The Power of Point of View

Clark Kent as Subject or Object in “Man of Steel”?

MOS_1920_shield-300x187by GARY YAMASAKI   When attempting to determine through which character’s point of view an audience is being led to experience the events of a story line, it is tempting simply to pick the character who is most prominently featured. And usually, this will yield the correct answer. . .but not always. This post will use a look at the film Man of Steel to demonstrate how being the featured character does not necessary translate into being the point-of-view character.

The first twenty minutes of the movie cover events on the planet Krypton, with a focus on the birth of Kal-El (later to be known as Clark Kent/Superman) and his parents launching him in a spacecraft bound for Earth. This is followed by a series of scenes alternating between Clark as a thirty-something adult and Clark during his growing-up years in rural Kansas. One of these flashbacks is particularly pertinent for our purposes.

This scene takes the viewers back to when Clark was a teenager. He and his classmates are riding in a school bus when the bus veers off a bridge and plunges into a river. Chaos ensues as the bus fills with water and everyone fears drowning. Everyone, that is, except Clark. He gets out of the sinking bus and uses his superhuman powers to prevent anyone from perishing.

Two shots in this sequence are especially telling when it comes to point-of-view crafting. First, Clark manages to push the whole bus up onto the bank of the river, with the key shot taken from inside the bus shooting out its back door at a drenched Clark waist-deep in the water with his hands planted firmly on either side of the door, having just finished securing the bus on the bank. . .a shot through the point of view of those on the bus. Second, one particular boy is thrown from the bus into the water, sinking below the surface, and Clark goes down after him. The filming of this shot does not follow Clark as he descends, grabs the boy, and pulls him to the surface. Rather, the camera remains above the surface of the water–leaving the viewers to wonder what exactly is happening down in the depths of the river–only capturing Clark as he surfaces with the boy in tow. Here, the viewers are not led to experience the rescue from the point of view of Clark down deep in the water, but rather, from a point of view above the surface, that is, the point of view of those in the bus. Therefore, this scene is not so much about what Clark is doing as it is about what others perceive Clark as doing.

To be sure, the same is not true of every scene in the movie. For example, an earlier flashback shows Clark as a grade-school student running out of his classroom and locking himself in a closet. While a crowd gathers in the hall outside the closet, his teacher keeps turning the door knob in an attempt to open the door, but Clark uses his laser vision to heat up the knob, causing the teacher to release it in pain. We as viewers are not being led to experience this sequence through the point of view of the crowd outside the door; after all, none of them know how the door knob got so hot, whereas we do. The fact our information database is here synchronized with that of Clark works toward having us see this sequence through Clark’s point of view.

So, not every scene has us looking at Clark from the point of view of other characters. . .but many scenes do, so much so that it would be safe to classify this movie as a film mainly looking at the Man of Steel from the perspective of others, as opposed to looking at the world from the perspective of the Man of Steel. A major contributing factor to this dynamic occurs just before the fifty-minute mark of the movie. Clark manage to gain access to a spacecraft from Krypton that has been discovered buried in ice in the Arctic. While in the craft, he is confronted by a hologram of his father preserved in a ship database which proceeds to inform him of the events surrounding his birth–information we received in the first twenty minutes of the movie. This scene reinforces for us how out-of-synch our experience of the events has been in comparison to Clark’s experience of them. Because we have been viewing these events against the backdrop of the information gained in those first twenty minutes, our experience has been significantly different than that of Clark, who is just now becoming aware of them. Clearly, we have not been led to experience what has happened as through Clark’s point of view.

The analysis of the preceding two paragraphs has focused on the dynamics of the informational plane of point of view in Man of Steel, a plane earlier highlighted in the posts here and here. It is among the more important planes to explore when determining the point-of-view dynamics of a narrative, and so, should not be overlooked.

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