by Eke Kalu
Christopher Okonkwo’s 4 minute short begins as a retelling of a classic narrative. A narrative best envisioned in the Superman – Lois Lane duo. Clarke Kent was created as a symbol, not only of All American goodness and its hogwash, but as the epitome of stereotyped female fantasy. The 1930’s, afterall, was an era where women’s thoughts largely found expression through a man’s pen. Their relationship, however, was not only idealized for women, but men as well. Clark Kent – a steaming hunk of muscle unfazed at sacrificing himself for the supposed greater good. He saves the day with a smile, inspiring hope, while lifting his lady love high into the air as he stares deep into her eyes.
Delusional indulgence has always found expression in romance. Even more so in the kind of forbidden love between an alien and a human. Superman first found his humanity in his parents, the people who had cared for him when his ship first landed on earth. In Lois, however, passion and attachment became his grounding factor. The very best expression of Superman’s humanity was found in their relationship. It was the reason he would run into every battle with the courage and will to win, but it was also the reason that losing her would mean losing himself. Which he did. He went insane, declared himself supreme ruler of the earth, and proceeded to strictly enforce his vision of peace upon humanity. Rather ironically, superman’s humanity was only secure in Lois’ invulnerability.
Love and Sacrifice is a skillful subversion of this sketch. Our superman is vulnerable, but not to some cheaply contrived plot device or famous bald headed nemesis. The chink in our superman’s armor is true love. The butterflies and jitters of its unending tug. His lover asks – “You’re a superhero, What could ever make you scared?” “You” He says, a shy smile creeping onto his face. “I fear that the love is not mutual.” This irony is the question and the answer is grinding and tragic. That a superpowered man, more convinced of his own absurd existence while doubtful of the reality of the shared love with his partner is a jarring juxtaposition that finds its roots in James Woods 2000’s essay on Zadie’s Smith’s debut novel – White Teeth. In this essay, James Woods first coined the term – Hysterical realism. In essence, he describes Hysterical realism as a growing, new genre that “contrasts elaborately absurd plotting with careful, detailed investigations of specific social phenomena.” In this case, the examination of love and its bindings through a superpowered lens. Our superhero asks the question, and as we find out, when love asks a question, a sacrifice is needed. The loss of Superman’s romance drove him to a killing spree, getting rid of those who dared disagree with him. The irony in itself was not the question of an untrue love but that of the nature of his own humanity. Love and Sacrifice turns this on its head. In depiction, it is insistent on our superhero’s humanity by exposing his vulnerability, his fear, his insecurity, his wanting for love. It appears to be that the film is giving us a glimpse into the feelings of our characters.
These feelings, however, are predicated on a single rule with which the story and its romance is ultimately grounded – that our superhero’s desire for love is his humanity. It leaves little room for depth, instead engorging itself on the rigidity of its principles. When this rule is broken, when this seeming vulnerability turns out to be untrue, there can only be one answer. We see a parallel to Superman’s injustice. Only this time, his humanity was never lost. It was never there, so it could not have been taken from him. This is the film’s true deceit, beginning as a sleight of hand, it bears the undertones of Postmodern art’s inherent cynicism. Its bold colors pop at us with both life and warning. Our superhero’s dark clad and his lover’s bright red dress embracing the colors of death and love.
The chemistry between our two actors takes time to build, the early exchange of compliments between the two lacked the fluidity of real lovers. The stiffness of their movements betrays a wooden awkwardness. They manage to grow into their roles as the film progresses, with Samuel Madu’s pop-eyed yet demanding husk standing in contrast to Regina Sarki’s naive desperation to prove her love.
Ultimately, the contrived complexity of its skeptical irony pales in comparison to a simpler, more human, more feeling narrative. Regardless, Christopher Okonkwo’s Love and Sacrifice is a perfectly crafted trick. Are you watching closely?
Love and Sacrifice