What is the purpose of Superman? Why does he exist? Moreover, why is the idea of a Superman so universally similar and accepted?
It is a fundamental human nature to look for meaning behind the way things are. Oftentimes the easiest explanation for something inexplicable is the involvement of a higher power, a Superman. A majority of the world's population and religions believes in some kind of an external, supernatural, all-powerful being. This is a recurring theme in Zack Snyder's controversial blockbuster 'Batman v Superman'.
The film projects the imperfections of the world, rejecting the notion of a utopian society. He accomplishes this by deconstructing, or rather, appears to deconstruct, the traditional cultural expectations and morals of the titular heroes. However, by unwrapping the layers of allegory surrounding the characters, it may be the case that in fact, the entire film is a buildup to the true forging of the Superman.
"We have always created icons in our own image. What we've done is we project ourselves onto him."
Humanity, as a collective, looks for an answer for difficult times in something more metaphysical, something not so human. In his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche introduces the concept of the "Übermensch", commonly translated to as the "Superman." His definition of this figure, however, is vastly different from the American cultural icon.
While Nietzsche is famously quoted for writing "God is dead" in this book, the phrase was symbolic for the transcendence of human thought from the shackles of the religious beliefs of Christianity. This act, he contended, would allow humanity to ascend to a new standard of living, by creating a new set of virtues and values, specifically rooted to life on Earth, rather than in dedication to an external power. Zack Snyder seems to inspiration for his Superman from this Nietzschean ideal. During BvS, Superman undergoes an immense personality transformation, by initially rejecting the ideals imposed upon him by society.
Throughout the movie, Superman is depicted a god-like figure: from the on-the-nose biblical allusions through panoramic shots of him hovering like Jesus, to literally being called God by both Lex Luthor and Batman - there is no shortage of symbolism and comparisons to Jesus. The interesting turn of events is when, towards the end of the film, Superman sacrifices himself to save the world from Doomsday, with a haunting shot of his dead body propped up against a cross, further illustrating the glaring similarities.
In a way, literally, the DC Universe's version of "God" is dead, and Superman is reborn as the true "Superman"; as per the Nietzschean definition, someone that everyone should strive to be like, thus completing his transformation into the hero everyone knows and loves. He is revived, fully evolved into the Übermensch, the hero who puts himself in service for the people of this Earth instead of pursuing external ambitions, and is admired and adored by the world.
Superman's purpose is to guide the people of Earth to be more virtuous. This must be accomplished not by having them pursue virtue for the sake of his appeasement, but for the sake of themselves, and of each other. The deconstruction of Superman is merely a tool to reconstruct the purest version of him.
Must there be a Superman? Yes, there must. Because the world needs there to be one, not just to save people, but to make them see the best parts of themselves.
- Nietzsche philosophy Superman Overman Thus spoke Zarathustra ›
- Nietzsche's Superman ›
- Übermensch - Wikipedia ›
- Superman | philosophy | Britannica.com ›
- The philosophy of Superman | The Spectator ›
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