MineralMovies [Ep .2]: Analysis of Superman (1978) by Richard Donner

Analysis ofSuperman (1978) by Richard Donner, adapted from the comicbook created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

To us, they are just meteorites. Fair enough. But the level of specific radioactivity is so high, to anyone from the planet Krypton, this substance is lethal..

This is how Lex Luthor describes kryptonite, the mineral embodiment of the concept that a person’s origins and heritage represent both the first strength around which to build one’s identity, and the inevitable weakness that sooner or later in life will return to cause problems and reopen wounds that never heal completely.

Ironically, all the incredible powers that elevate Superman to the status of a demigod stem from his Kryptonian provenance, as well as the only element in the universe that can restore him to the human condition of suffering. Like all migrants in history, Superman will never be able to free himself from his roots, and few will call him First of men, although morally he is for sure. Everyone will forever know him as the Last Kryptonian.

The are plenty of analysis of the religious symbols that accompany the man of steel, created by two Jewish authors who poured into it a certain messianic expectation of the protector of the innocents, as well as a direct quotation from the life of Moses, like the cradle sent to the unknown to save an innocent’s life from destruction.

Richard Donner reworks these readings giving us a tripartite story about the character, like the Christian trinity: the first has the Father as the protagonist, Jor-El, played by Marlon Brando, and is set in the futurist hyperuranium of Krypton, white and cold like the room in which is found at the end of the film David in 2001-A Space Odyssey. The Shakespearean interpretation of lines that Brando seems to have partly improvised, given his aversion to learning scripts by heart, provides the epic and solemnity of the character’s origins, also establishing a mythology and a villain which will come in handy later in the sequel (the history of the back to back production of these movies would be another worthy tale to tell). The explosion of John Williams’s immortal soundtrack in the credits really looks like the cherubs’ announcement of the birth of a savior.

The second part has as its protagonist the Son, or the young Clark Kent who raised by the putative Kent family has carved out a bubble of normality in the simple country town of Smallville, which – as the name suggests – is obviously too small a space to contain the immensity of his powers and ambitions.

The growth of the future hero in a bucolic setting far from civilization is another topos. from mythology which cements in the mind of the viewer the epic perspective of the story even more, while already underlining how much the education according to the simple but genuine American values ​​of the Midwest will have the same importance as the paternalistic and if we want colonialist one of Jor-El, who he will spur his son to rise to the guiding light of a lost humanity, albeit with good potential. Crystal is precisely the stylistic code of the Fortress of Solitude that emerges from the ice, an emblem of unearthly perfection but also of icy and inert rationality, useless without that part of human warmth that, fortunately, Clark has learned elsewhere, among the humble.

The third part sees the beginning of public life, coincidentally around the age of thirty, with the move to the sparkling Metropolis and the definitive transformation into Superman, the Holy Spirit invoked as help and guide by the suffering, earthly manifestation of a divine power at the service of the defenseless, interested as much in preventing nuclear holocausts as in saving kittens that cannot get down from the tree. Every good deed, however apparently insignificant, has the power to change the world in the Counter-Reformation and Manzonian vision of the character.

This description of the three eras might suggest a gravitas in the storytelling,and instead the secret of the film’s success is its naturalness and the naivité which characterizes the protagonist and his supporting characters. Christopher Reeve was simply born for the role, and his acting talent alone makes it believable that no one realizes the superhero’s secret identity, even erasing his statuesque beauty and magnetic charm with the help of a simple pair of glasses and some movements learned in his Broadway past, on whose glossy stages not even the volcanic and not at all stereotyped Lois Lane by Margot Kidder would disfigure.

In one of the most famous scenes of Kill Bill: Volume 2 by Quentin Tarantino, Bill played by David Carradine explains to the protagonist that every superoe is born human and disguises himself to become something superior: Superman is unique because he is literally born with his cloak on (it is in fact the cover with which he is found as a newborn) and when he must transform himself he uses as a custom Clark Kent’s simple earthly clothes. All true, yet seeing Donner’s film one clearly perceives that the real Superman is the human being Clark and not the alien demigod Kal-El; how his glasses, his work as a journalist, the quarrels with Lois Lane and friends are not a disguise but his treasure to be protected even at the cost of breaking the laws of physics, as will happen in the absurd and powerful ending.

Superman’s real enemy in this first film is precisely the possible end of the American dream, unleashed not by who knows what alien threats but by the sleazy speculative careerism of Lex Luthor played by Gene Hackman. So the two eternal opposites face each other, the brain against the muscles, the cunning against the force, the unbridled individualism of pure capitalism with the more ethical and performative social one of Roosevelt’s New Deal, which certainly inspired the creators of the character in the terrible years after the crisis of ’29.

The superman against the human, too human to use two of Nietzsche’s terminologies: and in hindsight, it will not be the hero’s incredible powers that make Luthor’s plan fail, but a gesture of redemption by the lover of the criminal, amazed at how his fidelity was little considered.

Our humanity is our kryptonite, but also the greatest power we have.

Although every day the human consortium is assailed by the reasonable doubt about how much humanity can still be found in a world seriously ill with rampant cynicism and consumerism, nevertheless in November 2006 it received the consoling certainty that kryptonite really exists!

The discovery took place in a mine of borates in Serbia near the Jadar river and scholars, disheartened by a scarce interdisciplinary culture even more than by pseudoscientific frenzy, have baptized the new mineralogical species jadarite. It is basic lithium and sodium borosilicate and its chemical formula LiNaSiB3O7(OH) practically coincides with the formula of the legendary kryptonite as it was reported in the film Superman returns (2006) by Bryan Singer, film in continuity with the Superman by Donner and its contemporary sequels.

The cinematic sequence is unequivocal, depicting a sample of kryptonite preserved in a case of the imaginary natural history museum of Metropolis and accompanied by the related didactic panel on which the chemical formula similar to that of jaderite is transcribed … with the addition of fluorine! Off the cuff, the alleged sci-fi exaggeration with respect to real chemism may seem like the classic breaking of the egg in the basket but after a careful analysis of the properties of jaderite, it has been discovered that its crystals still exhibit the phenomenon of pink-orange fluorescence if exposed in ultraviolet light!

Somehow therefore, nature has freely provided humanity (the one on two legs) with a lesson in humility, demonstrating that it can be creative and imaginative at least as much as science fiction. The fact then, that jadarite is white and kryptonite green … well that’s not the case since kryptonite exists in variants of different colors, including white, based on use. In an Action Comics story, white kryptonite performs the destructive function of the X Virus: who knows that jadarite is not effective against the Corona Virus …

Recent articles


Address: Torre Quartero, Via Roero 2
entrance from Corso Alfieri 360

Tel: +39 328 1698 691


Plura eius genera

Back to the list of articles

Visita gratuita su appuntamento e guidata in Italiano, Inglese, Spagnolo, Francese.

L’ingresso è libero, ma è importante prenotare.

Free guided tour by appointment in Italian, English, Spanish, French.

Admission is free, but it is important to book in advance.