This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #182 (August 2004).
The back-of-a-cigarette-card capsule summation of Marlon Brando's contribution to cinema is as the man who brought the Method to the movies. In fact, Brando's most notable acting coach was Stella Adler, mistress of traditional stagecraft and technique, not Lee Strasberg, whose Actors' Studio dictated digging into your soul to find the character. The most Method of Brando's film roles came in the first four years of a long career, from the paraplegic in The Men (1950), to ex-boxer Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954).
Much publicity fuss was made about the actor's spending time with disabled war veterans in preparation for his screen debut – but, seriously, how else was he supposed to prepare? Filmmakers later complained that devotion to the Method made Montgomery Clift or James Dean almost impossible to direct; the young Brando managed an unmatched degree of truth in performance while turning up regularly for work and producing the magic when the camera rolled. Fred Zinneman's The Men was a solid start, a sincere 'social problem' picture which shows off Brando's brooding, wounded beauty – the character's legs may be dead, but his well-developed arms and torso are displayed by a tight T-shirt. He is already doing the smouldering rage female fans in the 1950s cited as his most attractive mood. Brando was really established as a screen presence by his second film, Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). He had played Stanley Kowalski during a brief but startling stage career, abandoned allegedly because of an unwillingness to learn lines, and recreated the role opposite Vivien Leigh's Blanche. Hollywood censorship muted the extremes of Tennessee Williams' play and Brando was a powerful antagonist to Leigh rather than commanding centre stage himself – but his Stanley is a classic performance: sweaty, devilish, sexual, crude, cunning, wounded, witty, attractive, repulsive. It's not an easy part: without an actor of supreme natural charisma, Stanley is just a monster ("I detest the character," said the actor); with Brando, Stanley is bigger than that, and almost a hero. Then he took a couple of 'rebel' roles, establishing his offscreen persona as a man always against the Establishment. Brando is the Mexican peasant general in droopy moustache and white pajamas in Kazan's solemn, rarely-revived Viva Zapata! (1952), his first 'accent' performance, and tearaway bike boy Johnny ("What are you rebelling against?"/"What have you got?") in László Benedek's trashier, more fun The Wild One (1953). Oscar-nominated in the Best Actor category for four successive years, he finally won (and turned up to accept) the statuette for Waterfront. Again directed by Kazan, Brando infused tragedy, sensitivity and pathos into what might have been just another racketeering picture. Terry finally stands up against the corrupt longshoremans' union bossed by Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), but he's not a natural rebel or icon of cool – just a beat-up bum who's lost so much that he's run out of other people to blame. Terry takes the kind of battering only macho-masochist 1950s film stars could survive (Kirk Douglas was especially addicted to this kind of punishment), but is on his feet at the finale. The film's elevation of stool pigeon to martyr hero is uncomfortable given Kazan, writer Budd Schulberg and Cobb informed not on gangsters but fellow ex-communists before the HUAC hearings, but Brando makes Terry a breathing, bleeding person, not a walking argument for ratting out.
Easy rider: creating an icon in The Wild One
It is a measure of how appealing and threatening the young Brando was that comedians instantly started to caricature him – slobbing about in a torn vest yowling, "Stellaaaa!" (Diane Keaton does an especially funny early Brando in a surreal scene from Sleeper), or slouching in a leather jacket and tight jeans snarling defiance at straight society. Critics raised to believe the acme of great acting was the perfect diction of Olivier or John Gielgud accused Brando of mumbling inarticulacy – though his breakthrough roles came courtesy of diamond-sharp wordsmiths like Williams and Schulberg. One of his run of Oscar nominations came for Marc Antony (with Gielgud as Cassius) in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 'political thriller' take on Julius Caesar (1953). Of course, a tension between acting styles adds a layer to Shakespeare's plot – Antony is a young, virile force who shows an older generation of conspirators that they can't have what they want – but the big speech ("Friends, Romans, countrymen") is every bit as much Brando masterclass as "I coulda been a contender" and "I say you hah". Doubters had to concede that Brando cut a more convincing figure in a toga delivering Shakespeare speeches than Gielgud would in a torn undershirt raping Blanche Dubois. Marc Antony was a confirmation of something that should have been obvious – Brando was not naturalistic, but theatrical; not Method, but madness. He was well on his way to becoming, in all senses, one of the biggest actors in the cinema.
