Superman: The Movie – An Adoption Connection

The folloiwng Study Guide is from Addison Cooper, a licensed social worker who cares deeply about helping families navigate the tricky waters of adoption. He also recognizes film’s ability to help people process turbulent emotional situations in life.

If you are pursuing adoption now, we hope this is a help. If you know someone else who is adopting, please pass this along to them. Adoption seems to be very close to the heart of God.
___________________________________

Theological Reflection

The Plot

Jor-El is a prominent scientist on the Planet Krypton. He discovers that his planet will soon be destroyed, but no other scientists believe him. Jor-El and his wife choose not to leave the planet, but they provide for their son, Kal-El, to be transported to Earth. Kal-El’s vehicle crashes in Smallville, Kansas, and he is spotted only by Jonathan and Martha Kent. They name the boy Clark, and raise him as their own. When Clark is eighteen, he leaves the Kent home and spends twelve years learning from an interactive recording of Jor-El in an ice palace. He then returns to the civilized part of earth as Superman. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is planning to use a bomb to cause an earthquake to destroy California. Superman uses his powers to prevent this.

The Adoption Connection

Although adoption is not expressly discussed in this film, adoption issues are prevalent. Superman’s parents, Jor-El and Lara, know that they cannot keep him safe, so Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth, believing that he will be able to survive there.

When Kal-El arrives, he is found by the Kents. Mrs. Kent expresses that she has been praying for a child. The Kents raise Kal-El as their own son, calling him Clark, and he calls them his parents. When he is eighteen, he leaves home to seek out information from his birthfather. This information largely defines his character.

Strengths

This movie does a fine job of showing how an adoptee can be connected and loyal to both birth family and adoptive family members. Clark leaves the Kent home when he is 18 in order to learn more from his birth father. He also financially supports Mrs. Kent in her widowhood. Clark obviously respects all four of his parents.

This movie does a fine job of showing how a person’s personality and character are defined by both sets of parents. As Superman ponders a dilemma, he remembers formative advice from both of his fathers.

The film shows birth parents in a very positive light; they have intentionally made a plan for their son’s safety and survival. Their love for him is never in doubt; Jor-El gives a beautiful blessing to his son, saying “You’ll travel far; my little Kal-El. We will never leave you, even in the face of our deaths. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, everything I’ve earned, all that I feel, all this and more, I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, see my life through your eyes.”

When Clark needs to leave the Kent home, Mrs. Kent supports him. When Clark connects with Jor-El, Jor-El encourages him to “always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage.” This is a great message for adoptees. Their heritage is special, and it is healthy for them to take pride in it.

Superman can be a special hero for children who have been adopted.

Challenges

Mr. and Mrs. Kent raise Superman as their own child and appear to do a good job of it. When they first find him, Mrs. Kent alludes to her longstanding desire to have a child and suggests that they pass the toddler off as the orphaned child of a distant relative. Mr. Kent insists that the boy must belong somewhere. They appear to change their minds when they see the boy display superhuman strength, but we never actually see the resolution to their discussion.

When they finally reunite, Jor-El tells Superman, “You are not one of them.” He also refers to Earth as Superman’s “new world.” It’s important to ensure that an adoptee knows that he or she is part of your family and culture, as well as part of his or her birth family and birth culture. Either/or isn’t as healthy as both/and.

Superman’s one weakness, Kryptonite, is linked to his past. The remnants of his birth world are poisonous to him. Unprocessed issues from an adoptee’s past may pose challenges and even danger. Talking through past traumas is important and sometimes requires the help of a professional. However, it would be a mistake to assume or suggest that, like Superman, an adoptee will be automatically and hopelessly disempowered by the past.

Superman has had a lot of loss in his life, and he doesn’t seem to have processed it. Superman did not fit in with his high school classmates. He left Kansas shortly after Mr. Kent died. Then, he went on a lengthy journey of self-discovery and confronted memories of his birth parents and home world which are all lost.

After his journey, he does not return to Kansas but goes to Metropolis. He’s Superman – he’s very fast and he could visit Kansas – but he doesn’t. In a scene near the end of the film, Superman is grief-striken when faced with another loss – Lois has died during Lex Luthor’s attacks. Fueled by this grief, he spins the world backward to reverse time and save Lois, but as he doing this, he hears the voices of Jor-El and Mr. Kent – the two fathers he’s had and lost.

It seems like Superman hasn’t successfully processed the losses in his life. Admirers who know him as Superman might think he’s above problems.  Colleagues who know him as Clark Kent couldn’t imagine the depth of pain he feels. But he does feel pain just like everyone else in the universe.

