Rethinking the Return
Superman Returns… where did he go? It turns out this is the premise of the movie, in which Superman returns to Earth to find that Lois Lane is engaged and also a mother.
Several stories feature a hero returning after a period of seclusion. In fact, it is one element of Joseph Campbell’s hero cycle. Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a comprehensive text on mythology. One of his observations is that several myths across different cultures and times follow a similar pattern. In this hero cycle, the hero becomes aware of some crisis in his community, separates from that community and, under the guidance of a mentor, undergoes a set of trials. He then returns to his society and meets his final trial to resolve the crisis. One can find the same pattern in movies, including the Matrix, Mask of Zorro, and Star Wars. In fact, Campbell contributed to the development of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The strange thing about Superman Returns was that it felt more like a Rip van Winkle story than it did the Count of Monte Cristo. A significant focus of the movie was how Superman would handle his return to a planet that had changed since he left.
While a superhero handles such situations flawlessly, what would the average Joe do? Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings is the true account of a group of patients that are “reanimated” with the help of the drug L-dopa. In the movie version, Robert Deniro plays one of these patients, who wakes up as a child in an adult’s body. Unfortunately for these patients, L-dopa turned out to have serious side effects, and in its absence, the patients returned to their catatonic states.
Such a twist for Superman would have made the movie more interesting to watch.