In our Film and Worldview class, students are encouraged to examine films in light of a Christian worldview. In this piece, Zoe Bushway explains the biblical truths of a secular film, The Dark Knight.
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The Dark Knight is regarded by many as the best film in The Dark Knight trilogy and quite possibly one of the best superhero movies. There are many reasons why this film works, but one is that it critiques two world views within the characters the Joker and Harvey Dent. It is a conflict of world views that makes the Joker a perfect adversary for Batman. The Joker rejects any idea of moral codes or rules while Bruce Wayne’s entire belief system in justice have to assume a moral code. The Dark Knight recognizes that even though every aspect of humanity is corrupted by sin; mankind is still capable of doing good. There are inklings of the Gospel in this storyline as it recognizes the total depravity of humanity and it’s need for sacrificial atonement.
Gotham, in Batman Begins, is a city filled with crime and has hardly any justice. Crime has gotten to the point where it no longer comes as a surprise, but is a part of life itself. Gotham could be compared to Israel in Judges 21:25 saying, “In those days, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” After Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, Bruce’s anger and strong sense of justice drives him to become Batman and do for Gotham what no one else will.
The hero of The Dark Knight is Bruce Wayne. He desires to save and stand up for Gotham, but he also wants to be with a woman named Rachel Dawes. She, however, is with Gotham’s district attorney, Harvey Dent. Harvey is portrayed through most of the film as the hero that Gotham deserves or needs, but later on become victim to the Joker’s “plans”. Bruce Wayne’s adversary is the Joker. He doesn’t challenge the physical strength of Batman, but instead he challenges his worldview. The Joker lives in the mindset that the morals of people are “a joke” and “the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.” In this, He puts Wayne in a position where his flaw, what he must lose to defeat the Joker, is his moral code.
The interrogation scene between the Joker and Batman most clearly shows the conflict between the worldviews. When the lights flip on, it is easily seen that the Joker has more power, however Batman is in charge the entire time as he appears bigger. He begins with using his own physical strength against the Joker. As they talk, the Joker purposes to him that as soon as the people no longer need Batman, “they’ll cast you out like a leper...their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble.” The camera angels shift between the Joker and Batman being in power. The Joker, though, dominates since he is not fighting with physical strength but by making gaining control through the weakness of Batman. He acts as if he understands Batman, leans forward like he understands batman. The reason why the Joker’s words hold so much weight to them and effect Batman so much is that they do have some truth to them. He is saying that their moral code is a joke, and when things get chaotic their moral code is rejected, the civilized people turning against one another. Wayne’s entire worlview assumes both a moral code, justice, and people’s capability of good. Batman is angered at this, beginning to, in a way, physically torture the Joker using his force. In laughing in his face the entire time he is being beat up, the Joker demonstrates his power over Batman.
The Apparent Defeat of Batman when the Joker has Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes are tied up in different locations, but both are surrounded by explosives. The Joker gives Batman the choice of either saving Harvey or Rachel, giving him the addresses of each. The catch was that the addresses were switched, so whichever one Batman chose he would inevitably be led to the other, thus stirring up chaos and disorder. As the Joker anticipated, Batman chose to find Rachel and ended up saving Harvey. This is both the breaking point for Harvey Dent and one apparent defeat for Batman. Harvey is convinced that Batman will go for Rachel and has come to terms with that, though Rachel would prefer it the other way. Harvey, upon being rescued, is devastated. He is saved right before the building blows up, though half of his face is burnt from the fire. A few scenes later, Bruce, having become depressed and hopeless, tells his mentor and gaurdian, “Did I bring this on her? I was meant to inspire good, not madness, not death.” Alfred reminds him that Gotham needs him, to which he contradicts in saying, “No, Gotham needs its true hero and I let that murdering psychopath blow him half to hell.” That is why, Alfred says, Gotham will need to “make do” with Batman, even though he is not the “hero” of Gotham.
