But let’s get started with “Batman Begins”. The film focuses on the origins of Bruce Wayne and how Batman came to be. But there are three things you should know about Bruce Wayne. One: he has been good friends with Rachel Dawes since he was a kid. More on her later. Two: he has a fear of bats. One day when he and Rachel were playing at his house, Bruce fell through a floorboard into a deep underground cave full of bats. Three: he’s stinking rich. His father, Thomas Wayne, is an entrepreneur in the city of Gotham and owns Wayne Enterprises, which basically means he’s high up in the city. But Gotham is in an economic depression, and there is still crime on the streets.
One night, when Bruce and his parents go to see an opera (which happens to be about bats), Bruce asks his dad if they can go—he’s still scarred from his accident. So the family leaves, but when they get outside, the parents are robbed and shot to death. Bruce is left orphaned with no family to take care of him, except the family’s butler, Alfred (Michael Caine). And through the next decade or so, Bruce (played later by Christian Bale) keeps anger inside for Joe Chill, the murderer of his parents. When Chill is on trial awaiting early parole, he confesses that he regrets his crime, but Bruce won’t believe it. After his trial, he waits for Chill to come out of the courtroom so he can shoot him. But someone else, a woman working for mobster Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), who Chill shared a cell with and basically tattled on to the police, shoots Chill, leaving Bruce without any chance of getting revenge.
After talking to and arguing with Rachel (Katie Holmes), who has now grown up and gotten a job in the district attorney’s office, Bruce decides to put away his anger. In a powerful scene, Bruce throws his gun into a river and later goes to confront Falcone, who can hang around in the alleys all he wants because he’s paid off several bent cops and judges. Falcone tells him Bruce is powerless to stop him:
FALCONE: You think because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don't. You've never tasted desperate. You're Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham! You'd have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn't know your name! So don't come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you'll never understand. And you always fear what you don't understand.
And for the next seven years, Bruce leaves Gotham and goes to the other side of the world, taking on criminals by working with them. But at one point, Bruce is imprisoned in Asia, and he is visited by the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), who works for Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), leader of the League of Shadows, a team of vigilante crime fighters. Well, “vigilante” isn’t the right word, as Ducard tells Bruce.
DUCARD: A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely. …Legend, Mr. Wayne.
So Ducard and Ra’s al Ghul teach Bruce martial arts... basically… and get him to the point where he can be a leader. But as his final test, Bruce is asked to kill a man convicted of murder. Bruce won’t do it. He wants to fight injustice, but he will not be an executioner. But Ducard and Ra’s try to convince him that as Gotham’s favored son, he can be the one to lead an army through Gotham to destroy the city and bring it to a point where it can be rebuilt anew, which Bruce doesn’t want to do, since he knows there are still good people in Gotham that should not have that fate. And to make a long story short, he burns down Ra’s al Ghul’s place, where Ra’s is killed by the falling ceiling; saves Ducard from death, and takes him to a village to be cared for; and goes back to Gotham determined to take on another identity to fight Gotham’s crime-filled streets.
And that’s just the first half of the movie. Yeah, this is a complicated story. Christopher Nolan movies have those. Anyway, just from this part alone, there are so many spiritual themes that I can point out. There’s the fact that revenge isn’t sweet, like how Jesus said in Matthew 5 that “an eye for an eye” doesn’t work. There’s the plot that the League of Shadows wants to destroy Gotham, but Bruce says there are still good people there, similar to Abraham’s plea for God to save Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. And most important, there’s Bruce Wayne’s sacrifice of his rich life in order to become Batman, fight crime, and put fear into the hearts of his enemies, and that’s a huge idea found in several places in the New Testament.
Maybe you’ve heard of the idea of “dying to self”. I had always heard it, and I knew that it meant putting your own desires away to serve God, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college where I saw this film and had a revelation: that’s what Bruce Wayne did! The idea of “Batman” can be compared to the idea of being a Christian! See, when Batman starts appearing in Gotham, he scares people. And he doesn’t just make people afraid, he makes people confused. Who is Batman? Where did he come from? Why is he taking the law into his own hands? And Batman, even when he catches Falcone and ties him to a roof, is disrespected by the police. Either that, or the bent cops love him because he’s doing their job for them. But you can see that more in “The Dark Knight”.
Anyway, there are the cops that think Batman is just trying to help—but there aren’t that many of those. One is Jim Gordon, who starts off an officer, then becomes a lieutenant. In a scene after Batman catches Falcone, the commissioner tells his officers to get Batman off the streets, to which Gordon points out that Batman did indeed catch a hunted mobster. The commissioner objects to him, saying that no one takes the law into his own hands in his city. Now, watch the movie, find that scene, then read John 7:45-52. It’s pretty cool. But even when many people in Gotham hate Batman, Bruce Wayne still puts his wealthy identity aside and serves the city that hates him. In a sense, he is more Batman than he is Bruce Wayne. He’s died to self. And how does a Christian die to self? Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Paul writes in Romans 12:1, to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Again, Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Bruce Wayne dies to self and becomes Batman just as I should die to self each day and strive to be the saint that God has made me to be. And what’s one of the most important things I need to learn? Serving. And Bruce learns just that. After he has come back home, he sees Rachel again, who subtly confronts him about his worldly lifestyle as Bruce Wayne.
BRUCE: Rachel, all… all this, it’s… it’s not me. Inside, I am… I am more.
RACHEL: Bruce, deep down you may still be that great kid you used to be. But it's not who you are underneath: it's what you do that defines you.
One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Book of James, where James writes that faith and deeds should go hand in hand: you need to have both to be a true follower of Jesus. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (2:15-20)
Bruce Wayne realizes that he can’t just want to do good; he has to do it. And even when he isn’t recognized for what he’s doing, Bruce Wayne, or Batman, learns to put away his true identity to become something bigger than himself. So in “Batman Begins”, the main Christian theme that Batman learns is service. What about in “The Dark Knight”? And what might it be in “The Dark Knight Rises”? I’ll tell you in six months. But in the meantime, my prayer for you, is that you will find God, confess your sins, and become a true follower of Jesus, dying to self each day and finding ways to serve everyone in your life.