I just saw Super 8 and I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on it while they’re still fresh in my mind.
WARNING: SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might not want to read this yet.
In short, I loved it. Good movie-making.
This movie pressed a lot of personal buttons for me – hell, the main character is me. Well, no, not really, but Joe and me have a lot in common. We’re about the same age, we love movie monsters and filmmaking, and… we both lost our mothers at around the same age.
Joe’s father is the town deputy. Not the sheriff, but the deputy – the sheriff’s right-hand man. He’s the Good Right Arm of the Law. Joe, however, with his fascination with monsters, follows the “left-hand path” (i.e., the Dick Smith monster makeup course – I remember that!). His father, on the right-hand path, cannot understand his left-hand son. The mother was the mediating heart between the hands, making them one body; with her loss, the gulf between the two is exposed. The body is dead yet still animated.
The movie begins amidst the moving and smelting of heavy steel. This is what killed Joe’s mom – crushed her, as we overhear. She has gone underground, into the Underworld. The first shot of Joe is in winter, the bleak time when Persephone resides in the Underworld.
We learn that the monster is “subterranean”, although he’s trying to return home to the stars. He, like Joe’s mom, has gone underground, where he moves and smelts heavy steel to build his vehicle. Joe’s journey underground to rescue his true love is, mythically, a search for the lost mother – not in a Freudian icky sense, but as a search for his lost heart. Like the Tin Man in Oz, Joe’s only connection to his heart is his mother’s heart-shaped locket. The emotional life of his soul is bound into that locket, such that he clings to it and grips it as a source of strength amidst danger. His rescuing Alice is his path toward regaining his heart.
When Joe confronts the alien, he does so to protect his newfound heart. The alien is the part of Joe’s soul that entered the Underworld with his mother and was trapped there with no star – no love – to guide it. The very night that Alice joins the boys to make their movie, the creature bursts from its boxcar cage, where it had been held by the Law – not his father’s small-town law, but an inflated, military version of the Law his father represents: the right hand in its mythic form. As the Law hunts the Joe-creature, the Joe-creature tries to build its escape craft, desperately stealing people in a search for the heart it needs. (It also builds its craft from the engines of used cars – from the town’s used-up drives.)
Joe’s friend wants to blow up his train model, but Joe is clearly disturbed by this, and yet capitulates. Alice tells him not to let them blow it up. She senses that the boxcar is the container for Joe’s soul. It’s already been blown up, releasing the Joe-creature, but this is the model version, built by his hands and his love. To blow up his model is to destroy his escape craft before it can be completed.
Joe confrontation with his chthonic soul is what finally triggers the completion of his work. As soon as the Joe-creature drops Joe, the escape craft spins up, signaling his immanent return home – his escape from the Underworld to the transcendent world of spirit. This is the journey of the soul, from a Fall into earthly matter to an Ascent into spirit and light.
But as the Gnostics knew, this journey requires Sophia, loving wisdom. (Joe’s last name is Lamb.) The ship cannot take off until Joe has relinquished his old heart – his mother’s locket – and placed his left-hand in the right-hand of his new heart: Alice. As soon as he releases the locket, it takes its place in the heavenly chariot, crushing the steel water tower and releasing its waters -- the pent up tears.