Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) aping Lolita in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

On Tuesday, June 28th, the digital version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition) was released, and in the inevitable press and social media frenzy that ensued, it became very clear that the reception to this version of the film was far warmer than it was for the original cut.

While I loved the film from the get go, and was very vocal about it on my blog, I agree that the BVS Ultimate Edition is probably what should have been released in the first place.  Everything about it is more nuanced, and considering that this film is one hundred percent about its subtleties and nuances, well, that’s just the icing on the cake, really.

One of the things about this movie that really struck me from its very beginning was its gender politics.  BVS is fascinating in the way it handles gender, because it doesn’t do anything overt, but its opinions and stance on gender are expressed through almost every aspect of the film.

Put quite simply, Batman v Superman is a movie where, while men are the outer face of the story, it’s the women who serve as its connective tissue; meanwhile, this means that Lex Luthor, as an effeminate ‘sissy villain,’ exists in a liminal space between the two.

LOIS LANE:

Of course, the most visible female character is Lois Lane.  Immediately following Bruce Wayne’s dream prologue, we pick up with Lois in the desert, being Lois Lane — which means, of course, that she’s getting involved with dangerous people to do dangerous things in order to get the truth.

It also establishes, for us as an audience and for Lex Luthor, that Lois is indeed the center of Clark’s world.  Superman comes to rescue her just when she needs him, just the way he will later in the film when Lex shoves her off of LexCorp Tower.  Lois, aside from being a character in he own right, is the visual representation of Clark’s destiny and his world.  He is meant to be a hero, to give hope to the hopeless, and she is the one who most often gives him the means and motive to do it.  For a Superman whose greatest obstacle is self-doubt, that is pivotal.

When Superman sacrifices himself for humanity, he tells Lois ‘You are my world,’ echoing Jonathan Kent’s statement about Martha earlier in the film.  Superman dies for the world, but that world, for him, is symbolized and crystallized in a woman.

Lois’s gender politics, of course, have always been central to who she is as a character, and what she means to the Superman story, and in a major way, superhero stories as a genre.  And it’s in Lois that we see the most clearly defined ‘feminist’ actions.

While ‘I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist,’ isn’t the most feminist sentence in the world, in the moment, it’s the best thing she can say: she’s asserting that whatever she is, she is not that man’s conception of what a woman should be.  And that, in and of itself, is the kind of feminism that this film espouses: instead of having one or two women in the cast kicking ass and spouting feminist clichés, we have a varied cast of women who exist on all levels of the movie.

Lois, after all, is the central architect of Lex’s fall — without her work to unravel his plot, and without her continual rush back into danger, Lex Luthor wins completely, and there is no sacrifice, no redemption, just death.

Additionally, with regards to this: Lois is the single greatest threat to Lex’s plans and power, and this is something that Lex recognizes.  On a different level from her being the ‘straightest road’ to Superman, he recognizes her competency, and wants to make sure that she recognizes his.  That’s why she’s the one he tries to kill with his own hands.  Again, it’s a gesture meant to pull Superman there, to manipulate him, but Lois is the one Lex chooses to deal with personally, as opposed to Martha, who he tries to have as little to do with as possible, and the Actress, who he has murdered, and Mercy, who dies as collateral damage while he is elsewhere.  If Lois Lane dies, it’s at Lex Luthor’s hands specifically.

Finally, the subtlest part of Lois Lane’s gender politics in this film are that all of her obstacles are men, but when she has to look for help, she goes to a woman.  Jenet Klyburn (Jena Malone) is the scientist she goes to in order to try and identify the metal in the LexCorp bullet, and a new addition to the movie’s Ultimate Edition, and it goes to show that the UE is, as stated, all about nuance.

LEX LUTHOR IN A WOMAN’S WORLD:

I find that these nuances are demonstrated exceptionally well specifically with regards to Lex Luthor and women: Lex, himself, clearly operates in a sort of ‘women’s world’ throughout the film, because he can’t operate on the level that Superman and Batman do.

This is most clearly demonstrated in his dynamics with Senator Finch and with Lois, because both women are powerful — Lois as a journalist, and as someone close to Superman, and Senator Finch as the chairman of the Superman committee.  Visually, all three of them have light, reddish hair: a visual connection that subconsciously reminds us that the three characters are the focus points of the theme of the Superman story in this film.

Curious, also, that Senator Finch, as the main ‘face’ of the government shown in the film, is in fact a woman: considering the fact that one of the most famous things about Lex Luthor is his eventual presidency, it’s interesting to see one of his major obstacles as a woman with political power.

Senator Finch is not the only woman in politics Lex interacts with, either — it’s implied that the Mayor of Metropolis is a woman, and I also believe that is a very subtle feminist statement in and of itself, which I will return to in the conclusion.

Lex’s continued associations with women also mean that he is more aware of women, and what women are capable of — he can be connected to every woman in the film either directly or indirectly, with the exception of Jenet Klyburn.  He uses women to manipulate men: see his endangerment of Lois and Martha as a way to manipulate Clark; and he also actively antagonizes women characters, but in a way that implies that they are on an equal playing field.  He is the one who ‘discovers’ Wonder Woman, and clearly is aware of her powers — who knows what he’d planned for her?

