Man of Steel (Film) is Based on Randian Objectivism

man of steel metropolis destroyed

Man of Steel has several great action sequences and a cast of very talented actors. So it can be entertaining. But there’s always been something “off” for me in its overall portrayal of Superman. And I’m not talking about Superman killing Zod. There’s precedent for that in the comics, after all (Superman Vol 2 #22, 1988). It was more about how Superman was a bit more aloof and disconnected to the world around him. He’s an alien, sure. But the comics have portrayed him as the ideal immigrant. Someone who was raised in America and takes pride in supporting its values and showing compassion. This all started to make sense when I learned the other day that director Zack Snyder is a firm believer in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. A quote from Snyder: “I have been working on The Fountainhead. I’ve always felt like The Fountainhead was such a thesis on the creative process and what it is to create something.” Objectivism is defined by its supporters as “rational self-interest” but which seems to be code for “selfishness.”

A hero is an individual who puts themself at risk to help others. And initially, Clark Kent does show some of that in Man of Steel. I would credit that to the overall story structure needs of establishing a hero and writer David Goyer probably invented the scene where Clark saves a bunch of men on a doomed oil rig. But shortly, Clark deals with a jerk in a small town and destroys his truck. That’s… not very heroic. Superman is already putting his own desires ahead of others.

man of steel tractor trailer

The big turn that changes what we know about Superman from comics is definitely when his adoptive father, Pa Kent, advises him that maybe he should have let a school bus full of children drown rather than risk exposing his abilities to a world that could shun him for it. What?! That is very different from any previous example of how Clark’s parents raised him. In the trailer for the sequel, Batman v Superman, his mother advises him that he doesn’t owe anyone anything so he doesn’t HAVE to be Superman. And that always stood out as a bizarre choice. But when you know about Snyder’s love for Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” it starts making more sense. Snyder has inserted his own philosophy into the Superman mythos.

man of steel pa kent

In “The Fountainhead” Howard Roarke is the protagonist and the hero but he’s also a massive douche. When people don’t agree with his vision, he brands them as assholes. He literally blows up a building that isn’t built to his specifications. He rapes a woman who then marries him. He’s kicked out of school and fired from his job because of his beliefs. Because he’s a jerk! He’s put on trial but is ultimately acquitted when he delivers a long, long speech about how important the ego is and doing things the way you want them done. It’s honestly pretty crazy. Humanity would never have made it this far if we were selfish and didn’t help one another. Superman, and most other superheroes, are defined by the fact that they have extraordinary abilities and this obligates them to have more responsibility. That doesn’t happen in Man of Steel.

It begins with the (overlong) prologue where Superman’s Kryptonian father, Jor-El, has disobeyed Kryptonian law and given natural birth instead of their society’s established birth matrix program. It’s a bit of a strawman argument but it literally has Jor-El going to war with his society over his ways. Normally, Jor-El is portrayed as a scientist desperately appealing to Krypton that their planet is in danger. But here, the most important thing he’s doing is giving birth HIS way and also some sci-fi gobbledygook about keeping Kryptonian DNA in a McGuffin-esque device.

man of steel jor-el

In fact, Superman’s primary interest in Man of Steel is to stop Zod and his fellow Kryptonians not because of the threat to humanity necessarily but because their plan would destroy his home. It’s very much about Superman protecting his own interests. I’m not saying all of this is spelled out as such in the movie but it’s very hard to see the movie as not being loaded with Objectivist thought since this Superman is a lot less selfless than in the comics and previous movies and TV and radio. The fact is, Superman devastates Metropolis battling the Kryptonians. While almost every superhero movie gives us a moment to cheer when the hero makes themselves vulnerable by saving innocents, we really don’t get to witness Superman doing that in Man of Steel. It can be argued that Superman is new to this and inexperienced but the scale of the devastation is huge. Superman isn’t considering the people in the skyscrapers during his fight. He’s focused on stopping Zod’s plan and that’s about it.

