am I Simon, or am I Peter? In one sense it's no change at all--I yam what I yam, as Popeye might put it--but in another sense it changes everything.

If X3 is a film about identity, then Superman Returns is a film about vocation, which is a good subject for late adolescence. If you could do anything, what would you do? What wouldn't you do?

Not much has been leaked about this film, but Ain't It Cool News has hinted that Superman's return is an open question. To return will mean to face the consequences of decisions he's already made--rumor has it that he has a son with Lois Lane, but Lois moved on when Superman ran away. So will he return to her and repent for abandoning her? Will he return to his son, who needs guidance that really only he can provide? Not to mention Lex Luthor's threat of global destruction. This world adopted him in his hour of need; will he now, in its hour of need, adopt it?

Superman Returns reminds me of Peter in the courtyard outside Jesus' trial. Jesus had embraced Peter with no discernible benefit to himself; will Peter now embrace Jesus and all the struggle and pain that comes with him? How now shall Peter, shall Superman, shall we live?

Superman's vocation is caught up in his identity--the previews and teasers for Superman Returns have played up the messianic undertones of his back story. Likewise, X3's identity questions have implications for each mutant's vocation--powerless ex-mutants give up the potential that their powers afforded them. That's the skeleton of every hero's story: Who am I? What's happening? How will I respond?

Sounds like a worthwhile exercise for each of us--no matter what age we are, whether we see the movies or not.

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Buy my book! It's cheaper than two movie tickets!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at May 12, 2006 1:38 PM Bookmark and Share

Comments

Excellent points. I'll file them away somewhere for later use.

The question about being "normal" opens up all sorts of possible engagement. A few that spring to mind are unpacking the diversity of the Kingdom of God (the parable of the net springs to mind), through to discussions relating to things like discrimination and bioethics.

I'm looking forward to both films, though I'm more interested in the Superman film myself.

Comment by: Stephen at May 12, 2006 6:32 PM

Yeah, you can go in all sorts of directions with these movies. Homosexuality is probably the most straightforward; the cast talked at length about those connections in one interview I read. But the X-Men are a great template for considering the idea of God encountering individuals while simultaneously calling together a community: Professor X uses Cerebro to seek and save the lost, but they very quickly have to learn how to live and serve together, because their mission is intertwined with one another.

Comment by: dave at May 22, 2006 1:07 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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