Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Man of Steel

Clark Kent has lived a peculiar life. His superhuman strength has attracted the attention and fear of his neighbors and peers. His father, Jonathan Kent, encourages him to keep his powers hidden for fear that others will not understand him; Clark tries to make sense of his unique traits. Eventually, he learns that he is stronger than humanly possible because he is not human; he was sent to Earth as an infant from the planet, Krypton. Now, thirty-three years later, enemies from Krypton have come to Earth to extract their revenge on Clark’s family and to transform Earth from a human to a Kryptonian planet.

How is This Relevant to Adoption?  
Man of Steel opens with a birth scene. As Jor-El watches, Lara finishes her labor and gives birth to an infant, whom they name Kal-El.  Jor-El and Lara know that their planet, Krypton, is in imminent danger of destruction, and that Kal-El cannot be kept safe there. They intend to send Kal-El to earth in order to keep him safe, but their plans are not made without trepidation. Lara worries that Kal-El will be unaccepted by those different from him, and that the provisions she and Jor-El have made will not be sufficient to keep him safe. She mourns that she will “never get to see him walk or hear him say our names.” Jor-El seems to acknowledge the risks, but affirms that this is Kal-El’s only chance. His parents do decide to send him away, without knowing who will find him. He reaches Earth safely, and is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent who adopt him and name him Clark. There are plenty of adoption- and identity-related moments in the film,  

Strong Points
Jor-El and Lara’s decision to send their son to Earth is depicted as a true act of sacrificial love. They are not coerced into their decision by anything other than their honest (and accurate) assessment of their son’s prospects in their world.

Clark’s adoptive parents eventually affirm and support his need to explore his history.

Clark is able to meet Jor-El. He explains, “I have so many questions.” Jor-El answers his questions. When Clark learns that his home planet has been destroyed, he wonders if he is alone. Jor-El responds, “No; you’re as much a child of Earth now as you are of Krypton. You are the best of both worlds.” Jor-El affirms that the differences between humans and Kryptonians are not necessarily bad.

Clark was adopted by a human family; one character observes (albeit cynically) that Clark has also adopted humans. Adoptees are often unable to make an initial choice about their adoption; however, they have an eventual choice to accept or not accept their second culture and family.

Key Conversations

Jonathan eventually shows Clark the vessel which brought him to earth. It took Jonathan a long time to get over secrecy, but I love his dual affirmation that he is Clark’s father, and that Clark must explore his heritage.

Jonathan: We found you in this. It’s not from this world, and neither are you. You’re the answer to “are we alone in the universe?”

Clark: I don’t want to be.

Jonathan: I don’t blame you, but you were sent here for a reason.

Clark: Can’t I keep pretending I’m your son?

Jonathan: You are my son, but you have another father who gave you another name, and he sent you here for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.


Clark returns home after learning about his Kryptonian heritage, and is greeted by his mother.

Clark: I found them, Mom, my parents, my people. I know where I come from now.

Martha: Wow! That’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you, Clark. (She seems sad.)

Clark: What?

Martha: It’s nothing. I worried all the time.

Clark: You worried the truth would come out?

Martha: No. The truth about you is beautiful. We knew that from the moment we laid eyes on you.

(Martha goes on to explain that she worried that society would take Clark away from her due to their fear of his differences.)


The primary villain is very concerned about genetics; he himself has been genetically developed to fit his particular assignment in life. He attempts to replace human life on Earth with Kryptonian life, and places Clark in a position of being forced to choose allegiance to one race over another.

Clark’s unique traits, derived from his Kryptonian birth, are strengths which he puts to good use, but he suffers because of them. As a grade school student, he hears the gossip of his classmates. He eventually learns how to tune out things he does not want to see or hear.

Clark does face quite a bit of pressure; Lara wishes for him to “make a better world.” Jor-El instructs him to “give the people of Earth an ideal to strive for.” Jonathan wants him to keep secrets.

Clark struggles to trust humans. One character advises him, “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first; the trust part comes later.” This might be helpful encouragement in some situations, but Clark’s leap of faith seems to have been ill-advised.

When other Kryptonians arrive at earth, they refer to “Clark” as “the name they gave you,” and only refer to him as “Kal.” Their disregard for his second culture is a plot point.


Jonathan strongly believes that Clark must keep his true identity a secret, and even meets a premature death in order to help keep Clark’s secret. Clark continues to hide his identity from most people.

In one scene, Jonathan makes a reference to “our family.” Clark corrects him, “Your family. You’re not my dad, just some guy who found me.” As painful as this is, Jonathan’s response is worse. “You’re right. We’re not your parents. We’re just doing as best we can. Maybe it’s not good enough anymore.”

Recommendations and Conclusions

One of my concerns with the original Superman movie was that Lara seemed uninvolved in Jor-El’s pseudo-adoption plan for their son. That has been rectified in both Superman II and, now, in this film. Man of Steel still suffers from the failing of the original movies; Clark still chooses to hide his identity. However, there are positive aspects to the film. In the original movie, Jor-El cautioned Clark that he couldn’t be both Kryptonian and human. In this version, Jor-El (and, to some extent, Jonathan) both affirm that Clark can be part of both worlds.  There are meaningful conversations between Clark, Martha, and both of his fathers. The fight scenes in the film are a bit over-the-top (and even repetitive), but that will probably play well with a pre-teen and teenage audience. It’s worth a look.


  1. "Adoptees are often unable to make an initial choice about their adoption; however, they have an eventual choice to accept or not accept their second culture and family." - I recently discovered that this had a lot to do with some of my struggles in childhood - learning to adopt my family as, well mine. It came out in an odd way.

    I'm writing a book about my parents, my dad being the focus, and my adoption. When entertaining ideas of titles, one that popped into my mind was "Adopting Dad" because, as much as he adopted me into his heart, I did the same. He just picked me first.

    1. Hey J! I really like that title, and the sentiment behind it. I'd love to know when your book comes out!

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  3. Clark/Superman hides his identity because that's what superheroes do. It's basic to the DNA of superheroes. It's part of the superhero archetype. Just like hobbits eat 10 times per day and are really short. Why is that? Because they're hobbits. That's what they do. It's sort of the blue print for those characters because somebody thought "that would be cool" when they were designing superheroes. I'm reading a book on the co-creators of Superman. I'm pretty sure the reason for the secret identity was to maintain a mysterious quality for the hero, allowing him to slip in an out of being the hero and being the normal guy. Because the idea of a secret identity was seen as an interesting idea, all other superhero creators copied the idea. Hence, the movie makers wanted to be true to the character so they kept the secret identity, as it is pretty fundamental to who Superman is. I'm coming at this purely from a writer's perspective. In that sense, I don't think the Superman creators or the movie makers were considering the social ramifications of the secret identity. They were merely trying to be true to the character.

    1. Hi Sean - thanks for commenting! I think you're right, that the filmmakers weren't thinking about adoption identity issues when they made the film. I think that some viewers might see a connection between the film and their real life, and that's what I mean to highlight. I do probably stretch my reviews past what the filmmaker meant to say :)

  4. Addison, we just watched this last night. I always come back for your reviews after I finally see the movie!

    I enjoyed it, especially the relationship between Clark and Jonathan. The tornado definitely drove home the negative consequences that can come from keeping secrets. I cried like a baby, but I was so angry at the same time.

    Love the review!

    1. Hey! I'm so glad you came back, and shared this! I thought that Man of Steel is a really good illustration of the problem of secret-keeping, and I really liked the relationship between Clark and Jonathan that you liked - and the portrayal of Jor-El and Lara. Good movie overall!


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