Finally, it is women that are both directly and indirectly responsible for Lex not totally winning the story: while he does succeed in getting Superman killed, he winds up in jail because of Lois, and Lois and the Marthas allow for Batman’s redemption, and Wonder Woman is there to fight Doomsday for long enough for Superman to make that necessary ultimate sacrifice.  There are fingerprints of woman all over the ending of the movie, both thematically and narratively: those qualities which are gendered feminine are the qualities that we, as a species, need to remind ourselves of in order to become something worthy of Superman’s sacrifice.

Women may not operate as obviously in this film as the men do, but they are there everywhere you look, which is absolutely incredible for a superhero movie.

MOTHERHOOD:

One of the most misunderstood elements in this film is the element of motherhood.  People spend a significant amount of time trashing the ‘Martha’ scene, which I think is misguided to do — because like womanhood, motherhood is symbolic of redemption and human potential for goodness.

When Lex Luthor threatens Superman’s mother, he keys into the one thing that can without fail spur him into action.  In fact, it can be argued that in a movie where Superman is defined by his self-doubt to the point of inaction and metaphorical blindness, going to Gotham to fight the Batman is his first of two great actions.  And he does it for his mother.

As Lex says, ‘Every boy’s special lady is his mother.’

This statement — like many of Lex Luthor’s generalizations — is given flesh by Superman and Batman’s fight, because more than anything, it is a fight for Martha Kent’s life.

And when Superman can finally say ‘You’re killing Martha K–‘ as Batman is killing him, we find the moment where the hinge turns and, on a thematic level, Lex Luthor loses.

It’s solidified when Lois explains to a triggered Batman that ‘Martha’ is Clark Kent’s mother, and the hurt little boy inside the Bat realizes that, despite his alien origins, Superman is just as human as he is in the ways that matter.

Batman chooses to save Martha tonight, which allows him to finally stop feeling powerless in the face of a being like Superman, and allows him to stop being cruel.

And he does.  When he saves her, he speaks — ‘I’m a friend of your son’s’ — and she accepts that, accepts him, in a way that Bruce has probably been missing since his own Martha died in that gutter.  In this moment of trauma, Batman finds his redemption.

Conversely, we must look at the motherlessness of Lex Luthor, who functions in the story as a foil for multiple characters, but primarily as Batman’s.  His fixation on his dead father and the trauma that the man inflicted on him blots out any indication that Lex ever even had a mother. Given the tone of that ‘Every boy’s special lady is his mother’ and his ability to without issue or remorse threaten Martha Kent with death, this absence is implicitly a traumatic one.

Lex is the orphan boy with no family, and no good family memories to fall back on, and this is why his dehumanization of Superman is so complete: he cannot humanize Superman to himself, because all of the pathways of human connection that other characters take to him are blocked off to Lex Luthor.

<>So of course Lex’s relationship to Superman is all about power and violence and lack of humanity, because that is all Luthor knows.  He fears Superman’s power and chafes under his potential for authority because of humanity’s potential for submission — Superman’s alien-ness creates an excuse to lash out with violence in service of that fear.  It’s no mistake that Lex Luthor seeks out the alien through his alien-ness; the only issue is that, given the differences in their family backgrounds, even the things that make Superman human are alien to Lex Luthor.

I also, in relation to Lex Luthor, need to point out his own abominable motherhood in his creation of Doomsday.  He creates life, alone in the literal and metaphorical womb of the Genesis Chamber, but that life is created for the purpose of violence, and as such, it is appropriate that it is monstrous.

Monstrosity and violence, after all, are the only gift Luthor Sr. gave his son, after all, and therefore it must run in the family.

Additionally, when we see Lex in the belly of the Kryptonian ship, this is the only time we see him alone.  The only time he weakens enough to cry, and show regret, is when he’s creating something.

This twisted motherhood is, I feel, an intentional mirror to the sainted motherhood of Martha Wayne, and the redemptive motherhood of Martha Kent, and yet another facet of the liminal space that Lex Luthor inhabits between the film’s gendering of the masculine and feminine.

LEX LUTHOR, SISSY VILLAIN:

What is a sissy villain, you ask?  Well, if you don’t know — think of Scar, and Ursula, and pretty much every Disney Princess villain besides Gaston.  Another fantastic example of the trope is Silva from the Bond movie Skyfall.

Basically, a sissy villain is a bad guy whose villainy is reinforced by being effeminate — because of course, straight society is terrified of a competent and malicious person who clearly has no regard for social mores.  Extremes include Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, and more comedically, Frank N Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This version of Lex Luthor very firmly fits in the category.  And normally, I would have a problem with that, because heaven knows we have enough sissy villains and queer monsters in film canon.

But this time, context is what matters most: in a film where femininity and womanhood are a driving force, having the villain — who very nearly wins — fall into the trope actually makes sense.

