© 2016 Rudy Owens. All rights reserved.
The most basic question any human will ever ask themself is, Who am I? The concept is universal, across nearly all cultures, for as long as humans have been recording their ideas on parchment, papyrus, and clay. Greek philosopher Aristotle famously wrote, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” An older and simpler Greek proverb predates Aristotle. It is known more simply as the Delphic wisdom, referenced by ancient Greek philosophers for centuries as “know thyself.”
This basic life question from the Greeks is as relevant today as it was more than 2,000 years ago. It was recently on display in the 2013 blockbuster film the Man of Steel, about the most famous superhero of all, Superman. The rebooted film franchise of the original comic-book character told our caped hero’s tale as a man’s—or rather, a Kryptonian’s—search for his identity.
The Man of Steel relies on one of the oldest mythological stories of human civilization, that of a hero’s search for himself by finding out his “true lineage.” This is the arc of great stories, from Moses to King Arthur. The Man of Steel also includes other classic mythological storytelling tropes, such as confronting a nemesis, the inevitable conflict, and the return from the journey as a hero. In this case, the hero happens to be born of one family and sent across the galaxy to be raised by another family in Kansas. He then must spend years figuring out who he really is, enduring many hardships from oil rig explosions to planet-saving slugfests.
Minus the over-the-top special effects battles, this film is a traditional tale a self-discovery familiar to all adoptees. The most compelling moments in the film involve conversations the young Clark Kent has with his “adopted” father, Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner. They discuss their ambiguous relations as non-biological father and adopted son. That tension bursts in a scene where the older Clark tells his father and mother, “You’re not my real parents.” Right on cue, following that conversation, Costner’s character dies in a tornado.
The adult Clark is left adrift not knowing who to call his parents or how to identify with his biological roots or his adoptive roots. So, the journey begins, and he wanders from the Bering Sea to the Canadian Arctic. This cinematic rendering of this rite of passage is nearly identical to what an adopted adult goes through when they have to decide for themselves if they wish to find out their history and biological roots, or accept the decisions institutions and others made for them.
This adult adoptee decision to undertake a journey of discovery is never easy, and it is often costly. It can be very divisive and unpopular. Such a decision can forever change family relations and be condemned by people who know nothing about this desire to find the truth. It is at its core Superman’s tale.
Read More: Chapter 9: The Paper Chase