Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

April 7, 2017
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After watching Batman v Superman, I don’t think anybody would argue that there isn’t a prevailing amount of religious imagery, symbolism, and allusions, most of which are quite on the nose.  This is not completely unexpected, as Man of Steel contained a lot of christian allusions as well, but most of those were just inferences that could be made from the movie, however in BvS, the audience is presented forthright with many different arguments discussing Superman’s nature as a god-like figure.  But before getting into that, let’s talk about some of the angel/demon imagery.  One of the very first instances or mentions of the Christian faith is found when Lex Luthor is meeting with Senator Finch in his father’s study.  Luthor points out a specific painting that he says he would like to change, a painting of the Archangel Michael descending with the angel army from heaven to fight Lucifer and his legion of demons.  Luthor says, “That should be upside down. We know better now, don’t we? Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No—they come from the sky”.  This is especially interesting because here he is directly drawing a parallel between Superman and the Devil, whereas in other scenes he most often analogizes Superman to a flawed or false God.  However, one could argue that that theme resonates consistently throughout the movie even in this comparison to Lucifer, given that Lucifer is a fallen angel.  So in making this parallel, Luthor could actually be trying to express that Clark has the powers of a God but his intentions are misled and his morals are fallible just like those of any man.  Even so, it is interesting that Luthor uses both of these two dichotomous figures to describe Cal.


The only other time in the movie that Michael makes an appearance is during Bruce’s nightmare where he goes to the Wayne family mausoleum to leave flowers at his mother’s grave.  Michael is clearly depicted on the stained glass window behind Bruce, sword in hand, and brandishing a bright red cape.  The red cape makes the use of the Michael imagery somewhat puzzling, because given that the audience is inside Bruce’s head one would naturally assume that Bruce pictures himself as Michael, fighting the good fight against the forces of evil and protecting mankind from Superman, but the red cape tells a different story.  In Man of Steel stained glass imagery is also used, but in that case it is seen when Clark goes to a church in Smallville to talk with the pastor about turning himself over to Zod.  In the stained glass window is an image of Jesus, also brandishing a bright red cape.  So if the viewer keeps this imagery in mind when viewing the dream sequence in BvS, they will find that the Michael depicted in Bruce’s dream could also symbolize Clark.  In my opinion, the ultimate goal behind this strange allusion is to show that both Clark and Bruce see themselves as having the moral imperative in their dutiful mission to destroy the other, so they both see themselves as Michael… not the serpent.  This is actually quite funny, because the man who sees most clearly that both Batman and Superman possess the capacity for good (or at least usefulness) and evil is Luthor, who manipulates both of them for his own personal gain while still fundamentally despising them.  This harkens back to the mixed God/Devil comparisons that Luthors makes regarding Superman.


Another, more offhand, Christian allusion can be found during the compilation of talk show and news report clips that discuss the political connotations of Superman’s actions.  One commentator puts forward the thought that, “We, as a population on this planet, have been looking for a savior. Ninety percent of people believe in a higher power — and every religion believes in some sort messianic figure. And when this savior character actually comes to Earth, we want to make him abide by our rules? We have to understand that this is a paradigm shift”.  In this quote, it doesn’t just make some implied comparison between Superman and Jesus, it directly states that, in this man’s opinion, Superman is a messianic figure.


