Thinking about "Hancock": Nietzsche, "Kill Bill", and Will Smith


“Hancock” is Will Smith’s summer vehicle:

The notable attributes of Hancock are that he is:

  • Homeless
  • Surly
  • Prone to intoxication

I thought this was a bit of a predictable gag, the Juno-fication of the myth of the superhero. Instead of doing the right thing ( or, freaking the-hell-out when teenage daughter is pregnant ), witticisms will abound and the surly pregnant-teen ( or, superhero ) will grow on you. The Jason Bateman factor seemed all but to ensure this.

But the other day I listened to the “In Our Time (Radio 4)” podcast with Melvyn Bragg on Kierkergaard and was reminded of the sheer terror and weight underlying the “Fear and Trembling” thesis and I thought: “How would you respond to the proposition if you were a superhero, that is, if you were objectively better than everyone else?

Coloring this thought is the masterful “Superman Scene” from the noir “Kill Bill II”.

As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating.

Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique.

Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone.

Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S” - that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us.

Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… He’s unsure of himself… He’s a coward.

Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.

If you were objectively stronger, faster, smarter, and in Hancock’s case, “Fresher” than the entire population of this pathetic planet of small-minded monkeys, how could you act with anything but contempt?

What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape. –Friederich Nietzche ( Kaufmann Transl. )

Just as Robinson Crusoe style adventurers come to accept the presence of the lesser creatures ( a helper-monkey, a parrot, etc. ), so the solitary superhero must accept the piddling company of sub-species companions against the deafening loneliness of being the last / the only / etc.

A sub-standard companion, Wilson from Cast Away

Wilson, a sub-species of companion

I should suppose the only rational emotions would be contempt for them and yourself, and as an emollient for the latter only copious amounts of booze would suffice.