Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finally Saw "The Dark Knight"

Yes, I confess to holding back The Dark Knight from reaching it's full potential as a block-buster. But I finally joined rank and coughed up $6 (matinee price) today to see the arresting and adumbral flick (thanks
So many ideas, so, so many thoughts. Here's the question that struck me most: Why do we love dark heroes? There's been no shortage of them -- Dirty Harry, Lieutenant Spears (Band of Brothers), Hellboy, Spawn, The Punisher, William Munny (Unforgiven), the Hulk, Danny Archer (Blood Diamond), Michael Corleone, Paul Kersy (Death Wish), Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), "V" (V for Vendetta), Wolverine, and perhaps the greatest of them all, the Batman.

So what generates their appeal? Here's a guess -- they can do bad-guy stuff and maintain (more or less) good-guy status. They channel their anger, vengeance and destructive power into a good cause. I think many of us have these impulses at times, but we can't indulge them. How many of you have patched a hole-in-the-wall or two? You may even imagine the satisfaction of punching some idiot's lights out occasionally. If you doubt the truth of my suspicion, I have three words for you: N - F - L. Even you girls have to admit that you played Rockem-Sockem Robots as a kid. We love vicarious violence. Watching Batman bring the full measure of his fury down on some crook's jaw is soooo satisfying.

Unfortunately, aside from the futuristic, military-doesn't-even-have-that-technology-yet body armor and Batmobile, this is all sadly out of touch with reality. You just can't do bad-guys stuff and stay good. All these stories get it dangerously wrong. Know who got it right? You guessed it: George Lucas. In his saga, the anti-hero is slowly but steadily ruined by his fits of rage and uncontrolled passion. But in The Dark Knight, Batman is able to do what Annakin could not -- he uses the Dark Side of the force without being consumed by it.

But we all know that Yoda and Aristotle are right. Doing evil, even for good reasons, does damage to your soul, and repeated evil doing will eventually make you evil. So, as badly as we want there to be Dirty Harrys and Wolverines, as badly as some of us want to be such characters, you simply can't have your proverbial cake of violence and eat it too. You can't continuously perform evil actions and still be the hero.


Anonymous Derek said...


Thanks for throwing your thoughts out there. I think that i have to disagree with some of what you said. While i agree that consistently evil actions can make a man evil, you have to factor intent into the equation. Is it about "anger/destructive power," or one's neighbor? I think that at least in certain instances that can be a real distinction, not just a justification for retribution.

In an extreme situation, which the movie tries to make abundantly clear that gotham is in such a place, it seems like doing the "wrong things for the right reasons" may be commendable.

Kind of like how Jesus commended David breaking God's law (the literal law, not merely the tradition of the elders) by entering into the temple and giving the consecrated bread to his buddies who were starving. Or Bonhoeffer's decision to kill Hitler, despite being a pacifist. I think that on purely biblical grounds the case can be made for the occasional "greater good" response.

Another key point i think that you missed. It seems to me the movie makes it clear that eventually Batman will become evil (two-face's line at the dinner early in the movie), but Batman's ethical virtue is found in being willing to be consumed by evil so that gotham will not. He is more concerned about the neighbor's soul than his own. I understand that this could get pretty dicey, but i think it is worth reflecting on, particularly for people like me (and you?) who have been trained to think of discipleship and obeying God in pietistic, individualistic terms. As long as we have proteted our own righteousness, then we're "good with God." I love this movie b/c that assumption is called into question. Please don't take offense, but i think that your post betrays a bit of this individualistic view of ethics.

One more thing. I do think that many of the choices the characters in the movie made are highly suspect, but nonetheless i love the movie b/c it refuses to simply buy into a completely black and white moral world. That is the farce to me. I think we can relate to batman because his choices seem to more closely mirror the complex and often tragic moral realities we all live in.

In my humble opinion, that is why we like the messy heroes, b/c that is the only type of hereo we ourselves can be, at least on this side of eternity.

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Derek said...

Oh, and if you disagree, my turqoise robot will kill your red robot! All for the greater good of course, and not out of vengeance :)

4:03 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I disagree, and I have dispatched my hitman Vito to "take care of you," before your comments lead society in the wrong direction.
Seriously, this is worth reflection. First of all, I'm not a pacifist. I think some harmful acts are justified. So, in Batman's case, I think some of his punches are good actions and not evil ones, for the reasons you mentioned. But are all of these actions justified? I think that would be a stretch. So, some of his actions are wrong and therefore causing harm to his own soul.
Is this individualistic? Hmmm. Let me put it this way -- one should care for one's own soul because that is what will best serve others. "Caring" for your soul doesn't necessarily mean *abstaining* from violence. It means watching for patterns of action and habits that develop over time. For instance, if Batman had kids at home, I think that over time, he would become violent with them if he continued to fight crime as he does. Isolated acts of violence for the protection of the weak will not ruin your soul, but habitual violence will. Tell me this -- would you let Jason Borne babysit your kids (if you had any)? Would you want Dirty Harry as your pastor or senator?
As for biblical precedent, I think this is the very reason God did not permit David to build the temple (1Chron. 22:7-9). David was a great man, but the violence he engaged in took a toll on him, I think.
Now, there is an X-factor in all this, and that is God's grace. God can mitigate the effects of sin and violence on our soul, but I think this is the exception.
The jedi give a good picture of what a mere human being might hope for. They kill only when necessary, and never out of anger, rage, or revenge. They are not pacifists, but neither do they use the dark side. I don't think you have to be Buddhist to appreciate them.
In sum, I think that if you habitually did the kinds of things that Batman does, you would end up looking like Darth Vader and not like Bruce Wayne.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Chris, I haven't seen the movie yet -- I am in the "wait for the DVD" category -- but I appreciated this post. After reading the comments, I agree with Derek that certain acts of violence can be necessary in unusual situations. But I agree with your larger point, that these actions do begin to rot the soul. Think about what would have happened to Bonhoeffer if he HAD killed Hitler. He wouldn't have felt like a superhero. The point that is closer to our everyday lives -- when we do stuff that we know is "not right" it doesn't sit right in our innards. I look forward to seeing the movie sometime.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

What's wrong with being a Pacifist?

5:27 PM  

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