Of course, not every script was by Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams, and some films wound up being directed by Henry Koster rather than Elia Kazan. For nearly 20 years after his first Oscar win, Brando was in peril of being written off as a screen eccentric, as keen on disappearing into masks and accents as Lon Chaney ('The Man Of A Thousand Faces') or Alec Guinness. Koster was one of the first directors unable to stand up to the star, and made Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Brando played in the dreary, lumpen Desirée (1954), second only to Hamlet (which, come to think of it, he could have played the hell out of, circa 1952) as the part tackled by insecure souls who wish to show off mastery. The rest of the 1950s found him singing Luck Be A Lady as Sky Masterson in Guys And Dolls (nice try, but no cigar); with taped-back eyelids and a Mr. Moto Japanese accent as the houseboy in The Teahouse Of The August Moon; playing a blond Nazi officer in The Young Lions; revealing some of his offscreen interests in the interracial romance Sayonara; and returning to Williams with lesser (but still interesting) results as a guitar-playing gigolo in The Fugitive Kind (by 1959, Paul Newman was more often getting these parts).
Brando and Vivien Leigh enjoy a little time-out on the set of A Streetcar Named Desire
Marlon Brando: Weight Watcher
When Brando was approached to play the role of Jor-El in Superman, he famously suggested that, as the Man Of Steel's dad was an alien, the character could look distinctly non-human in form. "What if," Brando suggested to the producers, "he was a giant bagel?"
Possibly apocryphal, the story highlights one of the most important relationships in the actor's life: his love affair with food. However, contrary to popular belief, it would be wrong to assume that Brando's expanding waistline first hit the 250lb-plus mark for Apocalypse Now (in which he is shot almost exclusively in shadow). On 1961's One-Eyed Jacks, Brando alternated push-ups and incessant stretching routines with scoffing take-out Chinese and jarfuls of peanut butter. For Sayonara, Brando blew his trim 170lb figure on breakfasts of cornflakes, bananas and cream, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon and a stack of pancakes dripping with butter and maple syrup.
Yet the flabbiness really came into its own during sex scenes. At one point shooting The Nightcomers, he refused to appear nude from the waist down, reblocking sex scenes from missionary to sodomy. Concerned by his girth, he confided to co-star Stephanie Beacham, "I can't fuck anymore. It's really interfering," later adding, "We are but ships that pass in the night – or in my case, a tug."
Over the years Brando tried outlandish solutions to his dietary excess, including a special rotating hoop frame device and hooked boots that would suspend the actor from the ceiling. When he was unable to flip over and hang upside down, he sent employees out for a winch which was then bolted to the bathroom ceiling. Yet a further problem arose: suspended upside down, the blubber started to roll forward, almost choking him. It was back to the take-out Chinese and peanut butter.
Two early '60s productions did a great deal to land the star a reputation for excess. One-Eyed Jacks began as a Sam Peckinpah script about Billy The Kid and was developed as a Stanley Kubrick picture, but wound up as Brando's only film as director-star: it's long, indulgent and fascinating, with yet more onscreen suffering as Brando the director has Brando the outlaw actor repeatedly beaten and whipped. More damaging was the troubled 1962 remake of Mutiny On The Bounty, a famously runaway production which introduced Brando to the South Seas (and several wives). Doubtless recalling the way Clark Gable's Fletcher Christian had been upstaged by Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh, Brando decided that in this version, the mutineer would get all the laughs and the captain would be the stooge. Brando gives the eventually rebellious officer a plummy British accent (reprised in The Island Of Dr. Moreau) and a comic edge that jars interestingly with Trevor Howard's forceful, brutal Bligh. Like One-Eyed Jacks and several later Brando projects, Mutiny was noted as much for overspending, overshooting and over-ambition as for its actual worth as a movie. It was directed by Hollywood veteran Lewis Milestone, but Brando would do better with mad visionaries.
