Themes to Love: Just One
As I mentioned in Monday’s post, one of the things I am thankful for is that the Justice League is in theaters. While ordinarily I am not a superhero movie fan, I do harbor a very soft place in my heart for Superman (I’ve even had the privilege, back in my candy-striping days, of meeting Christopher Reeves, who was all graciousness and amiability, which is exactly what I would expect from Superman). And, because my little brother is Wonder Woman’s biggest fan going on over a decade now, I have an equally soft spot in my heart for her as well.
My expectations for Justice League were high. I’m thrilled to say that the movie exceeded each and every one of them. (Let me just say this one thing- I have never, nor will I ever, judge the quality, integrity, and greatness of a film based on CGI or the amount of action in it. In fact, I tend to dislike movies that lean on the laurels of ‘cool’ action sequences. I much prefer solid plot lines with valiant purpose, at least where superheroes are concerned.)
So, what exactly about the Justice League exceeded my expectations? The theme.
Themes are very important. Themes wends through a work like the warp and weft of a piece of cloth. It holds the work together; it’s the core, the center, the purpose. There were several themes in Justice League that wove together to create an adamantine fabric (from which, I believe, Superman’s cape is sewn): Truth, Justice, Hope, Love. While the renderings of each of these themes in this film can be plumbed for their depth and profundity (resulting in pages and pages of dissertation- let me confess, this is my sixth re-write about Justice League), I’m going to focus on one conceptual theme in particular. I have pondered it in my heart, and the longer I sit with it, the grander this subtle wisdom becomes:
The words just one are never uttered in Justice League, however, there is a particular sequence that screams them loud and clear. Let me give you just a little context before plunging into it.
The world has fallen into chaos. Mankind is in a sorry shape, which is nothing new historically speaking. What seems to make the world’s current predicament so much more dire is the fact that those who held out hope for a good future are now crestfallen, even fearful. Superman, the beacon of that hope in our troubled time, is dead, having sacrificed himself in a supreme act of selflessness which is the hallmark of the heart of his great character. A microcosm of the world at large, Lois Lane and Martha Kent are having difficulty moving beyond this tragedy, and who can blame them? Really? I mean, where can we go when all hope is lost?
But, by the pricking of my thumbs, something far, FAR more wicked this way comes.
Enter the villain: Steppenwolf, a New God known to the ancient Amazons and Atlanteans alike as the Destroyer of Worlds. He feeds on fear. Scratch that. He thrives on it and acquires his legions from it. Steppenwolf’s quest for power through fear ultimately leads to the destruction of whatever world he conquers. And, as is the way with power hungry villains, one world is never enough. He’s made his way through galaxies, destroying world after world and now he’s arrived on Earth.
Batman, with the help of Wonder Woman, compiles this unlikely group of superheroes who reluctantly- except for the Flash- agree to unite to save the world. (It seems the Flash’s loneliness was more out of social awkwardness than choice. Poor, awkward Barry Allen.)
Now, on to the scene: The League is beneath S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis where the third Mother box is. They know that Steppenwolf is intent on finding that box as he has the first two already. He needs it to complete the Unity which will usher in the decimation of earth. Steppenwolf has kidnapped Dr. Silas Stone, Cyborg’s dad, and numerous others and is killing them one by one until he gets the information he’s looking for. Once Steppenwolf has the third box, the league’s only prayer of stopping him will, ultimately, be a suicide mission.
Batman, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman are all kitted out to do battle. The Flash is also kitted out, but he’s never done battle before. In fact, as they approach where Steppenwolf is holding his hostages, the Flash has a very Barry Allen, a.k.a. human, moment.
In order words: I don’t think I can do this. Batman’s response to this frenetic, frightened commentary is simple.
There it is. Just One.
How often do we look at a seemingly insurmountable task and psyche ourselves out? We look at what we haven’t done, how inexperienced we are, how big the end game is compared to our starting point, and we freak ourselves out. I’ve done it. I’m pretty sure you’ve done it, too, dear readers. We make it pre-eminent in our forethought and allow our seeming incapability to consume us to the point that we can’t even see beyond it.
Battle ensues. While Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg engage the enemy, the Flash stands at his own crossroads. Does he wimp out? Does he take Batman’s advice?
You can see the struggle within him. It’s a struggle with which I can identify. I think, if we’re honest, we all can. (We’ve spoken about how easy it is to let fear in and how debilitating it can be- see post here.)
The Flash looks around him, sees his comrades in arms facing the daunting situation head on with that same once more unto the breach zeal of good ole King Henry, and he marshals himself to action.
With his swiftness, he zooms into the room and absconds with Dr. Silas Stone, whisking him to safety, before the enemy even registers a thing. And then? Well, he stands there for a minute, letting the import of his action fully sink in before he excuses himself politely, disappears, and reappears moments later with another hostage. He proceeds to do this until all the hostages are hidden safely away.
That’s how it starts. Just one. But, then, his confidence builds. Suddenly, something that seemed impossible to accomplish, frightening in the extreme, is doable. As Lao Tzu said, The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
While this message is not on the level of the grandeur and majesty of Justice League’s other lofty themes, the simplicity and tenderness in the way it was conveyed touched my heart. It’s a true lesson for us all. As Hadrian purportedly said to his people when a raging fire had devastated Rome,
Don’t despise the small beginnings. Don’t look at what your endgame is and let that deter you from starting at all. It’s important to make that one small step. Again, I echo, we must be intrepid.
Batman knew this. Without snarky superciliousness, he took the frightened Flash under his wing and encouraged him to step out. May we all have that same encouragement today. Just One.
Each of us can think of one thing we can do or change that will lead us closer to our dreams and our goals. What is that one thing? Whatever it is, carpe diem. Do it. Change it. And remember, it’s just one.