Man of Steel: Krypton

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

Revelation 12:7-8

Man of Steel has consistently garnered praise for its vivid depiction of the home world that birthed Superman. Previous theatrical releases from Richard Donner’s 1978 film to Brian Singer’s Superman Returns drew on mystical and medieval sacral artforms to craft a world of white and crystal, merging allusions to Atlantean mystique with an angelic purity and severity of biblical judgment. Zack Snyder, however, chose to look to the most advanced technology dominating scientific thought with a focus nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. His vision for the world drew on the concept of incorporating a harmony of these most advanced technologies with nature, yet envisioned to its conclusion within a society that had persisted for thousands of years with the most advanced forms of industry imaginable to portray a world of solemn beauty that was in fact dying of its own greatness.

Zack’s imagery drew from influences such as steampunk to Gothic fashion with weaponry appearing ungainly in many ways while evincing unexpectedly deadly function paired with suits of armor bearing medieval crests and sigils. Ducts, tubes, vents, and ports belched steam and smoke into the scenes as prehistoric flying beasts flew among horizons of orange and red to create a world that appeared to be dying while preserving an elegant beauty fitting for a civilization that had long since mastered all conceivable sciences.

Sudden appearances of weaponry and machines from unknown crevices along with computer panels that changed shape according to use provided a sense of absolute control over matter for this ancient society that had discovered and applied all that the material universe had to offer. It is this sense that a key spiritual element was brought to the audience.

Humanity utilizes knowledge and available materials to control its environment, but the actual control of matter itself belongs to the purview of the divine.
Krypton symbolizes heaven, but a heaven that is suffering and wracked by conflict. Ultimately this conflict results in the expulsion of the rebel faction lead by General Zod that accused the leadership of the world of causing its destruction into a phantom zone. This banishment of a higher being from a community of higher beings is not not original to science fiction. This archetype is to be found in religion.

Samael was the great prince in Heaven; the Chayyot (Holy Animals) had four wings, and the Seraphim had six wings, and Samael had twelve wings. What did Samael do? He took his band and descended and saw all the creatures which the Holy One, blessed be He, had created in His world and he found among them none so skilled to do evil as the serpent, as it is said, “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field.” Its appearance was something like that of the camel, and he mounted and rode upon it. The Torah began to cry aloud, saying, Why, O Samael! Now that the world is created, is it the time to rebel against the Omnipresent?

Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer 13

Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Matthew 25:41

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

Luke 10:18

Your Lord said to the angels, “I am creating a human being from clay, from molded mud.” “When I have formed him, and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down prostrating before him.”. So the angels prostrated themselves, all together. Except for Satan. He refused to be among those who prostrated themselves. He said, “O Satan, what kept you from being among those who prostrated themselves?” He said, “I am not about to prostrate myself before a human being, whom You created from clay, from molded mud.” He said, “Then get out of here, for you are an outcast.” “And the curse will be upon you until the Day of Judgment.”

Quran 15:28-35

Yes, General Zod corresponds to Satan, also called Samael in the Jewish literature, and his fellow exiled Kryptonian soldiers correspond to the demons, Satan’s fallen angels.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day

Jude 1:6

The Bible does not say what the war in heaven was about or what caused the conflict between Satan and the heavenly host, but Man of Steel is quite clear about what tore Krypton to pieces.

Artificial population control was established. The outposts and space exploration were abandoned. We exhausted our natural resources. As a result, our planet’s core became unstable. Eventually, our military leader, General Zod, attempted a coup, but by then it was too late.

Jor-El, Man of Steel 46:22

To state it clearly, the war in heaven was over something loftier and more essential than space exploration or the exhaustion of resources. It was over the ability to determine what was actually true while maintaining the ability of one conscious being to interact with another. That is, if you have the ability to make your dreams reality, then what about mine? For all conscious beings to interact in harmony, each of them must balance their own personal desires with those around them. In short, there must be this thing called love, which is the prioritizing of the other above the self to the enabling of personal interaction between free beings.