After that, Brando could best be described as wayward – taking roles in intriguing but doomed projects like Arthur Penn's The Chase (an agonised liberal sheriff who takes another beating); the film of Terry Southern's Candy (a lecherous guru); Charlie Chaplin's sad last hurrah, A Countess From Hong Kong (glumly doing what the great man told him to); John Huston's barking mad Reflections In A Golden Eye (a US army officer married to Elizabeth Taylor but lusting after naked enlisted man Robert Forster); and, God help all concerned, Michael Winner's Turn Of The Screw prequel, The Nightcomers (doing Oirish and tying up Stephanie Beacham for kinky sex). An increasing interest in politics and native peoples landed Brando in Gillo Pontecorvo's Queimada! (aka Burn!), where he was happy to represent the colonial oppressor.
Indeed, after Zapata! And The Wild One, Brando far more often pulled the Marc Antony switch of rebel-turned-tyrant, playing Nazis, Napoleon, crime bosses, Torquemada (Christopher Columbus: The Discovery), The Ugly American, Colonel Kurtz, the chairman of an evil oil company (The Formula), American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell (his TV debut, Roots: The Next Generations), Dr. Moreau, a mad prison warden (Free Money) or the shadowy head of a snuff film ring (Johnny Depp's near-unseen The Brave).
Brando's 'return' came with contrasting back-to-back roles in 1972, as Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and Paul in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris. It's hard to believe they're the same actor. He won the Oscar he sent Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse for Don Vito, a part that required a complete transformation through make-up and nuanced performance, but is literally naked in Last Tango, dynamic in sex scenes once considered ground-breaking and shocking in moments of raw emotion. Both films were major successes, excited enormous controversy and hold up after 30 years as exciting, profound work. They re-established Brando as the powerhouse screen performer and honest-to-Louis B. Mayer star he had been in 1954.
Since then, he has charged huge fees and remained quixotic in his choices: a Western bounty hunter in The Missouri Breaks who comes across as a master-of-disguise Batman villain, and Kal-El's dignified father in Superman. He sat out The Godfather Part II – in which Robert De Niro plays the younger Vito – but reteamed with Coppola for Apocalypse Now, another runaway production shot in a Third World hell, which came out as the instant classic Mutiny On The Bounty failed to be. The semi-improv philosophical ramble of the Kurtz scenes were once cited as the film's worst feature, but the movie is unthinkable without Brando – when heard on tape ("I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor..."), seen lumbering from the shadows, splashing his bald head (he should have played Lex Luthor!) or delivering scary soundbites about the war. He had done a bathtub scene in The Missouri Breaks, but Apocalypse Now was the film that showed how huge Brando had become – a sumo wrestler, a Cambodian idol, a bloated God on his deathbed.
Francis Ford Coppola and Marlon Brando discuss a scene in Apocalypse Now
Nothing since 1979 was as good for Brando. He sweetly, gently parodied his Godfather role in The Freshman, plays straight man for Johnny Depp in Don Juan DeMarco, and warily surveys Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in The Score. Plagued in his last years by family and health problems, that Frank Oz heist film was to be his last. The final great Brando turn, then, was a return to the jungle and an out-of-control production, The Island Of Dr. Moreau. He suggested to Richard Stanley, the original writer-director, that his girth should be justified by a revelation that Moreau was pregnant with a dolphin. John Frankenheimer, the eventual referee, coped with a leading man who delivered an entire freakshow in himself, and (along with a monkey-man sidekick) inspired a South Park caricature. Moreau's death scene is vintage Brando, worth setting beside Vito Corleone gasping his last through orange-peel Dracula fangs or Kurtz's death throes intercut with the caribou sacrifice: surrounded by angry Beast Men, Moreau tries to put them off by delivering an impromptu lecture, with piano riffs, on the difference between Schoenberg and George Gershwin; then, with loving brutality, they tear him apart.
