“The Dark Knight” of the Soul – Part Two

 

In the lead-up to the film’s release, Nolan mentioned that the character of Harvey Dent/Two-Face was the emotional heart of the film. I had suspected that was Nolan’s way of “throwing a bone” to actor Aaron Eckhart, lest his performance be lost in the mania surrounding Ledger’s epic turn. But Nolan spoke rightly, as Dent’s character ties the film together. He represents the drama of the individual soul, as both good and evil, the way of Satan and the way of Christ, wage war for its allegiance. The Joker seeks to draw Dent, a D.A. crusading against evil and recovering from a horrific accident, into sharing his hell-bent way of life, as Satan did with our first parents (Gen. 3). Dent takes the bait and, as Two-Face, begins a reign of murder of his own, like Cain. Batman vicariously substitutes himself for Dent, taking the blame for Dent’s crimes and making himself public enemy #1 in the process, echoing Jesus’ self-dereliction on the cross.
Dent’s marred visage points to the potential evil lurking within all of us, and the ugliness of sin, although the capacity for good remains. Gotham is not Calvin’s Geneva, with its “total depravity” of mankind – a view the Joker shares. “When the chips are down, these people will eat each other, you’ll see”. The inherent good in human nature shines through even in a film dark as this, as the Joker discovers when his plan to cause citizens to kill each other fails in the most surprising of ways. Dent’s character beautifully represents the power of good example and also the nagging pull of original sin, and the choice we must all make each day: to give in to the darkness or strive for heroic virtue. Harvey Dent/Two-Face is like Simon/Peter, and so are we. We are like Simon when our faith fails; when we sin and deny our Lord by our actions. We are like Peter when we choose the light of Christ in a dark world – as Dent once tried to be: “decent men in an indecent world”.
A great theme in TDK is the personal cost involved in standing against evil. As any Christian knows, the moment one attempts to subdue sin, in one’s own life or in the culture, the spiritual battle intensifies. Temptations to fall increase, like Dent discovered firsthand: the darkness hates the light. But choosing not to stand is far worse. As Edmund Burke said so long ago, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Intentions are not enough. We must have, as does Batman, the will to act. A line from The Dark Knight himself, uttered in Batman Begins, says it well: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” And so it is with us all.

“The Dark Knight” of the Soul – Part One

This is part one of my most recent Catholic Insight article, a film review of The Dark Knight, the latest Batman film.  

In a previous article (Catholic Insight, Sept. 06), I noted the Christological themes inherent in Superman Returns. The Dark Knight, the second installment of the Batman film franchise, so skillfully rebooted by director Christopher Nolan with 2005’s Batman Begins, also deals in spiritual issues – but in a much more nuanced manner. As Father Joseph Singh has noted, the difference between Superman Returns and these new Batman movies is the difference between C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, where Christian symbolism is obvious, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, where one must look for God, and the devil, for that matter, in the details.

The Dark Knight’s devil is Heath Ledger’s diabolical Joker: tongue slithering over hideously scarred lips, he is a liar through and through – like Satan himself, who Christ called “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The Joker offers conflicting (but equally disturbing) accounts of the source of his wounds, and claims there’s no method to his madness (“I’m a dog chasing after cars; I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one”). Yet, he meticulously scripts his nefarious schemes to the nth degree, exhibiting a seemingly preternatural intelligence befitting a fallen angel. The final act pictures the Joker surrounded with three hounds as if from hell, underlining the source of his destructive madness.
The late Ledger’s performance lives up to, and surpasses, all the hype surrounding it. A posthumous Oscar would be an accolade well earned – no sympathy votes necessary. Makeup notwithstanding, Ledger totally disappears into the role, and his Joker gets the chilling treatment the character deserves – his is a truly frightening and malevolent presence, not Jack Nicholson’s comic buffoon.  
Batman/Bruce Wayne is played again, ably, by Christian Bale. Fitting, for his character truly represents the Christian and his struggle against evil. Superman, like Christ, was born great, but Batman has struggled to achieve greatness. Like us, he has fought something like the spiritual battle St. Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6, as the apostle reminds us to don the armour of God to battle the wickedness of the devil. Batman uses his own high-tech weaponry and armour to whistand the Joker’s assaults, resisting the temptation to compromise with evil, to break his “one rule”: Batman will not kill. 

Batman is actually less like a Christ figure than Pauline in his approach. As St. Paul once said, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” ( 1 Cor. 11:1), Batman has sought to inspire others to take back the streets of Gotham City. Other similarities abound: in one scene, Bruce Wayne reveals the scars on his body resulting from his war on evil. Saint Paul wrote, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6: 17), suffering numerous stonings, beatings, and lashes (2 Cor. 11:16-12:10) to proclaim Christ. The extreme measures to which both Paul and Batman will go to combat the darkness are striking. Paul traversed the known world on his missionary journeys. Batman, in one of TDK’s most thrilling sequences, even reaches Hong Kong in his pursuit of the criminal element. 

Stay tuned to this same Bat-channel for part two!!

Welcome to FX: The Faith Explained

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Cale Clarke

Director, FX: The Faith Explained Catholic Seminars