It was the 1950s: "I like Ike," peace, post-war prosperity, and families that appeared, at least on the surface, as All-American. Television, though still new, had taken over our culture, capturing the attention of our country, me no exception.
I had my favorite TV shows, but at the top of the list was Superman. "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive (hmm, not very fast nowadays), able to leap tall buildings with a single bound," began each episode as I lay on the carpeted floor of our home on Eastchester Road in the Bronx as close to the small screen as I could so as to be swallowed up by the tale that would unfold. Year after year I watched George Reeves in his padded costume stand for good and embody what every boy would want -- unbridled strength, a pretty girl, and the opportunity to do the good the world needed, unfailingly, week after week, without revealing his identity, which was often the mockery of others. Hah, if they only knew.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that I have seen every Superman movie, some many times. And that I would have to hit the multiplex upon release of Man of Steel, not to mention see it in its full glory, namely 3D. I was amply rewarded by Man of Steel, with its story, its fulsome acting by a star-spangled cast, and even -- despite my vintage -- its astounding computerized effects that took you to galaxies of action in outer space and inner cities, where density amplifies the destructive experience.
There are two stories that unfold in Man of Steel. One is on Krypton, Superman's native planet, and one on Earth, where he has acclimated to our atmosphere and the American way of life. On Krypton, the story is about Superman's parents (Russell Crowe acquits his reputation for bad behavior by being an exemplar for the values of his planet and the father of Superman) and a planet that ceased to have natural births and exhausted its supply of energy by violating the rules of nature so as to bring upon itself its cataclysmic end. The other is on Earth, where Superman (played by a series of child actors and as an adult by an amazingly blue-eyed, physically-cut and super-determined Henry Cavill) is the child of Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, who fit their roles as shapely as does Cavill fill the Superman uniform, which in his case needs no padding. He is raised not only with Midwestern values but also is taught that some day he will have the chance (that is, the responsibility) to shape the character of all earthlings, something we can imagine will be a pretty tough task to fulfill. He has to put up with bullying to not reveal his identity while not missing a beat and saving those who could perish from any number of unforeseeable events. He has to keep his powder dry, especially the explosiveness of who he is, until the world may be ready and able to accept it.
Lois Lane is played by Amy Adams, who is as versatile an actor as she is the embodiment of sweetness, intelligence and lets no person get between her and her story or compromise her virtues as a journalist. Laurence Fishburne is Perry White, the tough but always decent editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet. And continuing his run of dazzling performances is Michael Shannon as General Zod, the born and bred military zealot who lives, and dies, to protect the citizens of Krypton, no matter what anyone may think of whatever means are needed to achieve this end. In other words, this ensemble of actors is as good as they get and they do not disappoint -- on this or any other planet.
Mayhem is the mode for the last hour of this 2.5-hour spectacle. But there are still moments when the souls of the characters shine through, when romance is kindled, and when we humans distinguish ourselves for the depth of our morals that may, hopefully, save us from ourselves as we face not just desperate characters from Krypton but the greed, corruption, neglect of others and the environment, and broken bureaucracies that threaten decency and compassion, not to mention the fate of our children and grandchildren.
Yet, as much as I left the theater feeling satisfied, that my time and money were well spent, I thought that this is not what it takes to shape the budding personality of youth. Movies like Man of Steel, even with its sequels, are transient; they are ephemera, quick hits to our psyche. I don't think that this movie, or virtually any series (except maybe Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings), can nourish a maturing mind (not that Man of Steel means to). I don't think that the youth who watch this film today, or even the grey hairs like me, can experience the necessary repetitive exposure to a storyline that shows, again and again, human strengths beyond the physical, a superlative moral icon to identify with, and a cast who demonstrate that saving Earth is a team sport.
All that takes time, more than a night at the movies: time to be enraptured and then slowly filled with the wonder of our humanity, our foibles, and our capacity for resilience, determination, and love. That's what steel is about, I learned a long time ago. That's what I want to deliver today as a mere mortal who likes sometimes to think that under his shirt and tie is the letter "S," and it doesn't stand for Sederer.
Dr. Sederer's new book for families who have a member with a mental illness, The Family Guide to Mental Health Care, published by WW Norton, is now available, as is his even newer book (with Jay Neugeboren and Michael Friedman), The Diagnostic Manual of Mishegas.
The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.