Exclusive Interview with “Superman Returns” Director Bryan Singer

“The Messiah of Metropolis”

Editor’s Note: In the absence of a director’s commentary on the new Superman Returns DVD, this interview provides interesting insights into the director’s intention with his movie.

Director Bryan Singer reveals the biblical meaning behind the movie magic of Superman Returns.  Is that the Mary-and-Jesus pieta at the first of the film?  How is Lex Luthor’s greatest crime in separating the “Father” from the “Son”?  And just why are there two death-and-resurrection scenes in the movie? 

In this exclusive interview with Stephen Skelton, author of The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero, at last, Bryan Singer answers the questions about Superman Returns that he wouldn’t until now!

THE RETURN…

SKELTON: About Superman Returns, Time magazine wrote, “Earlier versions of Superman stressed the hero’s humanity…The Singer version emphasizes his divinity…He is Earth’s savior: Jesus Christ Superman.”  However, certainly Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie stressed the parallels to Christ.  Do you see your version as different or similar in that regard? 

SINGER: It celebrates that notion.  These stories are told in so many different ways.  From Sunday School to pop culture…

But if you’re going to have lines like Marlon Brando saying, “I send them you—my only son.”  And they’re being spoken with absolute seriousness, then when you carry it forward and you have him return after five years, face an immeasurable conflict and then…  I mean, if you’re going to tell that story, you’ve got to tell it all the way.  You’ve got scourging at the pillar, the spear of destiny, death, resurrection—it’s all there. 

THE PIETA…

SKELTON: At the first of the movie, after Superman crashes back to Earth, he collapses into his mother’s arms.  The scene recalls the Renaissance images of the dead Jesus in Mary’s arms. 

SINGER: Yes.  The night of shooting that scene, Eva, Brandon and myself knew it was a mother cradling her son, but certainly an aspect [was of Mary and Jesus].  There were certain key frames that were very special, important to me artistically, and that was one that was very much inspired by that image.

THE VILLAIN…

SKELTON: Just as Superman is a Christ figure, do you see Lex Luthor as a Lucifer figure?

SINGER: Yes.  Because he doesn’t care.  He just cares about land.  And he muses about billions of people being drowned.  But he’s very much the opposite of Superman…

THE CRIME…

SINGER: There’s another thing Marlon Brando says…It always felt very religiously allegorical to me…From the original film, the mother says, when they’re putting the infant Kal-El in the space ship, she says, “He will be isolated.  Alone.”  And Marlon Brando holds up this crystal and says, “He will not be alone.  He will never be alone.”…

And that was the terrible thing that Lex Luthor did, the robbing of the crystals, it was just such a violation…

SKELTON: But he was finally alone.  Superman was alone when the crystal was taken.

SINGER: Again, the allegories.  I don’t want be the guy who says, “Why have you forsaken me?”  But…[chuckles knowingly]…  But here in the Fortress of Solitude—and it’s gone. 

And that’s what makes Lex Luthor such a wonderful villain, in comparison…There is no divinity to him.  He is completely of the Earth.  Now, see…  Now I’m getting into the stuff I’d rather people discover as they watch the movie.

THE SUFFERING…

SKELTON: About another indelible scene: The New York Times wrote, “Superman…fights his foes in a scene that visually echoes the garden betrayal in ‘The Passion of the Christ’…”  Actually, I would put the imagery closer to Christ’s march to the crucifixion.  What were your influences for that scene?

SINGER: The scourging at the pillar.  Clearly.  It was what it was.

SKELTON: And the spear of destiny…

SINGER: The blade in the back, the Kryptonite.  And Lex—who was bald [like traditional depictions of the demonic Lucifer].

I wanted him [Superman] to be beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and stabbed and still have some life in him.  And then instead of ascend, he falls. 

And he falls into the water.  And when he falls into the water, we hear the voices.  He’s with his father, in the water…His father is explaining to him things that are much larger than this miniscule moment…

That there are forces out there greater than even himself.  And huge things about human beings, problems that human beings cannot solve for themselves.  And then we cut to, what do we see—a seaplane.  And this unusual, strange modern family flying around trying to find him… 

THE SACRIFICE…

SINGER: I remember sitting with one of my writers and we were watching the visual effects of him [Superman] falling to Earth [after pushing the kryptonite-laced landmass into space].  And his hands are extended and he falls to Earth in that very…

SKELTON: It’s the crucifixion pose; it’s beautiful; it’s fantastic

SINGER: Yes.  And he [the writer] looked at me—and he went to Catholic school, it’s very interesting—and he said, “Are we…?  Are we…?  Shouldn’t he open his legs a little bit more?  Are we…?  Is this too on the nose?”  And I said, “If we’re telling this story, we’re going to tell this story.  Some parts are going to be subtle.  But this one is not.” 

“Either we’re going to have him float down kind of in the position [of the crucifixion] or not…But if there was ever a time to hammer it home, this is it.” 

THE RESURRECTION(S)…

SINGER: When they’re wheeling him through the hospital, and they see him splayed out on that gurney, and you see the look on all those faces.  I thought to myself what was it like for people who put that kind of faith into this being [Christ], who far exceeds their own lives, and yet in some way represents them, and then by his example in some way they feel a kinship to. 

And suddenly he’s [Superman is] splayed out on a hospital bed, and his life is now in the hands of mortals.  And on the musical score actually, the title of that piece of music on our score is “In the hands of mortals.”  Suddenly, there’s a doctor, there’s a guy there with the paddles.  I imagined…  I didn’t necessarily imagine that whole [biblical] event.  But the moment…the moment…the moment, y’know, the moment they took him [Christ] down…

And when they strip the [Superman] suit off, there’s the body…And there’s the wound.  There’s the penetrating stab wound!  And it’s the unthinkable.  And so I just sort of imagined the intimate story [of Christ’s death].  

And I dare not draw comparisons to things like…I don’t even want to give a quote.  Because I’m not…it is Superman.  I would rather the audience discover these moments.  But y’know, even when they try to use the paddles.  They say, “Shock at 250.”  “Well he’s not human.”  It all echoed, y’know sort of echoed in some ethereal place—like maybe he’s listening…

There’s a moment when Lois and Richard and the child save him [because that’s the deeds coming around full circle].  And then there’s the other moment when nothing can save him.  The needle doesn’t penetrate.  The defibrillator, they raise it to 300 because he’s an alien and it explodes.  And now, he’s just, he’s just left for fate to occur.  Which does occur. 

And those are the moments that follow that, what’s the word, the journey through the city with the thing of, the burden.

THE SAVIOR…

SKELTON: Last question: in Entertainment Weekly recently, when asked if Superman was relevant, you said “Look around.  Aren’t we crying out for him?”  How are we crying out for this kind of a savior figure?

SINGER: I think people right now, more than ever have become, we’ve become a individual, selfish culture, at times…I think he represents that kind of character that can walk among us, but has a selfless side…And when there is so much bad happening, it’s very, very important to be able to look at a character, even if he is in tights [laughs] and say, Hey maybe I can be a good guy like that.

SKELTON: He’s the light in the darkness.  He’s the light to show the way.

SINGER: “They can be a great people, Kal-El.  They only lack the light to show the way.”  He is that light.  And that’s something he’s maintained for seventy years.  He’s always been the good guy.

(As a matter of disclosure, Stephen Skelton wants it known that Mr. Singer had his book, The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero—and the director called it “Extraordinary.”)

Stephen Skelton is the founder of The Entertainment Ministry and author of The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero.  For speaking engagements with Stephen, please call 615-263-4143, ext. 234, or go to www.EntMin.com.


Read Dove’s Review of “Superman Returns”