Lex Luthor and Lolita

The latest episode of Wisecrack’s “Show Me the Meaning” podcast just dropped recently, tackling the topic of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and guest starring the Hero of Hub City himself.

There are admittedly few insights I offer in the podcast that can’t be found better articulated in my review of the film, my analysis of Christology in the franchise, or my meditation on Superman’s secret identity. Which is not to say I gleaned no new insights while rewatching the film in preparation for my podcast appearance, some of which – while in my show notes – never organically made their way into the conversation. While I’ll not enumerate every evidence as to the films erudition, there was one thread which I only noticed on my sixth or so viewing that I’d like to share today.

In previous interpretations of the character, Lex Luthor’s given name was in homage to Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Early in the film, Lex is holding a gala to celebrate the new Library of Metropolis he’d constructed, making explicit connection between his building and the legendary Library of Alexandria, one of the many eponymous cities named for the famed conqueror. In his address at the gala, Luthor self-identifies as a bibliophile – Greek for “lover of books” – and this passion is evident not only in his philanthropic pursuit but in his entire pattern of speech.

Much of Luthor’s dialog is taken directly from literature, albeit paraphrased and repurposed. I’ve recently been rereading on of my favorite novels of all time, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, as part of a book club I’m leading. I’ve read it multiple times now, so I should have noticed it earlier, but in the scene where Luthor finally confronts Lois atop the tower, he greets her:

“Plain ‘Lo’ in the morning. ‘Lola’ in slacks. Lois Lane.”

The first two sentences are taken directly from the opening paragraph of Nabokov’s masterpiece:

“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four foot ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks, She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Snyder has Luthor build a library because another great Alexander from history had also done so. Because he’s built a library, Snyder appropriately make Lex likewise a lover of literature. And as evidence that Luthor is indeed well read, his dialog is subtlety stitched together with quotations from great works. For those passionate about history and liturature (to mention nothing of art, mythology, and theology to boot), there’s plenty to unpack throughout the film. Far from being a simple slugfest between gaudily garbed do-gooders, as most fans expected, Snyder has created a true work of cinema that continues to reward careful rewatching every time the viewer returns to it. Because of that, the backlash against Batman v Superman is all the more undeserved and unfortunate. I’m incredibly grateful to Wisecrack for allowing me to make my case for such an unpopular position to our audience.

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