The Final Confrontation between Batman and the Joker is during the Joker’s moral code experiment intended to prove his worldview that everyone can be corrupted. But instead it proves Batman's faith in humanity and belief that they are capable of doing good. The Joker put a bomb on a prison ship that was leaving and a bomb on a civilian ship that was leaving. On each ship is the activator to the other ship’s bomb. On prison ship, one prisoner takes the button because no one else wanted the guilt or responsibility of killing, saying to the guard, “You don't want to die, but you don't know how you take a life. Give it to me. Or I will kill you and take it anyway." But he soon realizes that he cannot do it and throws it in the ocean. While this is going on, the Joker and Batman at fighting on the top of a building. The Joker sends dogs to knock him down, then beating him up himself. He “predicts” when a ship will blow up, but it turned out that neither ship could do it; the man on the civilian boat came close blowing it up, but realizes the wrong in it. It is easy to tell that with each choice to not kill; the other people are disappointed when they failed at saving them. While the people did not “gladly” save each other, it does clearly show the people’s capability of good despite their corruption. Batman has the Joker hanging upside down on the side of the building, but will not kill him. The Joker says that this is “out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness.” Batman’s Self-Revelation comes when he tells the Joker that “this city just showed you that it’s full of people ready to believe in good.” He realizes the truth of that Gotham city is capable of doing good for others. It is brought to light that it was part of the plan for Harvey Dent, Gotham’s hero, to be corrupted. “Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push,” the Joker tells Batman.
Christians are usually uncomfortable with this scene because they think that it is denying the total depravity of mankind. The Bible’s teaching of total recognizes that every part of man is effected by sin, but it does not deny common grace. True, the heart of man is corrupt, but that never changes the fact that man is also made in the image of God, able to have faint reflections of His attributes. This is what the boat scene shows. Gotham city, though completely corrupt is still capable of doing good. Though their motives may not have been pure, nor their attitudes towards the choices, somehow good is still accomplished through a sinful people.
The Resolution of the film is Harvey Dent dying and Batman taking the blame for it. Harvey died after being stopped by Batman from killing Gordon’s wife and children. It’s seen that Harvey has truly been corrupted saying “you thought we could be decent men in an indecent time. But you were wrong. The world is cruel. And the only morality in a cruel world is chance.” Batman tries to show him that he is Gotham’s true hero, saying that the Joker chose “the best of us...to prove that even someone as good as you could fall.” Harvey is set on believing that the Joker was right, even someone as good as him could fall. Later in the scene, Batman rescues Gordon’s son, but in doing so falls off a level with Harvey. Batman survives the fall but Harvey doesn’t. He decides that since Gotham’s hero was destroyed by the Joker, Batman decides to take the blame for all of what Harvey Dent did, letting Gotham see Harvey as their hero. This is more or less a parody on substitutionary atonement in Christianity. It parallels with the Bible’s teaching of the desperate need of mankind for a hero because they cannot save themselves, however this kind of atonement isn’t the kind shown by Jesus. While Batman takes on the guilt of Harvey Dent so that Gotham can have him as a hero, Jesus is the savior of world, taking on its guilt and shame to save them from their sin. Batman takes the blame and guilt so that Harvey can still be the hero, but Jesus takes on the guilt and shame of the world so as to save and redeem them.
The Dark Knight is by far one of the best super-hero movies made. It shows, like mankind, a people corrupt and unable to save themselves. Gotham’s heart, like the that of mankind’s, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)” And it also shows people’s need for sacrificial atonement, though it is done for in very different reasons and in different ways. The Joker has hard postmodern view that the morals of man are a joke and with a small push, even the greatest of men can fall. He proves this through bringing low Gotham’s “white knight”, Harvey Dent, but fails in being unable to persuade prisoners and civilians to take the lives of the other in order to live on. The Joker’s view is disproved because Batman shows that the people least expected can still do good. Christopher Nolan’s film brings to light the truth that the fall did not take away the attributes of God that mankind can show. They are still capable of good, but are also in desperate need of a hero, a savior.
By Zoe Bushway
Zoe Bushway is a 16 year old sophomore and this is her second year doing live classes at VSA. She has a passion for sciences, but she also enjoys writing, photography, and art. Zoe and her family currently live in Shannon, Mississippi.
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