Last week, my best friend and I went to see the movie Brightburn. Both officially and online, it was promoted as the “Super Hero Horror” Genre. Because it was a brand new (or relatively brand new) genre, I had absolutely no idea what that mean; but my friend and I were highly intrigued. So, we had to go see it.
When it was over, Hank and I agreed that it wasn’t particularly scary; but it was more than a little bit unsettling. In this retelling of the Superman origin story, Clark Kent was both sociopathic and homicidal. He was cruel. He was utterly devoid of mercy. Still, it was more than that. On the most fundamental level, it was a complete subversion of the “Jesus Myth” that has always been the Man of Steel.
Before I continued, I should probably explain what I mean by the” Jesus Myth.” I do not mean it in any sacrilegious or demeaning way. What I do mean is there has been a long-standing theory that Superman (and Clark Kent by extension) has been written as an allegory for Christ. I can certainly see why they believe that, at least to a certain extent. For example, Jesus was born under extraordinary, other-worldly circumstances; he had qualities that far exceed those of normal men (or divine proportions in the case of Christ); Jesus was killed so that others might be saved; and he was brought back to life. If you look at the long history of Kal-El, the same can be said of him. Not that I’m saying a comic book character was divine. Not at all. Still, the parallels can certainly be drawn.
Brandon, the title character in the film, was certainly a stark contrast to the story of Superman. Instead of saving souls, he hurt them for his own selfish purposes; instead of inspiring hope, he inspired fear and division; and he didn’t care enough about others — or anything, for that matter — to sacrifice himself for. There was almost nothing that was common between the two characters, except for their extraordinary abilities, which were almost identical. Even the relationships with their fathers, which, in the case of Brightburn, was embodied in a voice from the spaceship that transported him to Earth, were dramatically opposite. In the case of Kal-El, his father, Jor-El, always encouraged him to be a positive force for change. For Brandon, his “father” demanded that he “take the world.”
As this movie was the fifth highest grossing movie domestically on its opening weekend, it leaves me with some disturbing questions. The movie is obviously a complete subversion of the Superman story, and by extension the Jesus Myth. So, is the reason for its success humanity’s desire to see the Jesus Myth corrupted and torn down, even if on a subconscious level? Also, if the only thing that kept Christ from straying from his path was the divine spark, does this movie demonstrate that, in the absence of that spark, anyone gifted with great power are destined to become corrupted, through a submission to one’s own fallen nature and selfish desires? Those two questions have been rattling around in my head for the last week; and I still don’t have a reasonably sure answer to them, which is disturbing to me.