BRANDO BY HIS PEERS
"I don't think there's anybody better when he wants to be good."
~ Henry Fonda
"I'd trade everything to be Marlon Brando. I so envied his talent – so thrilling to me."
~ Woody Allen
"One of Brando's problems is that he can't have a conversation with anyone. You can sit down with Marlon Brando and chat and, in all candour, you don't know what the hell he's talking about. He's on his own wavelength, he's an utterly bizarre human being. He has a marginal knowledge of the English language. And he does live in a different world. It's like he's discovered another dimension."
~ Ex-Paramount exec Peter Bart
"Brando's a giant on every level. When he acts, it's as if he's landed on another planet. He's got it all. That's why he's endured. When I first saw On The Waterfront I couldn't move. I couldn't leave the theatre. I'd never seen the like of it. I couldn't believe it."
~ The Godfather co-star AI Pacino
"I've always envied Marlon's talent, which was always so much greater than anybody else's. I feel cheated he hasn't made more films, but I understand his reason. I think he felt that acting was not a manly profession sometimes and sometimes I feel the same way. But with Marlon it's more that he's too good for any of this."
~ Paul Newman
"I love Marlon Brando. Never seen him bad, just less good."
~ Lee Marvin
"He's simply the best, and if he wants to call acting merely a craft, then he's the greatest craftsman who ever lived."
~ Dennis Hopper
"We forget how he revolutionised acting. Look at the chances he takes – think of all the stars who drift along playing themselves."
~ Anthony Quinn
"I think there's a well-known contest in the acting profession to see who can say the best stuff about Marlon."
~ Ex-housemate Jack Nicholson
"A woman mistook me for Brando. I [tried to] dissuade her but she kept coming back insisting I was Brando. Finally, I blew my top: 'Listen, lady, can't you get it through to your thick head that I am not Marlon Brando!' A broad smile crossed her face. She turned to her husband and said, 'See, I told you it was him.'"
~ Burt Reynolds
"He was fascinating to watch, he could do anything. It was the 'screw you' attitude. That takes tremendous courage or tremendous folly."
~ Anthony Hopkins
"He was smart, he knew everything. He was smarter than you – really clever. He made my films good. I helped him, but he helped me too."
~ On The Waterfront director Elia Kazan
"Marlon is such a pure piece of animal flesh. He's pan-sexual, beyond normalcy of any kind. Once in a while, he'll give you a few minutes of his special genius – magic time."
~ Roy Scheider
"If I've met three geniuses in my life, Marlon would have to be top of the list."
~ The Godfather/Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola
"Did you see Julius Caesar? I'll never forget that. It was like a furnace door opening – the heat came off the screen. I don't know another actor who could do that."
~ John Huston
"He'd drive you crazy. He does it over and over and over. Marlon would improve all the time. I'm not sure about the rest of us."
~ George C. Scott
"Anyone of my generation who tells you he hasn't 'done Brando' is lying."
~ The Godfather co-star James Caan
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BRANDO
ON ACTING... "Everybody is an actor… The only difference between an actor professionally and an actor in life is the professional knows a little bit more about it – some of them, anyway – and he gets paid for it. Acting is just hustling."
ON GROWING UP... "If I had been loved and cared for differently, I would have been a very different person. I went through most of my life afraid of being rejected and ended up rejecting most of those who offered me love because I was unable to trust them."