Throughout the Superman mythos, all sources indicate that Krypton was destroyed by its stagnation. However, there are numerous examples of elements of Krypton’s survival. The Kryptonian city of Kandor is one such example. Superman’s fortress of solitude is another. From these we can think of Kryptonian society as something that is not actually completely gone, but rather something that has been lost to us on earth, with only limited remnants of that society still interacting with humanity. Likewise, we may understand that heaven is not absolutely gone, but that we are kept away from it, only able to interact with it in little glimpses and enclaves of the divine that sometimes appear in our world.

We can also understand that our world was originally created as a veritable “heaven on earth,” following the pattern of the perfect and beautiful edenic paradise that was shattered when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Genesis 3:6-7

The idea of “knowledge of good and evil” is one that is very often misunderstood in modern society. In the biblical language, knowledge is the process of having actual experience with something. Once you have experienced something, you know it. This is why the bible uses the term “knowing someone” as a euphemism for having sex.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”

Genesis 4:1

With this understanding, we can say that the tree was the tree of experiencing good and evil. Before the fruit was eaten, they experienced only good, though they didn’t understand what they were experiencing as good. It’s just what was. So the new thing that they experienced when partaking of the “knowledge of good and evil” was experience with evil. So then, the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” can also be called “the tree of experiencing evil.”

Interesting things came out of that. The first thing that happened was internal and psychological. They experienced shame. They thought the world around them, God, and other people would not accept them, and would be hostile to them. Along with that, thorns grew out of the ground, their bodies fell apart, and a host of changes were made in the actual world around them.

The connection between the internal, psychological world and the external world has been the primary fundament of huge strains of eastern religion, almost to the exclusion of all else. It is also a pillar of modern psychology. This understanding, about the interconnection of things and the relationship of the internal psychological world to the exterior one is also present in the biblical tradition, however. Feeling ashamed, so thorns grow under your feet? This is the sort of thing that is frequently talked about in temples of Zen Buddhism.

But let’s relate all of this to the destruction of Krypton. Adam and Eve felt shame. Lack of acceptance. Lack of harmony with their surroundings. They turned inward. They hid themselves. They covered themselves up. They looked at those around them with fear.

Now in all forms of the Superman mythos, Krypton is destroyed by a collapse of its core. Man of Steel is unique, however, in blaming the collapse on a lack of expansion. The Kryptonians became obsessed with everyone being correct, regulating everyone’s job and function, and at the same time they stopped exploring the universe, loving the universe, and mastering the universe, and they retreated away from everything, at which point they exhausted their singular world, and it collapsed. This sounds a lot like someone experiencing shame, becoming obsessed with being perfect, hiding themselves, covering themselves, retreating from the world around them.

The natural reaction to this sort of a statement is that shame should be instantly rejected, and everything should be harmonized with and accepted. Many schools of Buddhism espouse exactly this solution. However, there really are thorns on the ground. There really are rapists and murderers out there. There really is evil, within and without, and though these things are connected, there is more to the story than just calling everything good. This is huge discussion that would take us too far afield to continue with here, however.

The major religions of the world usually have an understanding that the world is fallen. In the Abrahamic tradition we have the aforementioned fall in the Garden of Eden. In Buddhism and Hinduism, this fallen state is samsara. The various religions vary widely in how they deal with this, however. In many religions the way to react to the fact that man and the world around him is fallen. For many, the answer is to understand that man and the world really aren’t fallen, or that the problem is in thinking that there is something wrong. This is definitely not the Abrahamic response. So after stressing that there is a commonality between eastern and western religion that many overlook concerning the connection of the internal world of man and his external world, it should be stressed that this does not instantly equate to all religions being one in every way, or that their solutions to the problem of being fallen beings in a fallen world are identical.

Suffice it to say that in a general sense the destruction of Krypton represents a separation of heaven from earth, but Man of Steel’s unique contribution of the cessation of space exploration and artificial population control makes Krypton’s end into a surprisingly precise metaphor for the paradise lost in the Garden of Eden where a perfect garden became a hostile wilderness while the human soul turned away from the world around it to collapse in on itself in shame.

In summary, the destruction of Krypton represents metaphorically the concept of a “paradise lost,” which has been expressed in religion via the fall of Satan and his rebel angels, the demons. But Man of Steel adds an element of this destruction being caused by a turning inward and abandoning the world at large, which represents the lost of a different kind of paradise: the paradise of the harmony of the individual soul.

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