Movie Commentary: The Dark Knight


The Dark Knight has opened to record setting box office. The film is one that has caught the interest of the American public.  Many have grown up devouring the Batman stories from the early serials, the television show, the cartoons, and the comic books.  Most Americans are very familiar with Batman. It is an essential American morality tale.

                The newest incarnation of the Caped Crusader doesn’t disappointment.  As already been largely publicized Heath Ledger steals the show. There is a thing about artists and performers. There are technical performers and performances, and there are those who transcend mere technical proficiency.  Heath Ledger’s Joker performance rises well beyond a technically solid performance to one that will long be remembered and is what makes the movie special.  The other actors in the film play their roles in a technically efficient manner but there is a noted difference when the Joker is on screen. 

                A prime example of the difference is the performance of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey “Two-face” Dent. He performs the character technically okay, he displays the tension and conflict, but you really never get a deep sense of the struggle and of the rage that pushes him over the edge. In comparison, whenever the Joker is on the screen, it is enthralling. Probably the only actor that comes close to matching Heath Ledgers performance is Gary Oldman playing soon to be Commissioner Jim Gordon. While not the engaging and enthralling performance of the Joker, Gary plays Jim Gordon adeptly and was more then technically proficient.

                Now I have seen folks complain elsewhere that the movie shouldn’t have included Harvey “Two-face” Dent. Perhaps, it was the mere technical performance of the actor that leads to the sentiment. Perhaps it was the engaging performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker, but regardless Harvey “Two-face” Dent was an integral part of the story the writers and director were telling. The story clearly took the current events of the “war on terror” and incorporated thoughts into the morality play told in this film. So lets examine some of the elements of the story being told. At this point if any reader doesn’t want to know any details of the elements of the story they should stop reading until after viewing the film.

The writers of the film and story clearly drew strongly from the concepts of knights and chivalry. There is lots of references of both the White Knight Harvey “Two-face” Dent and that of Batman living by following a code of honor so to speak. Harvey Dent represents the code of law and the person people need in order to be rid of societal problems and crime.  Batman is the antithesis. He lives by personal morals, his own code of honor, which includes not killing. He desperately wants the hero of the law to replace him, so he can live his own life (with Rachel.)  However, both stretch the limits of the code and the story seems to indicate that such a code actually results in allowing evil to continue.

                 There was also some dichotomy related to the villains. You have the standard class of crooks who are into advancing their territory and money.  These crooks even reach high levels of corporate corruption.  However, they each are shown to be in it for themselves, even when trying to work together.  The other level of villain is the type that “wants to watch the world burn.” They are not into kingdom building but into messing with others, just because they can.  The Joker represents the embodiment of that type of villain. He messed with everybody and anything.  The Joker in movie himself stated he “turns plans upside down.”  You even have the Joker playing fast and loose with the origins of his scare, telling differing stories to those he is about to carve up. 

                So you have layers of good, layers of evil. But ultimately the story is centered on the layers of order versus chaos.  The Joker references during his sad final scene that he and Batman are in for an eternal struggle, since neither will kill the other.  Batman represents the epitome of order, the Joker the epitome of chaos.  Batman ultimately out to protect the citizens of Gotham and the Joker just out to mess with everyone.

                The movie portrays that the Joker ultimately believes that everyone is out for themselves and their own plans.  In engaging in his evil deeds, he constantly sets out ethical and moral dilemmas.  He sets up people to make a choice for the greater good or for their own personal plans. There are people who clearly choose the perceived greater good. You have Batman choosing the “White Knight” over the standard chivalrous expectation of saving the damsel in distress. You have corrupt cops choosing corruption to protect their kingdoms.  Then there is the setting up two groups of citizens against each other with the added complexity of one set of citizens being mostly crooks.  In both cases, ultimately the choices are made for the greater good.

