“The Dark Knight” – A Longing for Justice and Order
We just finished watching about thirty minutes of home-edited footage featuring cartoon, Asian, and “Splat”-”Pow” Batmen (and we even saw a clip of Christian Bale from Newsies), and the movie was getting ready to start. My wife, Julianna, and I had decided to get our money’s worth out of the new Batman movie, and watch it at the Alamo Draft House – my preferred venue for all movies. We had ordered our food – a grilled chicken club and an Asian Chicken Salad, were ready for our beer, and were patiently awaiting the start of the movie. As time went on, the pre-previews ended, the previews passed, and the movie began – our food had not yet come, and all around us, people were enjoying their pizzas, cheesy fries, and buckets of beer. Where was our food? It just didn’t seem fair. We wanted justice. We wanted order. We wanted the yearning in our bellies to be satiated. We wanted our food.
Watching The Dark Knight was a lot like waiting on our food for over an hour. We couldn’t keep our minds off the pain, the hurt, the hunger, the injustice. With each new pang of disorder that materialized in the plot, we were sucked in further – waiting for justice, waiting for order, waiting for retribution. Isn’t that why we love the Batman stories? This one was no different in plot than any of the others, but it’s portrayal, acting, and even shot selection lended itself toward a much deeper depiction of evil and thus a higher longing for justice than any of the Batman movies before it.
The story is set in Gotham City, a city that has fallen on hard times
but is gaining some semblance of order as Batman hopes to inspire an
incitement for retribution in the citizens. But his oppression of
gangsters and mobsters in Gotham creates an explosive backlash as a new
type of criminal is introduced to the city – the Joker. As opposed to
the criminals before him, the Joker instigates a city of anarchy and
disorder through his psychotic games, needless killing, and valueless
robberies. Rather than becoming the utopian society that Batman longs
to see, Gotham city takes on a “clockwork orange” nihilistic make-over
to further become a dystopian city that is leading more to anomie.
Spoiler Alert – Do Not Keep Reading if You Don’t Want to Know Specifics in the Movie
is a particularly gripping scene in the movie in which the Joker has
succeeded in breaking down all of the established order, and all of the
citizens are attempting to flee Gotham City. While all the streets are
jammed with cars attempting to leave the city, ferry boats appear to
cart citizens to safety. Somehow the Joker rigs two of the ferries to
stop dead, mid-escape. He has loaded each boat with a bomb for which
the other boat has the detonator: one boat is full of criminals while
the other boat is full of law abiding citizens. The Joker tells each
of the members of the boats that if they do not use the detonator, he
will blow up both boats at midnight. So, each ferry is presented with
a moral dilemma. They can either save themselves and sacrifice the
other boat by pulling the trigger, or they can sacrifice both
themselves and the other boat by refusing the play the game.
this dilemma is playing out, Batman is slugging it out with the Joker
from a nearby vantage point on top of an unfinished building. They are
clearly juxtaposed as the epitomes of good and evil. Batman stands for
order and justice, while the Joker is seemingly Batman’s equal
representing chaos and degeneracy. The Joker firmly believes that he
can create a fully dystopian society with his anarchic behavior, and
looks on with glee at his experiment with the ferries. Batman, who has
seemed somewhat naive up to this point in his lack of understanding of
the depravity of Gotham, smiles at the end result as midnight passes,
and neither boat chooses to sacrifice the other, but to stand up for
What makes this scene so riveting is how both Batman and the
Joker underestimate the citizens of Gotham. Batman believes that all
people were good and only needed a heroic example to bring Gotham back
to utopia, while the Joker believes that all people are evil and only
need a push to bring them to madness or a nihilistic state. Hidden in
these assumptions is the truth: the doctrine of common grace. While it
is true that mankind is more evil than we ever could imagine, all of
mankind is loved by a God that has given us common grace. We are
totally depraved, not utterly depraved. Sin has infected everything,
but the Lord has kept us from being as bad as we could possibly be.
We, like the citizens of Gotham, are subject to fear and pandemonium,
but at the same time we have a grace that is common to all of us, and a
longing for order, justice, and even mercy.
non-Christians all yearn for peace and retribution. As Christians we
have the knowledge, hope, and joy of knowing that our “Knight” has
already defeated evil, and that ultimate justice and mercy is coming.
The Dark Knight helps us to see, better than many movies, how everyone
PS: We got our food after about an hour, and it was delicious.
What did you think of the movie?
What I found most interesting about this movie was the end.
Some people I spoke with walked out of the film feeling sad and hopeless. No doubt they were beaten down by the intensity of The Joker’s insanity and his evil-for-evil’s sake mentality. And I can’t deny that after the credits finished rolling, I needed a hug.
But, I also saw distinct Christ-like parallels in the choice that Batman made at the end of the film — and as a result, I felt hopeful about the story in general. In order to allow the people of Gotham to retain their hero, Batman takes the blame for the actions of one of the villains (Harvey Dent/Two-Face). In so doing, Batman chooses to make himself misunderstood and despised. He sacrifices himself for the people that he loves, to bear the pain and evil for them.
I’d like to think that the film’s director (Chris Nolan) had this in mind. But the cynic in me tends to think otherwise. What might be more likely is simply that singular story of self-sacrifice (how’s that for alliteration?) which keeps on getting told over and over again. Even without realizing it, storytellers manipulate elements of the Gospel because those elements (self-sacrifice, death and resurrection) are what calls our hearts more than anything else.
