The Duality of the Soul: Superman and Lex Luthor

I figured out way back, if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all-good. And if He is all-good, then He cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be.

In our every day life, us humans don’t just encounter the good that is around us. In fact, it is almost as often that we recognize what went wrong with the world than just seeing the good. Both good and bad have a constant presence around us in multiple aspects and frequencies. Therefore, it is important to portray both in forms of art as well if an honest depiction is to be shown.We see comic book films come up with villains that are constantly improving with time. Over and over again you see a perfect contrast to the superheroes you grew up admiring.

When talking about contrasting characters in comic books, a classic example that comes to mind is Superman and Lex Luthor. I would argue that the contrasting characters exist due to the purity or impurity of their souls. In term of cinematic depiction, Zack Snyder accurately illustrated the extent of this contrast. He perfectly shows the presence and absence of purity between the two characters in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Superman is everything Lex Luthor isn’t and Lex Luthor is everything Superman isn’t. The strange thing, however, isn’t that they’re so different, its that the worlds they grew up in weren’t that different from each other. Superman was an orphan who was living in a foreign planet. When the people of that planet found out who he was, they criticized every action he took. Lex Luthor wasn’t an orphan but he had an abusive father that had an impact on his psyche. Lex built an empire of his own taking over LexCorp, he had everyone but his father love him. Superman had no one but his adoptive parents and Lois Lane to love him.

It’s astonishing how an orphan who was hated by most of the world turned out to save the world. And someone who had everything but parental love wanted nothing but to destroy the world just to demonstrate his own power.

However, as a superhero, Superman is expected not to kill. But the circumstances he is presented with in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman show that he has no choice. In Man of Steel, he has to kill Zod to prevent the destruction of his adoptive planet. In comparison, in Batman v Superman, we see Lex planting a bomb inside the wheelchair of an amputee to blow up the entire capitol building just to frame Superman. He fuels Bruce Wayne’s hatred towards him, causing him to acquire kryptonite, which almost killed him. Even along that, he created Doomsday and eventually succeeding in killing Superman.

It’s not about who kills and who doesn’t; rather it’s about their reaction towards having no choice but to kill. Superman and Lex are complete opposites in every aspect and it shown through these two films. Where there is Superman with tears in his eyes, telling Zod to stop just so he doesn’t have to kill that one person to save millions, there is Lex Luthor willing to kill even when he doesn’t have to.

It is because Superman has a pure soul and Lex has an impure one that they are the way they are. But even without such impurity of the soul, there are always some types of negative qualities present within humans. And its not surprising when, for example, a selfish person considers everyone around him/her to possess the same nature of selfishness or a short-tempered person thinks everyone is short-tempered. This isn’t just a common practice for negative qualities. Charitable people tend to believe that everyone has a charitable heart and that good is always there among people. This is the exact case with Superman and Lex. They project their respective natures on to the world.

They need to see the fraud you are. With their eyes.

This is perfectly explained during the rooftop scene in Batman v Superman. Lex is waiting for him, smiling and tells him that he wants to expose him to the world. Superman, no matter how confident he appears, doesn’t understand his motives behind this. Why is it that Lex would go to any and all extents to expose Superman? It’s made perfectly clear as Lex mentions that he believes that God is tribal and that he takes sides. He proceeds to explain how he figured this out, it’s because God didn’t intervene to save him from his abusive father. Therefore, he arrived at the conclusion that God is either all good or all powerful but He couldn’t be both.

He is projecting his nature on to every one including God. Then, Lex  proceeds to say that the world was going to see the fraud Superman is because he’ll fight Batman. “You think I’ll fight him for you?” Superman asks so confidently. He believes that because he wouldn’t do this himself, Lex also must not have a good enough reason to make Superman fight Batman. He is surprised again when he thinks that Lois was the leverage Lex was going to use because that’s as far as he thinks his evil nature is. When Lex tells him “Every boy’s special lady is his mother”, Superman is seen as powerless as he can be.

Superman and Lex Luthor are also depicted as complete opposites when events where consequences of anything that they do are to be considered. Superman is raised to believe in a certain path that only leads to good and the eradication of some form of evil. He is not raised to put his needs above his planet’s. In some ways, both his biological father and his adoptive father embed this inside his mind.

