It seems that the trend these days is to find religious allusions in movies. Even with the decline of religion among Americans, we continue to see religion’s relevance and connection to popular culture. Are the religious symbolisms in popular movies really intentionally embedded within its moving images, or are we merely seeing what we want to see and finding things that aren’t there? First we heard about Will Smith’s “After Earth” being linked to Scientology, and now Fox News has claimed that the 2013 comeback of Superman, ‘Man of Steel’, is “filled with Jesus, Christianity references.”
Let us examine the allusions to religion that these online publications claim. All the religious “allusions” to Scientology seem to be largely incidental, and the connections made arbitrary. Allusions are made to auditing, volcanos, and even the “man vs. nature” story is connected to Scientology. With “Man of Steel,”the protagonist’s age, love for enemies, Christ-like imagery, Clark Kent’s seeking advice from a priest, and even the painting of Jesus in the background are cited as evidence for the film’s connection to Christianity.
The deep interest of the online audience to religious allusions is apparent with how articles that link movies to religion quickly develop wide coverage and readership. For “After Earth” the claim of its connection to Scientology went ‘viral’, with various online publications picking up the story. For ‘Man of Steel’, the effect was similar in that it went viral; but the angle taken by reputable online publications was a little different. Entertainment Weekly interviewed producer Christopher Nolan about the character sketching of “St. Superman,” who, to critic Devin Faraci, “should be held to the highest standards. Nolan asserts, “He’s very God-like in a lot of ways and it’s been difficult to imagine that in a contemporary setting.” Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jenson confirms the “resemblance” of the Superman Story to the messianic journey and reign of the Man of Steel. “Indeed, the new model Man of Steel has a strong passing resemblance to a certain Son of God/Son of Man described in The New Testament of The Bible.” Jenson represents the movie more as a critique of Christianity and claims that it “does not express a Christian worldview” and merely presented what people of our age wish God would behave. In the light of this perspective, the critique of Superman may be more blasphemous than holy; it assumes that God is not perfect and needs improvement and should be more like our earthly, yet god-like hero, Superman.
Our interest in the relation of religion and popular culture is fascinating, to say the least. Whether the connections made are arbitrary or justifiable, one thing’s for sure, we can find religious symbolism everywhere, if we aim to look for them.