Friday, November 28, 2008

Light of the World -- The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
by Timothy Moranville

WARNING- SPOILER ALERTS- THIS POST CONTAINS INFORMATION ABOUT THE PLOT OF THE DARK KNIGHT THAT REVEALS INFORMATION ABOUT SCENES VITAL TO THE STORY. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM YET, BE WARNED THAT FURTHER READING WILL GIVE AWAY DETAILS ABOUT THE STORY AND MAY HINDER YOUR ABILITY TO FULLY ENJOY THE FILM.

It's been a while since I posted, so I should make this a good one. I recently watched this summer's blockbuster The Dark Knight, and I found some interesting content for discussion. As a huge comic book fan (which must be apparent to all- as one co-worker remarked, "you have that comic book geek look"), I eagerly anticipate comic book movies. I'm not the "get dressed up as your favorite superhero and camp out for two weeks in front of the theatre" comic book movie fan; but I am the "I read these books growing up and if they messed up the story I'm going to quit watching (Spiderman) films" kind of comic book movie fan. Anyway, I have some favorite superheroes, among which Batman ranks in the top three (Incredible Hulk is #1). I used to watch Batman reruns on TV growing up and tuned in to the after school cartoon as well. In addition to being a very visually appealing film (I'd be surprised if it doesn't win an Academy Award for makeup), the film gives the viewers a glimpse into the Joker's head as well as poses two extremely excellent moral dilemmas.

As for what's inside the Joker's head, I shall leave the full analysis to the psychologists. My estimation is that the Joker is delusional and believes (wrongly) that the world should be a fair place. In the Joker's world, there should be more equality between rich and poor, convict and citizen, etc. Yet, in the Joker's world, he should be the one to make the determination of fairness. He should be the one with all the leverage and power. This is evidenced in the opening bank heist scene. The Joker has planned to rob a bank that houses all of Gotham's mob money. The heist is mainly a way for the Joker to gain leverage over the mob and therefore becoming more powerful than they collectively are. During the heist, each crony is instructed to kill another. The succession of murders leaves only the Joker to collect the score. Of course, this is part of the Joker's delusional world in which he is the king. He allows the others to execute the heist and then jumps in at the last minute to claim credit. The Joker cares only for his own well being and desires- he is, in short, selfish.

I would like to focus most of the discussion on what I think are the two moral dilemmas of the film.

The first dilemma is this: do we have the capacity to kill when our lives are at stake? The scene this question is raised in is an extremely poignant one involving the Joker's "greatest" plot yet- he has rigged two ferries with explosives; one boat is full of convicts, the other with free citizens. Each boat has the other's detonator, and the occupants have minutes to decide whether or not to push the button before the Joker blows both boats up. The free citizens debate the pros and cons of blowing up the other boat. While most of them realize they will have blood on their hands, one outspoken man proclaims that their criminal status means they don't deserve to live. His presupposition is that the hardened convicts will act first, and therefore to protect the people who contribute more to society, the free citizens should push the button. The convicts are fearful in their own right that they will be blown up if they don't act first. While on the face, it seems they would have nothing to live for anyway, they would almost certainly be free from prison in the Joker's new Gotham. The debates rage back and forth with each boat frantic to make a decision. The crux of the scene comes when the free citizens vote to push the button and one of the convicts takes the detonator from the warden's hand. The captain of the citizens boat can't bring himself to blow up the other boat, and the outspoken man chastises him for not being able to do it. He takes the detonator and returns to his seat ready to save his own life by killing another. As the clock ticks down to the Joker's deadline, both boats end up throwing their detonators overboard.

This scene is one that forces us, as good movies should, to examine ourselves. When we reflect on the questions the scene raises, what are our answers? Do we have enough respect for human life that even in the face of death we will refrain from killing? Do we think we have the capacity to kill? Who is deserving of life? Who has the power to make that determination? All of these questions swirled in my mind as I watched the scene unfold on the screen. Even weeks after viewing, I still ponder the questions the scene raises. We as a society need to ask those questions. Whether the topic is unborn children, war, the suffering, the elderly, convicts or the poor, we face the dilemma every day. Whether we recognize it or not, we have presuppositions we use to determine who "deserves" to live and die. We should examine these attitudes in light of Scripture to determine whether they are valid or not.

The second dilemma is: is it acceptable to break the law even to achieve justice? This is what I think the overall point of the film is. Throughout the story, there is a tension in the police force and mayor's office, because while Batman is fighting crime, he is acting as a vigilante. By taking the law into his own hands, Batman breaks laws designed to maintain order. While Batman doesn't use guns and tries not to kill, he still causes considerable property damage and chaos in chasing after the Joker. Inevitably, there is a positive outcome to be gained by ridding Gotham of its main villain. However, some negative situations occur in the process. To put the dilemma into simpler terms- does the end always justify the means?

By now, you might be wondering what my answers to the questions are. I have intentionally left them unanswered for the present. After some discussion has ensued, I will offer my viewpoint on the subjects.

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