In Man of Steel, Superman stops the world engine above the Indian Ocean, knowing that he would be weak around it. When Lois asked him about it, he said that he wasn’t going to let that stop him from trying. This shows that when making decisions, Superman simply thinks of how he could somehow fulfill the purpose of his existence with that action. The purpose of his existence is to be a guiding light to the people. He doesn’t think about any consequences of that decision as long as it helps him to fulfill that purpose. Surely, it serves humankind but it makes Superman’s actions vulnerable to exploitation – which is exactly what Lex does.

Superman flying in to rescue Lois in Africa paves the way for Lex to frame him for the incident in Nairomi. He believes that he went there to save Lois and doesn’t seem to regret that. But he is visibly affected when he sees what the general public and the government thinks about him. The fact that he could be framed doesn’t even cross his mind because he wouldn’t frame anyone; hence he thinks that nobody would frame him either.

Later in the movie, Lex again frames him by creating a wheelchair containing a bomb. The insides of the wheelchair are lined with lead so Superman wouldn’t be able to see it. This causes the world to blame Superman of knowing about the bomb and not doing anything about it. So much so, he planned it to an extent that Superman started blaming himself for not looking. In comparison to Superman, when Lex plans to do something, he plans every single step of a larger mission. He makes sure it is him who succeeds as opposed to anyone. He doesn’t allow for unsuitable consequences to occur.

Lex’s incessant planning has nothing to do with anything but his need for power. In terms of wealth, he could have all the power he ever wanted but there is an aspect of inhumanly power that he does not possess. Its not even that that kind of power doesn’t exist because Superman is there – he is powerful in all ways Lex isn’t. Lex does not see that although Superman possesses that kind of power, there are some kinds of powers, which Lex possesses and Superman doesn’t. He is simply focused on the fact that there is something he doesn’t have. Perhaps its because he grew up feeling so powerless that as an adult he desired all the power he could attain.

Superman, on the other hand, has the power but he has no extraordinary desire for it. Instead of parading it to the world, he hides behind a disguise, feeling more comfortable in the feeling of a little powerlessness. In the duration of both the films, Superman almost never displayed that extent of his power just for the sake of parading it. He did that for the greater good of a larger community, which was never what Lex aimed to do.

But if there’s a chance I can save Earth by turning myself in, shouldn’t I take it?

That need for power or lack thereof is how their respective characters can be accurately judged. Superman has always practiced selflessness, even when he was making the hardest decisions of his life. “This is my world,” He says right before he chooses to sacrifice himself killing Doomsday. Its not like Superman has no human aspect to him – humans raised him. He was raised to be a good human first and foremost even if he wasn’t a human. Therefore, he possessed all those feelings, which a human possesses. He left behind his mother who had no one but him. He left behind the woman he loved to save a planet that wasn’t even his own. It’s clearly shown how his love for Earth and the people of Earth is so much that he’s willing to leave his family behind if it means saving the planet.

While Earth isn’t Superman’s planet, it surely is Lex’s. However, he shows no love towards it or its people. Rather, he is focused on himself and everything that will benefit him both in the long and short run. For his short-term benefit, he creates a being, not knowing how deadly it really could be, only to destroy the one person who had the power Lex didn’t possess. The polarity of the two characters is so perfectly summed up as Lex introduces Doomsday to Superman. Superman is surprised for a second. Then. he sees Doomsday moving to attack Lex and instead of letting it happen, he blocks the attack, essentially protecting Lex.

That one scene clarifies that it’s more about the purity of the soul of a being than anything else. Every act of Superman exemplifies that he’s one of those whose soul is devoid of evil. But wherever there is that soul that’s devoid of it, there is one that is full of it. Every action of that person has a certain aspect that feeds the evil around them. That being is Lex Luthor.

Batman v Superman, in particular, is one of those films that contain messages that can be interpreted a million ways. Whether they’re religious, nonreligious or anything else, its clear that Zack Snyder portrayed both Superman and Lex Luthor in the best way possible. Zack Snyder’s Superman is the Superman that would have existed in today’s world and so is his Lex Luthor.

Superman represents purity with his character and Lex represents an equal amount of impurity. That contrast is always around us, even if it isn’t in the form of Superman and Lex Luthor. This film shines a light on that presence. And if these two films revealed anything, it is that it is good that prevails in the end and its about the struggle to achieve the level of purity that causes us to be a force for good.

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