Hollywood's geopolitical doctrines traditionally conform to the opinion of the safe majority. If "Superman II" is an explication of this year's text, early returns from the box office attest to the movie's political acumen as well as to its commercial success on the Fourth of July.
During the third week of June, "Superman II" opened in 1,395 theaters across the country. On the first Saturday of its release, the movie earned $5,475,015 -- the highest take ever reported by any movie in a single day. Within a matter of days, it had established nine industry records for gross receipts, and the movie's geopolitical theme seemed to lend itself to exploitation as a Fourth of July spectacle. I can well imagine the more jingoistic theater exhibitors providing auxiliary displays of fireworks, although nothing about "Superman II" has anything to do with patriotism.
The assumptions implicit in the script flatly negate the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, most informed observers didn't believe the new nation would survive the 18th century, yet the founders of the American republic placed their faith not only in the rights but also in the courage of their fellow citizens. The signers of the Declaration pledged to one another their lives, their sacred honor. Few in number, poorly armed, confronted by the supreme naval power of the age, they relied on the heroic capacity of ordinary human beings.
None of this civic spirit intrudes upon the fantasy of "Superman II." The movie plays as farce, but, below the surface of the parody, the producers intend, and the audience acknowledges, their mutually desperate wish. They hope to be rescued -- from World War III, from poisons in the water, from enemies whose names they don't know how to pronounce. Like early Christians or members of the Moral Majority, the movie's audience sees itself as a victim in need of powerful and pitying friends, and the plot turns on Superman's decision to renounce his god-like powers in order to possess the lovely Lois Lane.
The audience with which I saw the movie on East 59th Street in New York, an audience composed primarily of adults, instantly recognized the idiocy of so romantic a policy -- comparable in the magnitude of its delusion to President Carter's decision to give up the B1 bomber and the cruise missle.
"Not for a broad, Supe," cried a voice high up in the balcony. "Not for a broad."
But Superman, like Cyrus Vance and the American electorate, must learn his diplomatic history in the school of humiliation: the helicopters failed in Iran, and Henry Kissinger, formerly advertised as Super-K, no longer holds in the palm of his hand even the Council on Foreign Relations. Having abandoned his X-ray vision and his invincible strength, Superman falls prey to a bully in a diner. The teaching him what is meant by the phrase "failure of will." Superman then discovers that other refugees from Krypton have made their way to Earth. They are as rapacious in their grasp for power as Ayatollah Khomeini or as the Russians in Afghanistan. These alien despots seize control of the United States and force the president to kneel.
Superman fortunately comes to his senses. He abandons the womanish notion of human rights, re-arms himself with his magical technology and goes off to restore American hegemony. In the theater, the audience burst into prolonged cheering and applause: cries of "Way to go, Supe," drifted through the haze of marijuana smoke.
The forces of supernatural good had triumphed over the forces of supernatural evil. Once again the republic was safe. An ally from another planet had proved himself more faithful than the French, more adroit than the Israelis, more formidable than the Chinese. The script of "Superman II" was writen by Mario Puzo, who, as the author of "The Godfather," knows that a Declaration of Independence is all well and good, but when it comes down to the last act a man needs a heavy defense budget and a friend who can put in the fix with the universe.
Clearly the country stands in need of such miraculous technology; clearly the Pentagon should receive all the weapons for which it has the wit to ask; clearly the citizenry is reduced to a mob of helpless spectators, waiting to shout and stamp their feet for the god who will descend from the machine.