Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Hope and Steel

"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun." 

The new Superman rocks. Let's just get that out of the way. Critics have had mixed opinions, but the word-of-mouth has been excellent. I've read a number of reviews featuring the foundational stories that gave birth to Superman (Moses and Gilgamesh), the increasingly overt Christian themes, and the hidden atheist message embedded in it.  Since religion is already being dissected so vigorously, I will focus on another aspect of the film. In a world struggling to understand how to live well, Zach Snyder offers a story in which the importance of establishing a healthy ethical base takes center stage. Two key scenes set the stage.

Scene 1: After Clark saves the children in a school bus from drowning, his father gently chides him for taking the risk of being discovered. Clark rightly asks, "What was I supposed to do - let them drown?" Jonathan replies, "Maybe." His reason is the the world is not ready to handle someone like Clark, a seeming god among men. So until the world (and Clark, and perhaps most importantly Jonathan) is ready, Clark should hide his power and allow some tragedies in which he could intervene to play out. It's for the greater good.

Scene 2: Zod explains to Superman that the Kryptonian's evolutionary advantage has put them on a road to survival paved with the bodies of those who are not as fit. It's just the way it is. Zod was born to be a soldier, to fight for race and defend his people, and all that matters is that the Kryptonian race survive and flourish. Terraforming the earth and killing everyone? It's for the greater good.

If you are like me, you found the first scene to be poignant and the second repulsive. I suspect that's what Snyder wants you to feel. Zod is obviously a villain ("Boo, genocide!") but Jonathan is humble and nice ("Yay, loving parental concern!").  However, as the film unfolded, this consequentialist approach to life clearly revealed a potentially fatal flaw.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

World War Z

"The monsters that rose from the dead, they are nothing compared to the ones we carry in our hearts.”

In an attempt to enter into and better understand the entertainment shaping my kids and the rest of today's youth, I submit my latest review of books effecting a primarily YA audience. My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at how the story reflects and shapes the readers' worldview.

This review will look at World War Z a novel by Max Brooks. Inspired by Studs Terkel's The Good War, this book is being rightly credited with transforming the zombie genre.*  Paramount's film starring Brad Pitt hits theaters on June 21st. It remains to be see how well this movie will translate onto the screen.

There will be spoilers.


World War Z unfolds through a series of interviews with the key players who helped humanity survive the zombie apocalypse. It's been 12 years since VA day in America, and the UN has commissioned a Postwar Commission Report. This book chronicles the interviews of one reporter as he journeys around the world to get to the truth about what really happened.

Patient Zero, a 12-year-old Chinese boy, was bitten by an animal.  That much is pretty clear. The how and why of the spread is a story of human ineptitude, greed, misinformation, and tragedy. As opposed to much of current zombie lore, World War Z for the most part looks away from the gore and looks instead at how the world as we know it would change as people perpetuate or fight the plague. In the process, the author’s literary eye scans entire nations as well as the most heartbreaking individual stories. 

The approach is nothing short of brilliant. Brooks examines religion, politics, family structures, international tensions, the pharmacutical industry, the military, economic systems, the impact of geography, weather, and national mindsets…the list goes on. I expected a predictable story of gore and despair; I found a thought-provoking and honest look at death, life, hope and the human condition.