Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lois Lane: Savior of Earth?

Spoiler Alert: Man of Steel spoilers abound below. Written for those who have seen the film, are interested in the odd articles minimizing Lois Lane’s role, or don't mind knowing the plot in advance.

In much of the buzz about the (rather blatant) links between Kal-El/ Clark Kent and Jesus in Man of Steel, the latest entry in the ongoing, and ever-morphing Superman saga, I have yet to see any really positive analysis of the crucial role played by Lois Lane in the film. This is a mysterious omission, since Lois is absolutely pivotal to saving the world from the fanatical General Zod's plan to "terra-form" earth into a new Krypton.

Lois, as well as Clark, has changed since her comic book beginnings. Once an intrepid 1930s feminist reporter dazzlingly clueless about Clark's secret identity, she had to be rescued again and again from the dangerous situations into which her nosing around got her. Since then, she's  been married to Clark/Kal-El, pregnant with their baby, or bereft of her idol and off in another marriage, depending on the decade.

Two Seems Better Than One

In Man of Steel she works her way into a newly exalted place. Appearing first in her "take no prisoners" journalist mode, she becomes intrigued with the mystery of the quiet young man who carried her bags to the Arctic base where the government is investigating an alien spacecraft buried in the ice. Tracking down Clark's incognito wanderings as a lowly laborer in many settings, she finally hits pay dirt in Smallville, where she hears of his early "miracles" in saving people.  After a face-to-face with this "hidden Messiah," she decides to suppress the story, making her a co-conspirator with his need to remain unrevealed.

In the climactic last half of the film, when Kal-El can no longer hide, she bravely agrees to go with him into the alien spacecraft, turning her investigative skills to discovering how to defeat the Kryptonians.  Stumbling into a conversation with Jor-El, Superman's father, she finds the secret of defeating the alien invasion. While Kal-El does the (heavily overdone) muscle work of battling the invading Kryptonians, Lois clues the Armed Forces into the secret, and risks her life in the attack which sends the enemy back into the Phantom Zone.  Superman's muscle alone would never have saved earth. It was Lois's smarts that saved the day.

His Brawn and Her Brain?

In the light of this, I've been dismayed to read more than one complaint that "men rule the day" in Man of Steel and "women exist only to be rescued." Sure, she gets saved in this film, too. But did these commentators miss the obvious plot-line in which Lois uses her skills to help save the world?

The film ends with Clark, wearing his innocuous “disguise” glasses, appearing to work under Lois' supervision at the Daily Planet. They share secret, knowing smiles and glances. Not only are they already romantically involved, but proven partners as well.  His brawn and her brain? Whatever the case, this “dynamic duo” dimension changes the elements in the story considerably.

An Update to the Hero Myth Itself?

And if we're doing Jesus parallels, then Lois has (apart from the romantic dimension) assumed the elevated role many Roman Catholics see in Mary—Co-Redemptrix of the world (!)  I'm actually not partial to the Kal-El/Jesus connection myself. I'd rather see Clark/ Kal-El/ Superman as one variation of the universal Hero myth reflected in the stories of Moses, King Arthur, and Harry Potter, among others.

But "Man of Steel" makes it clear that, unlike so many ancient stories (and the original Superman myth) the male Hero does much better with a female Hero as his partner.


  1. Robert,

    Been thinking about you post here, which I am thankful you wrote...

    I would love for what you say to be the Lois Lane reflected in Man of Steel. But I don't believe it is the message coming from the movie...

    Yes, Lois is brave and strong in the movie. Yes, she represses her story after meeting with Clark: despite earlier showing that she usually would do anything to get the truth of the story out. Yes, she risks her life.

    The movie, however, reveals nothing about the depth of the person. The character does not share what she is thinking or feeling concerning what she does (unlike Clark/Superman). Instead, I believe it is the movie climax that ultimately reveals her motivation: she has fallen in love for Clark/Superman, and she would do anything for him (like the top-billed female actor is supposed to do). The really overdone, never ending kiss at the end of the movie confirms this motivation.

    I'm not saying that the movie was wrong to have Lois and Clark develop feelings between them: but the way it is done reduces it to the hero getting the girl. As if we needed anymore reinforcement of this being the movie message, the most clever moment of the movie---Superman destroying a US satellite attempting to keep tabs on he and his mother and the conversation that follows---sets up the General's assistant drooling over him--- "He's so hot!" Woo-hoo...how funny... Sadly, I find that is the overarching message of the movie: there's the bad woman who hates men, the helpless women in need of saving, and the leading lady who will do anything...for her man.

    Your post reflects what this Lois could have been: the elements are all there. Perhaps if they had shown more of the conversation that convinces her not to share her story...perhaps if Clark had confided in her rather than the priest (and the heavy attempt at Jesus parallel). Perhaps if the movie ended with hinted possibility of future romance between them, rather than the "passionate hero's kiss".

    I don't think people missed her strength intentionally: I think the movie drove them there.

  2. I see your point, Kurt, and you make a good case for it, but I still see it differently. Clark doesn't just "get the girl." Lois doesn't suppress her story because she's fall in love with him, but because she realizes he could be in danger. In the final scene, Lois and Clark's eye-contact speaks to me of collusion and partnership, which I noted in my blog. As to depth of character, it is, after all, a comic book adaptation. Just goes to show, I guess, that texts can be read differently. Thanks for commenting.