ON INTERVIEWS... "I've regretted most interviews because they don't write what you say… I've read so many interviews with people who are not qualified to give the answers to questions asked – questions on economics, archaeological discoveries in Tuscany, the recent virulent form of gonorrhea… I used to answer all those questions and then I'd ask myself: 'What the fuck am I doing?'"
ON AVOIDING INTERVIEWS... "I don't want to spread the peanut butter of my personality on the mouldy bread of the commercial press."
ON MOVIE STARS... "A movie star is nothing important. Freud, Gandhi, Marx – people are important. Movie acting is just dull, childish work."
ON NOT MEMORISING LINES... "You save all that time not memorising lines. You can't tell the difference. And it improves the spontaneity because you don't really know. You have an idea of it and you're saying it and you can't remember what the hell it is you want to say. I think it's an aid."
ON WOMEN... "I enjoy identifying and pushing the right emotional buttons of women. The less likely I was to seduce a woman, the more I wanted to succeed. Doing rude things to nuns was always a fantasy."
ON THE METHOD PHILOSOPHY... "I would not like to think that I'm an exponent of Stanislavsky's theatre or sense of theatre. I think what Stanislavsky had in mind has not been practised in America. Everything's been translated into money. If there were an American artform, it would be making money."
ON DISHONESTY... "I think I'd have made a good con-man. I'm good at selling lies smoothly, giving an impression of things as they are not and making people think I'm sincere. A good con-man can fool anybody, but the first person he fools is himself."
ON THE ARTS... "There's no culture in the United States. The last great artist died maybe 100 years ago. In any field. 'And so petty men peep about between the legs to find ourselves dishonourable graves.'"
ON FALSE MOMENTS IN ACTING... "A prostitute can capture a moment! A prostitute can give you all kinds of wonderful excitement and inspiration and make you think that nirvana has arrived on the two o'clock plane, and it ain't necessarily so."
ON HIS SCREEN HIATUS... "People ask that a lot. They say, 'What did you do while you took time out?' – as if the rest of my life is taking time out. But the fact is, making movies is time out for me because the rest, the nearly complete whole, is what's real for me. I'm not an actor and haven't been for years. I'm a human being – hopefully a concerned and somewhat intelligent one – who occasionally acts."
ON BEING AN OUT-OF-WORK ACTOR... "If you're successful, acting is about as soft a job as anybody could ever wish for. But if you're unsuccessful, it's worse than having a skin disease."
ON PLAYING PARTS... "There are some scenes, some parts that are actor proof. If you don't get in the way of the part, it plays by itself. And there are other parts you work like a Turk on to be effective."
ON ALTERNATIVE LIVES... "I think I would have liked to be a cave man, a Neolithic person. It would have been nice to see what the common denominator of human existence was before it started to be fiddled with."
ON THE FUTURE... "I'm going to live to be a hundred and then I plan to clone myself, with all of my talent and none of my neuroses."
ON MOVIES AS ART... "I don't think any movie is a work of art. I simply do not."
ON HAPPINESS... "The happiest moments of my life have been in Tahiti. If I ever came close to peace on Earth, it was on my island among the Tahitians."
THE 10 GREATEST ROLES
~ BY ROB FRASER ~
THE MEN (1950)
With Broadway critics waxing rhapsodic over his potent physicality, Brando showed typical perversity in selecting a wheelchair-bound war hero for his celluloid debut. Ken Wilcheck is an all-American boy consumed with bitterness and dread of the life of dependency that awaits him (the soldier on whom the role was based would subsequently commit suicide). Setting a precedent for all Method devotees, Brando got into character by spending three weeks in the paraplegic ward of a veterans hospital. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Ken spitting anger and sexual frustration at devoted, upbeat fiancée Ellen.
