Free the Krypton Three!
Listening to the Superman: The Moviesoundtrack, the cue at the beginning where General Zod and his minions are sentenced triggered a question in my mind. It’s probably a window into my soul that it triggered this specific thought, but I think it’s a valid question.
Is the Phantom Zone, that spinning pane of glass that was a window to a nether realm terrible enough to make Zod beg for mercy from the beginning of this film to his accidental release in Superman II, “cruel and unusual punishment”?
It’s a question with which we as a society continually grapple, and which preoccupied us for as long as the prison at Guantanamo Bay was open. (I’m writing in the past tense, presuming at some point in the future it’s going to be closed, though it hasn’t yet. Ahem.)
Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?
Granted, I’m no Superman Scholar. I’m sure some super nerd like me has also reasoned out a ton of things the way I’ve been known to do…from time to time.
But I remember really digging the scene with the condemnation of Zod, whether in its original, trimmed version for Superman II, or its full, Zod-soaked glory. It was a terrifying scene: these “seditious” people sentenced to (what appears to be) an eternity of isolation.
You have to think, for these three hardened criminals, what could be so terrible as to justify such a fearful reaction? They’re not being put to death. They’ve been given an appropriately creepy trial after a sting operation, and have been given a speedy due process without chance of appeal.
They’re not being tortured…or are they?
Standards of Torture
Standards of torture, over time, have changed. They always have and they always will.
I suppose you could consider torture to be something that is the first indication of embedded relativism in a culture. How well a populace lives changes its perceptions on what difficulty and injustice are. Basically, your definition of hardship informs your definition of pain.
What we might consider torture now in my home country is a far cry from its standards a century or so ago.
Who doesn’t love the old good cop-bad cop routine, after all? One interrogator wants to save you, but only can if you talk, and he’s all that stands in your way of a world of hurt. It used to be par for the course, I guess. But I imagine a lot of threatened pain spilled a lot of guilty words.
But now there are lines of thought that causing even psychological terror, with the mere implication of greater bodily harm (Bad Cop Talk), constitutes torture.
So if we go by that standard, the Phantom Zone is a horrible place of extreme mental anguish. What’s worse, is there’s no end to these means. Zod, Ursa and Non can scream all they want, at the time they’re sentenced there’s no chance of reprieve or parole.
No Chance for Appeal
Based on the films, there is precisely zero chance for return from the Phantom Zone. I don’t know if it’s a function of the Phantom Zone itself, or the fact that the planet’s leading scientist placed the criminals there with the full knowledge that the planet would be ending shortly.
Either way, if you culturally lack the nuts to put terrible criminals to death for any reason (too bad John Wayne Gacy didn’t rape and kill little boys on Krypton) I think you need to give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves. Will they? That’s the point of a parole board, right?
Does the Phantom Zone cycle around Krypton every so often, and they pull them out and give them a chance to appeal their case? One would think that aside from the screaming, they have plenty of time to think on their past actions.
It just seems like one of those circumstances where death might be a kindness. For all we know, after all, they’re trapped in a dimension that retards aging, thereby extending their turmoil.
It also doesn’t look like they got full food service in that place. I’ve got to presume there were no toilets either. Who was monitoring this place? Only Jor–El? I’d have to question any “Great Society” (as we are led to believe Krypton was) that invested all of its penal system into the supposed wisdom of a single individual. Where are the checks and balances?
In short, I know that this is a ridiculous topic in a sense. It’s just a movie.
But given the weight of evidence from the films, even if Zod and crew weren’t a bunch of ass hats going in to The Phantom Zone, I can totally understand why they were when they got out.
What do you think?