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July 21, 2008

Not Just Another Action/Comic Book Movie

The_dark_knight Like millions of other Americans, I headed to the theater on Friday to see the latest installment of the Batman films, The Dark Knight. After all the hype, and especially after all the sentimental reactions to this being Heath Ledger's last role, I went into the experience just a bit skeptical: Could the movie be as good as the pre-release buzz indicated?

The answer is a resounding "Yes!" And this review from Todd Hertz over at Christianity Today explains why. Aside from the incredible performance by Ledger, the film asks some pretty big questions about how good people battle evil -- both the evil without and the evil within. And it doesn't arrive at pat or simplistic answers.

The Dark Knight is the first film I've seen this summer that I would see again. In fact, I'm sure that I'll need multiple viewings to appreciate all that's there. Hertz's one complaint -- that the movie may be a bit too ambitious -- is justified. On the other hand, a movie this dense also rewards those who see it again and again. Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale deserve two thumbs up for their take on the Batman myth, and Heath Ledger more than deserves the Oscar.

(Image © Warner Brothers)

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Rolley Haggard

Well, I finally watched The Dark Knight. Yes, for the first time. On the blistering edge of the cultural event horizon I will never be. Somewhere along the line I seemingly gave what many would contend is a little too much weight to the proposition that “they also serve who only stand and wait”. (But I console myself that, in the final analysis, it was the methodical tortoise, not the frantic hare, who won).

Anyhow, I chose New Year’s Eve night, since fireworks from celebratory neighbors precluded sleep anytime before 1:00 am.

But after watching this latest Batman film, sleep was all but futile anyway. By that I mean, in a word, wow.

I’m convinced, now more than ever, that very often the story says more than the author intended. Or as C.S. Lewis put it from the perspective of the audience, “men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed.”

To some this will sound strange, but I found myself worshiping the Christ mystically adorned in cape and cowl; my holy communion consisting of coke and popcorn. Lewis, I think, would understand, for he went on to say, “To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myth. The one is hardly more necessary than the other.” -- from his essay "Myth Became Fact" (1944)

What really impressed me was the last 5 of the movie’s 153 minutes. For those with impaired (or overloaded) memories, I reproduce here the script from the closing scene:

Gordon: The Joker won. Harvey’s prosecution, everything he fought for, everything Rachel died for. Undone. Whatever chance Gotham had of fixing itself….dies with Harvey’s reputation. We bet it all on him. The Joker took the best of us and tore him down. People will lose all hope.

Batman: No they won’t. They can never know what he did.

Gordon: Five dead? Two of them cops? We can’t sweep that under –

Batman: No, but the Joker cannot win. Gotham needs its true hero.

Gordon: You? You can’t –

Batman: Yes, I can. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things because I’m not a hero, like Dent. I killed those people. That’s what I can be.

Gordon: No, you can’t! You’re not!

Batman: I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be.

INSERT CUT: GORDON STANDS AT A PODIUM AT DENT’S FUNERAL. BEHIND HIM IS A LARGE PHOTOGRAPH OF DENT SMILING.

Gordon: ….a hero. Not the hero we deserved – the hero we needed. Nothing less than a knight. Shining….

BACK TO FORMER SCENE

Gordon: They’ll hunt you.

Batman: You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me….because it’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough…sometimes people deserve more.

BATMAN HURRIES OFF, LIMPING INTO THE SHADOWS.

James runs down the stairs to join father.

James: Why’s he running, Dad?

Gordon: Because we have to chase him.

James: He didn’t do anything wrong! Why, Dad? Why?!

Gordon: Because….he’s the hero Gotham deserves…but he’s not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him because he can take it, because he’s not our hero…he’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector….a dark knight.

* * *

While many reviewers have opined that the story is chiefly about evil, I was struck that the story is just as much about redemption – that is, just as much about Batman (Christ in cape and cowl) as about the Joker (Satan with the mask off). In fact, more so, because although the battle still rages (i.e., the Joker still lives and has made his point and has caused us to feel the near-invincible power of evil), it is the undying faithfulness of the suffering Batman (Christ) that our hope (represented by Gordon, who knows the truth) is not vain. For it is Batman (Christ), the one who is willing to be “the guilty party”, to forfeit for a time our respect and adoration, to endure our suspicion, discontent, and animosity, to let us for awhile believe a lie about him (i.e., that he is responsible for our suffering) -- if in so doing we are helped. It is he who continues to war against evil for our sakes until evil is finally and forever overcome. How can I but worship the substance (Christ) behind the form (Batman)?

LeeQuod

Rolley wrote: "On the blistering edge of the cultural event horizon I will never be."

You're ahead of me, my friend; it's still true that the only "Dark [K]night" I'm familiar with is Kierkegaard's. (I did see the previous Batman movies, though.)

Once it comes out on cable I might give it a look, for worldview's sake. My primary reason for doing so would be the strength of your well-written review (although I *did* skip the spoiler). Bravo, sir, bravo!

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