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
Coppola's jungle folly was already notorious, so turning up on location overweight and under prepared may have been an attempt to get into the spirit of the production. With the more combative aspects of Colonel Kurtz' 'warrior poet' character toned down, Brando was free to read T. S. Eliot and improvise with a recuperating Martin Sheen and a well-medicated Dennis Hopper. The results were indulgent, pretentious and mesmerising: emerging from the darkness, Brando's domed head is as striking an image as the napalmed tree line. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Disgust vying with admiration during the 'severed arms' speech.
THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976)
Robert E. Lee Clayton is a regulator brought in to deal with a gang of rustlers: a stock Western character in a standard horse opera scenario, yet Brando attacks the part from a variety of eccentric angles. Clayton's accent wanders to Ireland and back, his flamboyant wardrobe includes women's clothes, he is depicted to be more violent than the outlaws themselves, and there is the odd hint that he might be romantically involved with his horse. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Carrying out a murderous ambush while dressed as an old lady, then muttering, "Granny's tired..."
ONE-EYED JACKS (1961)
Already starring as Rio, Brando stepped behind the camera to replace Stanley Kubrick, and though it's tempting to wonder what might have been, the film as is has a lot going for it. Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson hold their own alongside director and fellow Method graduate Karl Malden (Dad Longworth), and complex psychological motives underpin the essentially simple revenge plot – a reworking of the Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid legend. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Rio learning to shoot again after Dad has smashed his gun hand.
THE WILD ONE (1953)
That other icon of 1950s' delinquency, James Dean, looks like something of a wuss compared to Johnny Strabler and the rest of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The hepcat dialogue has dated and the film betrays its low budget at times, but Brando is extremely cool and the camera lusts after him almost as much as small-town good girl (and sheriff's daughter!) Kathie Bleeker. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: No contest: a girl is intrigued by the gang's name and calls out, "Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" "Whaddaya got?" is the immortal reply.
JULIUS CAESAR (1953)
The knives were out for this one: how would the Method torch bearer, fabled for relying on instinct and celebrating inarticulacy, cope with the constraints of iambic pentameter? Brando's Mark Anthony is a triumph, matching the classically trained titan John Gielgud in terms of controlled technique, and having the courage to hint at raw emotion beneath a surface of dutiful nobility. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: "Friends, Romans, countrymen..." You've heard elements of this speech dozens of times, but Brando makes it seem as immediate and urgent as a newsflash.
THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972)
From the opening shot of Brando grimacing in anguish to the violent conclusion, the intensity is unremitting. With Corleone's facial padding gone, the world's most beautiful male visage made a glorious return, only for the sensuous mouth to spout obscenities that still shock today. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: The scene in which Paul sits with his wife's corpse. The viewer feels like someone intruding on private grief as anger, loss, remorse, guilt. resentment and, ultimately, heartbreaking love come pouring out of him.
THE GODFATHER (1972)
After a decade of flops, Brando came to The Godfather unbankable, unreliable and - with the crucial exception of Francis Ford Coppola – unwanted; he left with a revitalised career and a (famously declined) Best Actor Oscar. Don Corleone is ruthless, warm, funny, cunning, compassionate, lethal. Brando plays these characteristics to create a fully realised individual – the Vito who dances with his daughter is the same Vito who resolves disputes by decapitating thoroughbreds. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Magical stuff with Al et al, but don't forget the death scene in the garden.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
Sophisticated theatre-going women were so overwhelmed by Brando's stage incarnation of Stanley Kowalski that they threw their hotel room keys at him. The brutish sexuality isn't diluted by the transfer to screen or by time, but it's worthwhile pointing out Brando's skill with Tennessee Williams' often florid, and occasionally very funny, dialogue. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: The encounters with Vivien Leigh's Blanche still captivate, but it's Stanley bellowing his beloved's name, "Hey, Stellaaaaaaaa!", which has entered the collective consciousness.