Anyway, I couldn’t help but think of Batman during the closing comments of Bill’s sermon last Sunday. How Christ became Leah for us and how Batman had to become Two-Face (a villain) for Gotham. The parallel makes me smile, but it’s also exciting for me to see a distinct depiction of the Gospel in popular culture. That plus an eighteen wheeler flying up vertically and tipping over backwards makes for some good movie-going.
Anyway, I hope this post isn’t too ridiculously long.
But Batman doesn’t really *win* in the sense that he gets rid of the Joker. Even though he’s caught, even though he’s going to Arkham Asylum the Joker will remain unpunished. The chaos of his mind will keep out any order, even in prison, and soon of course he’ll escape and try to reduce Gotham to chaos. So Batman’s business about becoming an exile for the sake of the city is a total joke if he’s not willing to go the distance to REALLY beat the Joker.
About the boats – if Gotham is populated by two ferries worth of randomly selected citizens none of whom will press the detonator button I can’t understand why they have all these problems in the first place.
Anyways, the only way Batman can defeat the Joker is to become more insane than he is and collapse chaos into order. This is the story of Scripture, where the devil is not only evil but chaos and anarchy. God, in his victory over Satan, becomes more insanse and more chaotic than the devil by sacrificing himself to defeat evil and chaos, and he is not dying to bring a kind of order like Batman’s politically-relevant cell-phone tapping escapades (certainly proof of the evil and perversion of this kind of order – Batman cements his loss of goodness in this move and his redemption in the film is questionable at best).
Just because the devil knows Scripture is not enough proof to think that he understands it. In the desert the devil tempts Jesus without the demonic shuddering we’re led to expect from the writings of James. Of course this is the last time we see the devil get in Christ’s face, and because Christ immaculately passed the trials the Devil starts to get a clue and work through people and ends up killing Jesus and he thinks that he’s won. Much like Batman and Commissioner Gordon think THEY’VE won when they capture the Joker – a complete inversion of the biblical story.
While I do agree that we may have given the movie-makers and watchers too much credit for being like Christ, I can’t agree with the notion that the Dark Knight is promoting an inverse story of redemption. Batman has analogous characteristics to Christ, but he can’t be Jesus. Perfect analogies of the way the Lord works to bring mercy, justice, and redemption to the world do not exist. In fact, the only way to offer a perfect representation for what the Lord does and has done is to offer scripture alone. Worldly examples fall flat, because they are created by creation – not the creator. But, all that being said, I would actually disagree that the Batman story is an inverse of the Bible’s story of Christ’s redemption, because of the parallelism between the endings: the final 15 minutes of the movie and the final chapters of Revelation.
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while….And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea….[A]nd the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” – Revelation 20:1-3, 7-8, 10
The Dark Knight ends with the mere binding of the Joker. He has not been fully brought to justice, but because he is brought to captivity he no longer has the power that He once did. Although it was not Batman’s sacrificial act at the end of the story that fettered the Joker, it was his work. Similarly, (without getting into a theological debate on the different views of Revelation and the Millennium) Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross hogtied Satan. He can no longer reign free; he is in shackles. Despite the most significant redemptive event in history, the devil has not yet been brought to justice – that is yet to come.
Even though the Dark Knight ends the Batman story at this point – with the Joker being confined in prison, destined to come back out (as far as we know), scripture, on the other hand, did not end it with an insignificant binding of Satan. Christ will release him for a while, but ultimate justice will reign. The devil will be destroyed by the Lord.
We have yet to see whether or not Batman will eventually bring full justice to Gotham City by destroying the Joker, but suffice it to say that the analogy breaks down in that Batman (as opposed to all other super-heroes) is meant to be a human character – he cannot fly; he cannot teleport; and HE IS CERTAINLY NOT JESUS. His attempts at bringing justice will look like ours. “His redemption in the film is questionable at best” is a true statement, and in a world without Christ (where he is not perfectly meant to be Christ), a questionable redemption is better than we could possibly hope for.
Batman as a perfect analogy to the Lord’s justice and redemption breaks down when nuanced. Batman is human – Christ is both human and God. Batman is prone to sin – Christ is without sin. But despite these breakdowns, the story runs similarly to that of scripture. Their work shackled evil personified (the Joker and the devil), and although justice has not been brought completely – we have reason to hope that it will.
PS: In regards to the boats. Although this wasn’t the initial point, it is actually not a a perfect random assortment of the citizens of Gotham in those ferries. The Joker had told everyone who wanted to live by his anarchic rules (what an oxymoron) to stay in Gotham, while everyone else is told to flee. So, in actuality, the ferries are filled with people who are against his anarchy (not a full representation of Gotham) – if he is the epitome of evil, then the sheer fact that they are leaving Gotham shows that they are not like him. And those who are left in Gotham are far more the cause of the dystopia than those in the ferries.
My point in mentioning the ferries had more to do with Batman and the Joker’s underestimation of the human condition in everyone – total depravity alongside common grace. The director, writers, etc. may not have intended to show this (in fact, I’m almost certain they were promoting a humanistic ideal), it nonetheless exemplifies this in a very good and real way.
The first sentence should say “too much credit for creating a story like Christ’s” not “too much credit for being like Christ.”