There is arguably only one other scene in the movie that features religious commentary in as blatant a fashion as this scene: Lex Luthor’s rooftop monologue.  After Luthor lures him to his skyscraper by pushing Louis off the roof, Clark confronts Luthor, who has quite a bit to say regarding the nature of his hatred towards Superman.  Luthor gives this monologue to Clark: “Boy, do we have problems up here! The problem of … of evil in the world. The problem of absolute virtue… The problem of you on top of everything else. You above all. Ah — ‘cause that’s what God is. Horus. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El —Clark … Joseph … Kent. See, what we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Joe. Because God is tribal. God takes sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from Daddy’s fists and abominations. I figured out way back: if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he’s all good, then he cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud that you are. With their eyes. The blood on your hands”.  The philosophical argument that Luthor is making here is pretty clear: an omnipotent God cannot be all-good if he allows evil to exist in the world.  The question, then, is why is Luthor telling this to Superman?  To determine this we have to look at what fundamental problem Luthor has with Superman’s existence.  Luthor is a staunch believer in the perseverance of the human spirit and humanity’s ability to overcome any obstacle in its path, akin to Renaissance Humanism.  He believes that humanity should not concern itself with bickering over whether or not there is a God or what his involvement in the world is, but should focus instead on bettering themselves through hard work and determination.  He believes that the duty of saving and protecting the world and its inhabitants falls ultimately on humanity, and that we are the prime forces of change and power in our world, not God.  The existence of Superman undermines this belief, because it allows people to become complacent, accepting a god-like figure such as Superman as their protector and bestowing upon him the responsibility to fix their world’s problems instead of shouldering the burden themselves.  So, to restore the place of humanity in the cosmic order Luthor believes that he must tear down Superman’s image as a God.  In Luthor’s eyes, there are two aspects of Superman that make him god-like: his apparent invulnerability and his sense of absolute virtue.  In the comics and throughout his existence, Superman has been jokingly referred to as the “big, blue boy scout”, because of his strict moral code of ethics and his unwavering devotion to right.  In the same way that Batman represents dark, gritty justice, Superman represents hope, life, and all things good and pure because of his selfless, benevolent ways and his charming, homely manner.  With respect to his invulnerability, the parallel that incites to a god attribute is a little more self-explanatory: he has near omnipotence.  In order to reveal the fraud that Superman is, Luthor manipulates Clark and Bruce into a battle-to-the-death “gladiator match” in which the outcome will either be that Superman kills the Batman and proves that his sense of virtue is not infallible or that Batman kills Superman, proving that Superman is not all-powerful.  In either scenario Luthor wins: Superman’s god-status is nullified in the public image and the “halo” atop his head is stripped away.


Now on to the crucifixion symbolism/allegories.  The first time we see a representation of the crucifixion is in Batman’s “Knightmare” sequence (courtesy of Barry Allen).  When Superman’s goons kidnap Batman they chain him and two other insurgents up in some sort of underground bunker.  They are arranged so that Batman is in the middle, with an insurgent on either side of him.  The parallel here is obvious, as the crucifixion scene in the Bible is usually depicted with Jesus’ cross in the center between the crosses of the two criminals he was executed with, Jesus’ cross being the largest.  In the scene from BvS, Batman is closest to the foreground, and his figure is most lit in comparison to the other two prisoners.  This analogy is interesting if we run with it, because in this case Batman is portrayed as Jesus.  If we look at it in the same way that I examined the Michael symbolism, Snyder may have chosen to do this because Batman believes himself to be in the right or “having the moral high ground” in this situation (and if we take the Knightmare world to be analogous to Injustice, Batman is pretty much indisputably on the side of righteousness and justice).  As a side note, there is a neat little bit of symbolism that occurs when Superman kills Batman via “Temple of Doom” style ripping out his heart.  Asides from hearkening back to how big blue kills the joker in the Injustice comics, this act signifies Superman enacting a sort of “eye for an eye” justice on Batman, because Superman states that Batman was responsible for the loss of the love of his life, Louis Lane, so in turn he rips out Batman’s heart, just as Batman ripped out his.  Touching.


In my opinion, the most important and obvious crucifixion allegory is the final showdown between Doomsday and Superman.  In many interpretations of the crucifixion of Jesus, the spiritual aspects and connotations of the action are given a sort of physical reality, in which theologians believe that Jesus actually battled the Devil in Hell and won, but paid the victory with his life.  The Bible details this in Genesis 3:15 “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, describing the mutually destructive relationship between Jesus and Satan.  In BvS, Superman realizes that the only way he can defeat Doomsday is to give up his own life in doing it, and in killing Doomsday, he himself is killed.  Now, you might say that this analogy is a bit of a stretch, and I would agree… if it weren’t for the scene that directly follows it, which contains quite possibly the most on-the-nose religious symbolism in the entire movie.  After Superman has slid off of the spike that he was impaled on, Wonder Woman picks up his body and places it in the arms of a sobbing Louis Lane, who cradles him in her lap. This a direct reflection of the Pietà, one of the most commonly depicted icons in the Christian faith, in which the Virgin Mary holds the body Jesus in her arms and weeps over him after he has been taken down from the cross.  And as if that wasn’t a big enough clue for the viewer as to the Jesus-Superman parallel that Snyder is trying to draw, he sticks three clearly-visible crosses made out of rebar in the background of the shot.


Besides these, there are still many other religious themes and symbols in BvS that I could have discussed, however these are a few that I found particularly interesting, especially because they highlight the fact that Snyder’s religious analogies aren’t solely limited to Superman equals Jesus.  All in all, I think that these scenes very clearly portray the messages that Snyder is trying to send to his audiences by using religious symbolism and allusion.

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