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
Stanley Kowalski may have been the breakthrough but it's Terry Malloy who stands as Brando's most influential characterisation. Think of all the actors who've taken a messianic beating on film, think of every leading man who has played dumb and inarticulate, only to show a tender side with a kid/animal/astonishingly beautiful woman. Chances are they did it one of your favourite movies, so you too owe a debt to Marlon. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: "I coulda been a contender..." Malloy's punchy persona slips for a few devastatingly insightful moments as he reveals his brother's betrayal and his own feelings of worthlessness.
~ The Goodbye ~
SETTING THE SCENE
He had, of course, chewed on more memorable speeches, but Marlon Brando's career arguably contained no single scene as influential, or notorious, as his '$4 million for ten minutes' cameo in Richard Donner's 1978 blockbuster. Turning up late, overweight and under-rehearsed, Brando allegedly read his lines off baby Kal-El's diaper, and yet he still manages to invest Jor-El with Shakespearean gravitas. The template for all lucrative late-career cameos was cast here, although few stars achieve top billing for a couple of days' work in a silly wig. Intriguingly, the recent DVD release of Superman saw more precious Brando moments added to the mix.
INT. JOR-EL'S LAB – NIGHT
Having failed to convince Krypton's ruling council of the planet's imminent destruction, scientist Jor-EI has determined to at least save his son Kal-EI and is putting the finishing touches to a crystal ship that will spirit the infant to safety. Enter his wife Lara (Susannah York), carrying Kal-EI, who is swaddled in a cloth of red, yellow and blue. Jor-EI glances up from his work and the pair exchange a sad look.
Lara: Have you finished?
Pause. Jor-EI approaches her.
Jor-El: This is the only answer, Lara. If he remains here with us he will die as surely as we will.
Lara: But why Earth, Jor-El? They're primitives, thousands of years behind us.
Jor-El: He will need that advantage to survive. Their atmosphere will... will sustain him.
Pause. Jor-El goes back to work. Lara pursues him, not giving up.
Lara: He will defy their gravity.
Jor-El: He will look like one of them.
Lara: He won't be one of them.
Jor-El: No. His dense molecular structure will make him strong.
Lara: He'll be odd. Different.
Jor-El: He'll be fast. Virtually invulnerable.
Lara: Isolated. Alone.
Jor-El: (sighs) He will not be alone.
Jor-El looks deep into the crystal he holds in his hand, before carefully laying it down on the exterior of the ship.
Jor-El: He will never be alone.
CUT TO: EXT. – SPACE
The red sun surges ominously above Krypton.
CUT TO: INT. JOR-EL'S LAB
Kal-El's blanket has now been laid out in the ship. Lara passes the baby to her husband, who kisses him on the head before placing him on the blanket. The two parents hold each other as Jor-El makes his emotional goodbye.
Jor-El: You will travel far, my little Kal-El, but we will never leave you, even in the face of our deaths. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I've learned, everything I feel, all this and more I... I bequeath you, my son. (Jor-El touches his son's head.) You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, see my life through your eyes as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father... the son. This is all I... all I can send you, Kal-El.
Kal-El gurgles and makes as if to reach for his parents. Overcome, Lara buries her head in Jor-El's shoulder.
CUT TO: EXT. – SPACE
The red sun looks ever more ferocious.
CUT TO: INT. JOR-EL'S LAB
A final, strikingly green crystal emerges from one of Jor-El's strange lab pipes and Jor-El places it on the ship's exterior – the ship almost sings as the crystal completes it. Suddenly, the room jolts, and the ceiling starts to crumble – the destruction of Krypton has begun. Jor-El quickly waves his hand over the crystal controls of the ship, commanding the two halves to slowly close.
CUT TO: EXT. – SPACE
The red sun bears down upon poor, defenceless Krypton.
CUT TO: INT. JOR-EL'S LAB
Working the crystal controls, Jor-El commands the ship to rise just as Krypton begins crumbling. The planet soon starts breaking apart but Kal-El's ship makes a safe escape. As the ship crashes through the lab's glass ceiling, stirring music kicks in.
This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #182 (August 2004).