First of all, look at Lex Luthor in comparison to Superman and Batman: visually, he’s extremely unimposing, being three to six inches shorter than the other two, and far less muscular.  He looks breakable, and his hair certainly includes a tinge of the feminine in its styling.

Of course, it’s his actions that really define him as a sissy villain.  His body language implies this, especially in the party scene where he interacts with both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent.  From the moment he arrives in their presence with a fey ‘Boys!  Ah!  Clark Kent meets Bruce Wayne.  I love it!  I love bringing people together!’ he carries himself like an old-school sissy, even making eyes at Bruce Wayne and suggesting that Bruce come back to his lab and ‘partner on something.’

Bruce is not the only man that Lex has an oddly sexualized encounter with, either.  In a move I’ve seen described as ‘such a power play,’ when Lex is interacting with the older male Senator, he, innocent as anything, is digging through a bowl of Jolly Ranchers.  Upon getting what he wants, he unwraps one of the candies, says, ‘It’s cherry,’ and offers it to the Senator, eventually pushing the candy into the stunned man’s mouth.  He then proceeds to — delicately, I might add — suck his own fingers clean.

It’s like something straight out of Lolita, and the incongruity between innocence, sexuality, and role reversal — the context being here of the younger man using innocently sexual behavior to manipulate an older man, whereas Lolita is, well, Lolita — is a very clear sissy villain moment almost on par with Silva’s groping of Bond’s chest in Skyfall.

It shocked me in the theatre, and I’d been sure I’d seen it all in terms of sissy villains.

Another level of Lex’s characterization as a sissy villain is the implicit homophobia of the abuse he endured at the hands of his father.  The religious tenor of Lex’s discussions of his father — implying that the fixation on religious imagery is something he got from him — culminates when he tells Superman ‘No man from the sky came to save me when I was a boy from Daddy’s fists and abominations.’

‘Abomination’ hit me like a ton of bricks, because, like the characterization of Doomsday as ‘the desecration without name,’ it’s a common phraseology to attribute to the religious flavor of homophobic bigot.

The whole picture comes together as a subtle rendering of an abused, effeminate queer man who is terrified of being under the power of stronger men, who lashes out violently, because violence is the only thing he can count on: but, given his effeminacy, his violence must be through proxies or of the emotional or psychological type.

It’s the layers of characterization that make me more okay with Lex Luthor being portrayed this way, along with the sheer relatability of this particular queer monster/sissy villain.  Lex isn’t just a mincing, power-hungry menace — he’s a traumatized abuse victim whose trauma and mental illnesses have convinced him to equate power with evil: ‘You know the oldest lie in America, Senator?  It’s that power can be innocent.’

Lex Luthor equates power with both evil and survival, and his need to survive means a self-concept that he is both capable of, and needs to commit, atrocities.

As someone who grew up almost exclusively with queer monsters as my ‘representation’ in media, I can understand that Lex is an extreme rendition of, well, me.  If all you see of yourself alive is something monstrous, you either die or accept that monstrosity.

Survival, in fact, is a huge reason I don’t mind that Lex is a sissy villain — because despite this, he survives the film.  Batman’s redemption — which, as stated before, comes from rescuing Martha and bearing witness to Superman’s sacrifice for ‘his world’ — means that he doesn’t brand Lex Luthor for death.

Jesse Eisenberg has stated that he’d be interested in seeing something of a redemption arc for Lex Luthor, as well, and that redemption arc, if it happened, would be something never before done in a superhero film, and, to my knowledge, film in general.

Maybe it’s too much to hope for, but with Lex Luthor’s future in flux, I can’t help myself.

After all, more than anything, Batman v Superman is a movie about hope, right?  Hope and redemption.

So I don’t think it’s out of the question.

CONCLUSION:

Overall, I feel that BVS is, especially its Ultimate Edition, is the most nuanced superhero movie I’ve ever seen in regards to gender.  It’s not the most progressive, sure — but it, like the rest of the DCEU so far — shows remarkable potential for better things to come.  It populates its world with more women, in more varied roles, and on all levels of the story.

It also insists on womanhood as a central thematic element of the story, making symbolic reference to the idea that the feminine is worth dying for, and an ideal worth striving for.  Womanhood, in Batman v Superman, is synonymous with hope.

Lex Luthor, as a sissy villain, operates in a woman’s world, and it is his feminine qualities that make him dangerous — another nuance which, while imperfect, allows us another example of the power of the feminine, because anything with power can be warped into something terrible when traumatized.

In the end, it’s clear that BVS is a sign of better things to come, which, I think, is only appropriate for a movie that, at its heart, is about redemption and hope.

https://i0.wp.com/www.myfantasysportstalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2ptrnh1-1.png?fit=720%2C297&ssl=1https://i0.wp.com/www.myfantasysportstalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2ptrnh1-1.png?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Murphy LeighEntertainmentMoviesRecent Postsbatman v superman,DCEU,feminism,gender,lex luthor,lois laneOn Tuesday, June 28th, the digital version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition) was released, and in the inevitable press and social media frenzy that ensued, it became very clear that the reception to this version of the film was far warmer than it was for the original cut. While...Why go anywhere else for sports and entertainment?