                Yet, not all choices are choices made for the good. Harvey Dent becomes wrapped in bitterness and rage and seeks revenge on those who he believes made the wrong choice and ultimately cost him his family in the death of Rachel.  The essential selfishness of people is reflected and challenged. The writers gave Harvey Dent the line “Either die a hero, or live long enough to be a villain.”  The line suggests an awareness that eventually those operating in the heroic will be brought down, because of their own very choices.  And Harvey in fact played that out, being overcome with rage and seeking revenge. The “White Knight” tarnished.

                There also were the constant challenges to Batman to live by his code or cross a line.  He does manage to refrain from killing yet walks across another line. The line he crossed was that of amassing great power through surveillance in order to catch the villain.  He did what needed to be done, but still kept it within a limit for the just cause; in essence, an example of ‘the ends justify the means’ as long as it doesn’t cross the line and is only temporary.  

                 Another theme is that of sacrifice and the importance of symbols.  Batman had become a symbol to the city that others were emulating and impersonating him, while not even living by his code. You have Jim Gordon appearing to sacrifice self to save the mayor.   You have Harvey Dent proclaiming self to be Batman. And at the end you have Batman taking the heat to protect the image of the “White Knight” a symbol of law and order.  It looks like the essential point that the symbols of hope are needed and society needs someone to look up to, and if it is Batman, then lives are put at risk.

                Another essential point though is that deception is a necessary tool.  Batman needs to deceive to be able to operate.  Jim Gordon needed to deceive to stay alive.  Alfred needed to deceive in order to protect Batman.  And the city needs to deceive the citizens in order to protect the symbol of the White Knight and protect lives and order.  The end result even of the use of deception is that Batman is portrayed as not just a hero, but a special guardian that does what is necessary, even to the point of being falsely accused. 

                The movie doesn’t an excellent job of protraying the need for choices made for the greater good. The movie does suggest that there are limits to power any one man can manage. The movie does frequently suggest that we are all capable of great evil, and of operating selfishly and not operating toward the greater good, the benefits of society.

    The movie does show people of all sorts seeking after personal kingdom, ultimately looking for own good. Kingdom building is seen in citizens, it is seen in crooks and is contrasted by people making choices looking for the greater good, that being the well being of society as a whole.  The story also indicates that those who live by a code of honor, in fighting evil, have to push the limits of the code. In contrast,  The Bible indicates that we are all selfish and ultimately will all fail to live by any code. The Bible indicates that the greater good is only found in Yeshua the Messiah. The greater good is recognizing our selfishness and surrendering to the Kingdom of God.  It is not about what is “best” for society as a whole, but what God wants and desires, which is not just following a code of honor or sacrificing for the greater good.

                Codes of honor are found everywhere; Hinduism, Buddhism, Druidism, Occultism, Islam, and so on.  Every fails even at the most flawed codes of honor.  The Bible has high standards and we all falter, yet provides an answer for our faltering. Yeshua paid the penalty for our sins. He didn’t just take the blame, but he took the penalty for all violations of code of honor.  And only by accepting that gift and turning from are own kingdom building, can there be any freedom. 

                Also biblically, it is clear that the ends do not justify the means.  Each choice has consequences.  The story Dark Knight did show that there are consequences to choices, but suggested that some choices are okay and it is the results that matter.  In the Bible it is the state of the heart, it is the need of surrender to the Kingdom of God through accepting the gift of Jesus taking all penalties.

                For truth and good to triumph, there is no need for deception. Deception is a tool of selfishness and self-protection There will always be choices to make regarding following are own way or surrendering to God’s way. There is no eternal struggle between order and chaos. Evil has its limits and the time of evil and chaos will come to an end. 

                So, in thinking about the movie and the morality tale, I prefer the path of Yeshua over that of the morality portrayed in the film, which ultimately depends on a transcended, troubled human that relies on a self-built kingdom and has strength in technology. My strength is in Yeshua, the only true Guardian and Savoir of humanity.  I would love to hear any comments you have on this commentary. Did I miss any important elements? How does the morality of the film stack up to your beliefs and morality?  How does it stack up to the Bible?


One Response

  1. Very good, I enjoyed it, and agreed with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: