Sunday, June 16, 2013

well I want to fly above the storm

Look, I'm no perfect daughter, and my dad is no perfect father, and I think that's more the case than one would be led to believe if Twitter and Facebook were the only measures of things.

My father taught me a lot of things. Probably the biggest thing he taught me was generosity. For all his faults, and he has oh-so-many, the one I never considered a true fault was his generosity. Time, money, an ear, he was willing to give it freely to anyone (sometimes to my mother's chagrin). I could see that even when I was a child, and I know that sense of wanting to be useful, wanting to feel needed, that's all from him. Even if he didn't give very useful advice, he puffed up with pride if someone wanted to talk to him about a problem. And that's part of what I learned from my father-- it's not even necessary to have a solution, you just have to be there.

He had a good sense of humor about himself when he was younger, when I was growing up, and that was another thing I learned from him. That there wasn't a lot of point in rage, and that even the things which should have legitimately earned some anger were a lot easier to take with laughter instead. He taught me how to find the absurdity in bad situations, and sadly, he forgot that lesson himself later in life.

He also taught me to value an education and learning and seeking truth. When I was young, we would argue for hours to get to the bottom of an issue, and he taught me to question things, even if he learned to regret that later. And despite being Indian and male and chauvinist about a million other things, never once did he discourage me from any academic activity.

He taught me plenty of bad habits too. Doubting myself, handling failure poorly, falling into melancholy, I learned those things from him too. I've unlearned some of those bad traits, some of the good traits too. My relationship with my father is as complicated as life. It doesn't fit some tidy package, like anything you examine closely enough. Yet it doesn't make it any less precious.


And speaking of fathers, and tales of fathers, well, I have had to face up to the fact that I'm a Superman apologist. Yes, I absolutely am. I recall being woefully disappointed in Superman Returns, but when I went back and looked at what I'd written about the movie when I first saw it, I found the movie flawed but not unwatchable.

My friend CS turned to me and declared, "That was absolutely horrible, I am disappointed!" as the credits rolled to Man of Steel. And truthfully, I couldn't really fault her for that review. But it didn't leave a lot of room for discussion. The thing about being a Superman apologist is that all you want to do is discuss, discuss, discuss.

Everyone relates to Batman, I suppose, and Iron Man, these flawed men who rise to greatness. I guess they can project hopes and dreams on those men better than Superman. While I enjoy watching the Batman movies and Iron Man, I don't really understand what the real message of such movies are. On the other hand, I've always liked the message of Superman, of someone sent from another place, raised on Earth, trying to bridge two worlds. That's, I suppose, the influence of my father, who loved, loved, loved the saccharine-sweet adage that my brother and I were lucky to be raised here because we could "have the best of both worlds."

Superman I & II, of the Reeves' era, on re-watch are pretty ludicrous movies. The first one is really beautiful and epic, but let's not forget it ends with Superman reversing the orbit of the earth and in so doing turning back time (wut?). In both I & II, Hackman chews scenery left and right. Lois Lane says and does ridiculous things (including not deducing that the bespectacled journalist with amazing typing prowess is the same guy who flies her through the sky). Reeves is a boy scout as Superman and a bumbling uncertain fool as Clark Kent. It all worked though, maybe because of Reeves' unsinkable likability and also because of the overall message of Superman wanting to help people.

Now that some years have passed, it seems the weakness of Superman Returns was two-fold. It was too mired in the past, too wink-wink to Reeves' Superman. It was trying to pick up where the last movies left off (while conveniently ignoring Superman III & IV, which is fair, given that all Superman enthusiasts try to pretend those movies never happened). And it lacked in Brandon Routh a real superhero type, as he seemed to just be doing a Christopher Reeves impersonation for much of the movie (also Kate Bosworth is without a doubt the worst Lois Lane of all Lanes ever cast). But then it tried to pull itself into the present, and that didn't really work either.

The latest edition has some merits and some big flaws, and I wonder how I'll feel about it in five years. I was struck by how American this Man of Steel really is, though that's not necessarily a compliment- thinks he's good, tries to do the right thing, but stages a huge battle that endangers lives and demolishes cities, all in the name of the greater good. Destroys a drone that is trying to spy on him, but takes no issue with those drones as a general concept. Yes, it's very realistic, very modern, very American. But it's not a great message. And it's not really what Superman has previously been about- which is about being an example of being better, doing the harder thing, making sacrifices. Moreover, I suspect I'm giving Zach Snyder way too much credit that he's even considered this aspect of things. It's more likely that he just wanted to make a movie on an epic scale, which is too bad because in so doing, it lost what could have been epic about it.

(As a massive side note, nothing, and I mean nothing was more problematic for me in this movie than the use of the beautiful song "Seasons" by Chris Cornell, because that song is so tied into memories of the 90s and the Singles soundtrack that I was just waiting for Matt Dillon and Campbell Scott to wander onto the screen, and for Cavill to start working at a coffee shop.)

More confusing yet, though, is the truth that I would see this movie again in a heartbeat. The movie is brilliantly cast. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner can play fathers and convey what those fathers' intentions are despite a clunky script, such that it doesn't matter that the dialogue made my friend CS's eyes roll. Amy Adams is so good at portraying determination that I saw what she's trying to get across as Lois Lane even though she's given little time or words to say it, and even if it goes against the traditional role of Lane, I liked that she was in on everything right from the beginning. Henry Cavill left me wishing someone had let him actually be Superman a little more than once in a while in the movie- because when he has one simple moment where he rescues a man from falling to his death, deposits him safely to the ground, and asks him if he's okay, he embodies more of who Superman is than he does when he is stuck in epic battles with Zod for what seemed like hours of the movie. Superman is supposed to be that earnest hero who cares about the little guy, who has amazing powers but uses them in paradoxically gentle ways. He is not supposed to be a guy who destroys everything in his path without remorse. Maybe that says something about how we view being American these days. My foolish, Superman-centric buoyant hope where all things Superman are concerned is that there will be a sequel that addresses these problems rather than compounds them.