Man of Steel
Superman has made a strong comeback! After several failed movie attempts with this superhero, Man of Steel brings not only viewer engagement and entertainment, but also substance.

Audiences are already familiar with Superman’s exemplary physical strength and superhuman powers but it is the non-physical strengths he displays that are most interesting. Superman (referred to as Clark Kent and Kal-El in the film) displays significant psychological strength (character strength). If he were to take the VIA Survey of strengths, it is likely his signature strengths would be bravery, perseverance, self-regulation, kindness, honesty, leadership, and hope.

Strength Suppression

But, growing up, Clark Kent had to keep his superpower a secret. His father advised him that the world was not ready for him to express this strength and thus must keep it hidden. One way you can understand this is to consider what it would be like to suppress your best qualities/your signature strengths.

As an example, if you’re high in creativity, what would it be like to suppress it for 1 month? No new ideas, no new creations, no art or music, no alternate ways to solve problems, no originality, and no everyday ingenuity. Pretty miserable, huh?  Or, if you’re high in curiosity, what would it be like to suppress your tendency to ask questions, to explore new topics and ideas, and to look for novelty?

To suppress our signature strengths is to pull us away from who we are. It would probably feel as if you were suffocating.

Superman feels this pain as he holds back his superpower.

Strength Expression

After this suppression, Superman begins to look more closely at his superpower and begins to understand it through practice. He is encouraged to “test the limits” of his strength…to become more clear on what he can and cannot do and to advance his capabilities. He experiments with his power.

This is a clear metaphor – for those of us without superpowers – to advance our strengths of character….to test the limits, experiment, use them in different settings, move out of our comfort zone with our strengths. In fact, this approach has been found in scientific studies to boost happiness and lower depression for extended periods of time.


Characters in the film repeatedly advise Superman to be a role model of character strengths – of the good – for the world to see. We, the viewers, can allow that potential for good to be unleashed as well.

This prequel brings an interesting back-story, an engaging story from master storyteller Christopher Nolan, a loving and heroic father (Russell Crowe), and is not without its cinematic layers. Here are a few deeper layers to consider as you watch the film:

  • Psychological: the psychology of choice; free will vs. determinism; the role of secrets; the meaning of character.
  • Relational: growing dedication, warmth, and love between Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
  • Social: many instances of altruism, self-sacrifice.
  • Cultural: themes of bringing groups of different backgrounds to live together.
  • Moral: Superman is contrasted with his villainous peers, also from Krypton, in that he is a moral figure; and his life focus is to inspire people to be a force for the good.
  • Spiritual: Superman is referred to and depicted as a “guardian angel”; and one might draw parallels of Superman as a “savior” for the world (Christianity), and as an “awakened one” (Buddhism).


VIA Institute’s practical resources:

Free VIA Survey of strengths:

New book: Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being (by Ryan Niemiec and Danny Wedding)