It was such a devastating scene the filmmakers almost had no choice but to use it as the springboard for the sequel that arrives this weekend, Batman v Superman. We can see from the trailers that it begins with Bruce Wayne (Batman) witnessing these events from the ground level. And while in the comics Batman and Superman are usually best friends, in the Snyder movies how could it go any other way than to have them oppose one another? Superman is acting like the perfect Objectivist. He’s selfish. And someone with the power of a god that shows very little interest in helping others is a scary prospect.

  • Skewed_View

    Overall I like Man of Steel, but I’m glad you brought up the scene where he destroys that jerk’s truck, because that stood out to me, more than anything else he did, as something Superman would not do. If someone as powerful as Clark is willing to destroy this guy’s livelihood just because he acts like a jerk, then that scares me.

    I am ok with what Pa Kent told him about not saving the kids, because it came across to me as a guy who was sort of thinking out loud, and obviously didn’t have a good answer for his son. If he had straight up said “you should have let them drown,” then I wouldn’t be able to convince myself that he didn’t really mean it (I have more problems with Martha’s comment in the BvS trailer of “you don’t owe this world a thing,” because that’s BS).

    I think you’re onto something with the objectivist point of view, but I have to believe Superman is zeroed in on stopping Zod in an attempt to save the planet and as many lives as possible, because if I don’t tell myself that then I can’t help but hate this version of Superman.

    I’m seeing Batman v Superman on Saturday with a group of friends, and I’ve got to tell you I have very low expectations. Even though I like MoS, BvS looks like crap. I think it’s because I forgave a lot of MoS because I considered it a first chapter, and in subsequent chapters we’ll see Supes learn, grown, and act more like what we’d expect (or more like Captain America since Marvel seems to know how their characters should act). However, the trailers tell me that will not be the case, and if BvS is as bad as I think it will be, and Superman is still making the same mistakes he made in the first movie, then it will in turn ruin Man of Steel because it needed a solid sequel to save it for me.

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  • Edmo Bernardes

    A objectivist would never take another person’s life or destroy their property, because it’s exactly what Hand saw when she lived in Russia and it’s what she fought against. Howard Roark destroys a building, but it don’t mean objectvists should do that, it have a philosophic meaning.

  • Timothy W Dalbeck

    In Superman II Clark takes his revenge on the bully in the Dinner who beat him earlier in the movie. He allows the bully to break his own fist and then sends him down the counter to the pinball machine. In the end he pays for the damages to the dinner but not to the bully.

  • Skewed_View

    The bully in Superman II beat up Clark when he didn’t have powers, so there was a bit more reason to get him back. Letting the guy break his hand doesn’t bother me because it’s the guy doing it to himself. Don’t throw a punch, don’t break a hand.

    In Man of Steel, Clark has his super strength, this bully can’t hurt him even if he tried (I may not be remembering correctly, but I don’t think he did anything other than pour a drink on him, maybe tried to shove him). I would rather he let the guy throw a punch and hurt himself, instead of this passive aggressive retaliation which is a disproportionate punishment for the crime of acting like a pig. It just seemed like a fairly petty thing to do. Was it in Superman II also? Yeah, but that guy had actually done something to deserve what he got.

    In the words of Vincent Vega, “don’t f*ck with another man’s vehicle.”

  • Let’s be clear here: Clark’s destruction of the truck was ridiculous, but that guy wasn’t just being a jerk. He patted that waitress on the ass and then grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him despite her saying, “Let me go.” He was assaulting her and who knows how much more he would have done if Clark hadn’t intervened. He’s not just some bully calling people names, pouring beer on people, or pushing nerds down in the dirt, he was sexually aggressive to a woman who was clearly protesting.

    Also, I keep pointing out to people who don’t like Man of Steel that this is Clark learning how to be Superman, so he’s not always going to make the best decision. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like it really played out as it should have in BvS. He didn’t seem to learn a whole lot.

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  • bargal20

    Ayn Rand idolized a man who held a little girl for ransom and then dismembered her before giving her back to her family. Stop trying to rationalize that sociopathic woman and her warped “philosophy”.