[Man of Steel screenwriter Goyer:] The first scene I wrote was the scene in which Jor-El and Lara give up baby Kal. And I said, "Alright, I'm going to write it initially as if they're not on Krypton. I'm going to write it generically as two parents that have to give away their son. The kid could be saved from the concentration camps... whatever." I just wrote it like that. And from the emotion of "What would it be like to give birth to your son, and then half an hour later have to put him in a pod and hope that he won't get killed?" I wrote that scene, and it felt emotionally right to me. And from that point onward, anytime I was writing something that was heavy science-fiction or involved crazy superpowers, I would write the scene as if Krypton didn't exist first, and then I would go back in and add the science-fiction stuff. That was the way that I found that I could make it make sense and relatable, I guess.
Goyer's work for that scene comes through most clearly in the moment where Jor-El and Lara lament that they will never hear their son speak their names, that they will never see him taking his first steps. It works; it's one of the best little moments in a film where the little moments do more than the big ones -- to the point where when the movie tries to scale up, it almost loses its footing. But that's another criticism for another day.
Everything we can connect with in a story about the fantastic is rooted in the mundane. We can never experience any story in anything but our moment in time, and through our personal experiences. So a balance has to be struck: the roots of the tree need to be planted firmly in the world the reader knows, but the leaves and branches can reach as high as they desire.
Stephen King once wrote about how he used a version of this principle to drive his best stories: take something familiar, especially something comforting, and then give it a shocking inside-out twist to make it horrible and ghoulish. The homey, folksy characters and atmosphere he sets most of his work up with only makes the jerking away of the rug all the more jarring. (Unfortunately, too much of the time, he just stopped there, but again that's another essay.)
One of the things I see in SF a lot is an attempt to root what happens in the familiar by the use of a couple of devices. In one, we have the world we know transformed utterly by some radical happening; in another, we have everyday folks caught up in the whirlwind of the unknown. Both aren't bad, but for me the thing that works best is when we take the unfamiliar, lift the lid, and discover the familiar within -- albeit radically transformed and made new. Goyer's scene reminded me of that approach.
And as you can imagine, it's the hardest approach to take. Small wonder many people never touch it.
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