Sometimes kids and adults put on a strong surface appearance but are actually struggling mightily. This is especially true of adoptees. They have experienced loss in their lives – the loss of birth family, of siblings, of history – but their losses are often unrealized or unacknowledged by the adults in their lives.

Adoptive parents sometimes feel that they have to be “perfect parents” in order to justify their nontraditional path to parenthood, and this need to be perfect makes it more difficult to acknowledge grief in their child, and especially grief related to adoption.  The insecurity of adoptive parents can make it difficult for them to face the pain in their adoptee. But as it was with Superman, the pain might still be there. Don’t assume that a kid who doesn’t ask questions doesn’t have questions, or that a kid who doesn’t show grief isn’t grieving. Investigate! Who knows what might be under the surface!

Weaknesses

Although Lara is present with Jor-El while Jor-El is planning for their son’s safety, we never get a sense of her feelings towards the plan. Although she allows Jor-El’s plan to occur, I’m not as comfortable with her implicit support as I would be had she been more vocal. I really wanted to write that “Kal-El’s parents send him to Earth,” but I can’t. I have to write that only his father, Jor-El, sent him.

Recommendedation

This movie could be helpful for children who were voluntarily relinquished. It provides a positive example of birth parents sacrificing their daily functioning as a parent and their physical closeness to their child in order to serve the child’s need for survival.

Although adoption is not expressly discussed, it isn’t too difficult to use this as an illustration of a couple making an adoption plan for their child. The film is probably best suited for kids over 8 years of age. This movie wouldn’t work well for kids who were involuntarily relinquished. If a child was removed due to abuse or neglect, it would likely be difficult for them to see benevolent, thoughtful Jor-El as analogous to their parents.

Mr. Kent dies in the course of the movie. This might be difficult for younger viewers. The scene is not gruesome (he seems to die of a heart attack) but it is very sad.

Key Scenes

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Discussion Questions

Parents and Families

Watch Clip 2, and read Psalm 68: 5-6.

When the Kents first find Superman, Mrs. Kent wants to quickly claim him as her own. Because of her strong desire to have a son, she initially appears willing to brush over, ignore, or even deny his roots and history. Your child has two histories, too. Your reasons for pursuing foster care or adoption might influence how you view your child’s first history. Where are you emotionally in relation to your child’s heritage in comparison to Mrs. Kent?

Watch Clip 3, and read 1 John 3: 1-3.

1) When Superman does leave home to search for more about (or from) his birth father, Mrs. Kent is supportive of him. She calls him son, embraces him, and lets him leave. How will you respond if, as a teenager or young adult, your child expresses a desire to seek out information about, or contact with, members of his or her birth family? Will you be willing to help them search?
2) What is your child’s special heritage? What is yours?
3) Clark displayed special skills and abilities as a child that his parents had to explain to him. How do you think they explained these things? How will you, or have you, explained to your child why they may appear or do things differently than you?
4) What losses has your child experienced? What meaning has your child ascribed to them? How does your child feel about them?

Students and Children

Watch Clip 1, and read Psalm 68: 5-6.

1) What did your birthparents provide you with? What did they not provide you with that you wish they had?
2) Superman moved from one world into another. In a way, you did too – from one family into another.
3) For him, it was both good and difficult. How has it been for you?
4) Superman’s parents chose for him to live somewhere else. Why did they choose to do that? [Hear their answer. You might get something very specific to the film like, “The planet was going to blow up.” Try to phrase your response in general terms, something like, “He wasn’t going to be safe if he stayed there, and they loved him, and wanted to be sure he would be safe.”]

Watch Clip 3, and read Romans 8: 15-17.

1) Superman has a chance to ask questions of Jor-El. What questions do you wish you could ask your birth parents? What do you think their answers would be?
2) Kryptonite made Superman feel weak, but he was able to struggle to get away from the Kryptonite with some help. What makes you feel weak? How do you struggle with it? What helps you break free?
3) Jor-El tells Superman, “Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage.” What is your special heritage?
4) What things has Superman lost? Which is he the saddest about?
5) What things have you lost? Which are you the saddest about? Maddest?

Related Scripture

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
    this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
    he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

(Psalm 68:5-6)

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
(Romans 8:15-17)

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.
(1 John 3:1-3)

Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in California and Missouri. He has six years of experience in adoption, and has participated in the adoptions of over 90 children who were adopted from foster care. He’s working on a book about adoption in the movies. Visit his website, and follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper for the most current information about his work.