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Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Don’t read any further unless you 1) have already seen Man of Steel or 2) you don’t care if you are given details about a movie you haven’t see yet. This wouldn’t have constituted much of a spoiler for me but I’m easy that way. Unfortunately, it’s those spoiler-y details that prompted this post and I can’t think of any way to write about this without citing them. Sorry.

At the end of the latest Superman movie, the Man of Steel, General Zod is fighting Superman and it comes down to choice: Superman can either kill General Zod or watch as General Zod kills other people. Superman chooses to kill General Zod.

This is quite the polarizing moment in Superman fandom. Or at least in online Superman fandom.

Superman is seen by a lot of people as someone who never kills and would always find a way around having to kill people. Even though this is a false belief (as illustrated in posts such as here and here), there still are a lot of people out there who believe that his killing of Zod is out of character and that Superman is no longer a hero because he did so.

I'm not going to argue comic/movie history because people see and remember things differently, based on what they like and what they want to see. I will, however, argue character. In my first post on the movie, I said that my favorite thing about Superman is that he's both human and meta-human and that the problems of the average person are the same problems of Superman.

To me, the ending of Man of Steel reinforces that. If Superman, because of his strength or speed or whatever, never has to face the moral and ethical dilemma of choosing between having to take a life or watch someone else kill innocents, then he violates that very idea of who he is.

We are all faced with problems that have no good solution. Granted most of us will never have to face the choice of killing someone, but every day we have choices. There's no rule in the universe that says that one of the choices we have is a "good" one. We all do the best we can, with what we have at the time. Saying that a "hero" never has to make a hard choice or that a true "hero" would be able to pull a good choice out of a bad situation is bullshit. More than this it's insulting to all the heroes out there who have actually faced those impossible choices and made them.

There is a theory in philosophy that says, "If something ought to be done then it can be done". I think saying that Superman would never have to kill follows that philosophy: There ought to be a way to stop General Zod without killing him, therefor Superman would find that way. While you can argue that since this is fiction the writers should have chosen to film that option. But this isn't a children's film and despite it's over-the-top action and fantasy elements, it dealt with very real themes. I like that the movie stuck to that in the end.

We live in a messy world and sometimes the thing that we ought to do is completely impossible for us to do. Most of the variables are out of our control. Every second that ticks by our choices are changed and limited by everything around us -- other people, the weather, our own weaknesses. The universe doesn't care about right and wrong and the world spins on, completely ignoring the fact that we need time to weigh all our options.

If we define our goodness, our heroic-ness, by a strict philosophy of "ought-implies-can" we are condemning ourselves to failure. Worse than that, we are painting so many others as failures, as less worthy, as villains. By insisting that there is always a way out and that only the weak can't find it, we embrace hesitation and encourage the acceptance of evil while we keep waiting for the "right" time. More than that, we insult all those who've had to make that choice.

It’s a horrible thing, but choosing between having to take a life or watching innocents die is a very real and very human problem. There are thousands of people who have faced that choice – soldiers, police, civilians. Are they less worthy because they had that untenable choice thrust upon them? Or are they disqualified from being heroes because they faced that choice and then had to live with the consequences of what happened? Do we discredit their actions because we are afraid of it?

I'm not sure that this ending was the only ending that would have worked, but I think it's a good ending. A solid ending that illustrates that no matter how strong or smart of well-intentioned we are, there are somethings that we just can't control.

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