There’s a scene in 2013’s Man of Steel where Clark Kent goes to church seeking guidance from a priest. Aliens combatants, from Kent’s home planet Krypton, are broadcasting a message to draw him out of hiding. He’s torn between stepping forward or remaining in the shadows. The priest stands over Kent, from the aisle, as the Kyrptonian confesses from the pew.
Normally in a scene with two characters speaking the cameras are positioned over the shoulders of the characters to show their point of view. First we see a camera tilted upward to show Kent’s view of the priest (who eventually sits on a railing, but is still looking downward). We should then see a reverse shot from the priest’s perspective looking down on Kent. Instead we see a shot that’s tilted upward, as if the priest was looking at Kent from the floor.
Why did director Zack Snyder choose to frame the shot this way? My theory is that he meant to emphasize the stained glass depiction of Christ over Kent’s shoulder, kneeling in prayer, just as Kent is. As far as symbolic references go this one isn’t that subtle.
This weeks article is all about when it’s a good idea to link your story to icons with deeper meanings, and when they can hurt your story by feeling unearned. I’m going to focus on Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice because they’re filled with examples of heavy handed symbolism.
(Spoilers for Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice follow).
Full Disclosure: I don’t hate either film. There’s a lot to like in both, but this isn’t a review of either movie. It’s an examination of visual shorthand. Continue reading When Symbolism Goes Wrong