Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008)

     Six months, people. Six months from Friday, Warner Bros. Pictures is finally releasing “The Dark Knight Rises”, the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I saw the trailer over Christmas break, and I was pumped. I’m still pumped. There are a lot of movies coming out this year that I’m really excited for (“The Hobbit Part One”, “The Avengers”), but I’m looking forward to “The Dark Knight Rises” the most. And if you read my article on “Batman Begins” back in July, you’ll know that one of the reasons I love these movies so much is that to me, Batman is sort of a Christ figure. He goes around the crime-ridden Gotham City being basically a vigilante, fighting crime when no one else will, with the conviction not to kill anyone. That metaphor for Christ is expanded even further in “The Dark Knight”, and we’re going to look into that today.

     “The Dark Knight” starts in Gotham on a sunny day—it seems that in the last year, crime rates in Gotham have dropped, and the city’s future looks brighter than ever. The new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), has already made a name for himself, locking up criminals in a legitimate way, rather than Batman, who many still call a vigilante. But all that starts to change with the arrival of the Joker (Heath Ledger in one of the creepiest performances ever filmed), who by robbing a mob bank vault with his goons sets in motion a chain of events that forces the mob to hire him to kill Batman.

     Before that, though, we find Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), living in a penthouse after his mansion burned down in “Batman Begins”. With him still is his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), still fixing Bruce up after a long night of fighting crime. But with Dent starting to become known as the good crime-fighter in Gotham, alongside now Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Wayne starts to think that maybe Gotham doesn’t need Batman anymore—they have Dent, and as he tells his childhood friend Rachel (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is now dating Dent, “Gotham needs a hero with a face.”

     But after Batman, Dent, and Gordon catch Lau (Chin Han), a corrupt Chinese entrepreneur who was about to do business with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), now in charge of Wayne Enterprises, Dent and Rachel (who also work together) trace Lau’s security investments for the mob to the biggest mobsters in Gotham, putting them all behind bars and making Dent the town hero, basically. But afterwards, the mayor (Nestor Carbonell) warns Dent that because of this, he will now be put on a pretty big pedestal:

MAYOR: The public likes you. That’s the only reason why this might fly. But that means it’s on you. They’re all gonna come after you now. And not just the mob—politicians, journalists, cops. Anyone whose wallet’s about to get lighter. You up to it? You better be. Because they get anything on you, and those criminals will be back on the streets, followed swiftly by you and me.

     Remember that. Anyway, soon after that (actually, less than a second after that monologue), the Joker launches his attack to take Batman down: he sends the local news network a video where he says that if Batman does not turn himself in, he will continue killing people in Gotham. And he starts with a judge, the police commissioner, and Harvey Dent. Wayne/Batman helps Dent escape, but that doesn’t stop the Joker. After two more police officers are killed, and there is an attempt on the mayor’s life at the commissioner’s funeral (which gets Gordon killed while pushing the mayor out of the way of a bullet), Batman is convinced that he must turn himself in. So the next day at a press conference, Harvey Dent tells the police to take the Batman into custody… telling them he is the Batman.

     That night, as a SWAT team is driving Dent away to prison, the Joker and his thugs catch up with them and try to kill Dent (which, by the way, is one of the greatest car chase scenes in movie history), but guess who shows up? And Batman protects Dent from being killed but still cannot bring himself to kill the Joker. But that’s okay—Gordon returns (of course he wasn’t actually killed, silly) and arrests the Joker, freeing Dent and sending him supposedly back to Rachel. But long story short, the Joker had it planned anyway that Harvey and Rachel would be taken by corrupt Gotham cops Wuertz (Ron Dean) and Ramirez (Monique Gabriela Curnen) to separate warehouses with oil drums inside, rigged to explode in minutes. By telling Batman and the police where they are (but switching the two addresses of the warehouses), Harvey is rescued but Rachel is killed.

     As you can see, this is a pretty complicated story. Which is why I would encourage just watching the movie. But basically, in the third act of the movie, Harvey becomes the villain known as Two-Face, using a coin flip to determine whether or not he kills someone. He ends up killing a mobster and two of his servants, Wuertz, and Ramirez. Gordon, feeling responsible for Harvey’s death, starts to lose it but then hears that Dent has taken his family to the place where Rachel was killed. Batman beats up the Joker’s thugs, leaving the Joker for the SWAT team, but has a hard time convincing Dent to stop leaving people’s lives to chance. Dent shoots Batman and almost shoots Gordon’s son before Batman comes back and saves the boy, subsequently pushing Dent off the side of the building to his death.

     Here, finally, is where I want to tie in the spiritual aspect of “The Dark Knight”. When we talked about “Batman Begins”, I said that the main Christian theme that Batman showed through the film was service. In this film, I believe it is sacrifice. There are so many instances of sacrifice in “The Dark Knight”. Gordon sacrifices his life for the mayor. Dent sacrifices himself for the real Batman. Batman sacrifices himself in return to save Dent in the car chase. Wayne later sacrifices himself (and his fancy car) to save another man, Coleman Reese (Joshua Harto), whom the Joker wants killed. And now, Batman sacrifices himself again for the safety of Gordon’s son.

     But the ending of the film is the ultimate example of sacrifice. After Batman and Gordon see that Dent is dead, Gordon says that now Dent’s crimes will be revealed, and because of that, the criminals he put in prison will be released, which is what the mayor implied in his monologue earlier.

GORDON: The Joker won. Harvey’s prosecution, everything he fought for—undone. Whatever chance you gave us of fixing our city 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 hope.

BATMAN: They won’t. They must never know what he did.

GORDON: Five dead—two of them cops! You can’t sweep that—

BATMAN: No. But the Joker cannot win. Gotham needs its true hero.

     Gordon starts to realize what this means. Batman will somehow cover up the crimes that Dent did.

BATMAN: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things… because I’m not a hero. Not 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.

     And so, Batman takes on himself the blame for the crimes Harvey Dent committed, and because of this, Harvey Dent is left a hero, and Batman becomes a bigger outlaw than he ever was before. It took me two years to realize what this really meant for me as a Christian. Jesus did the same thing! When He died on the cross, He died for my sins! He didn’t do anything wrong—He lived a completely sinless life! But because we couldn’t save ourselves, He saved us!

     I think this idea is best described in 1 Peter 2, when Peter writes that it is good to suffer for the cause of Christ: “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” (2:20b-21, 24) Jesus took on our sins just as Batman took on the sins of Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight”. Once I realized that, this movie meant so much more to me.
     So now, what could be the Christian theme in “The Dark Knight Rises”? (Assuming there will be one.) I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m hoping that there will be some kind of redemption in the movie. From the trailers, it seems like this movie will be even darker than the two before it. But perhaps this is the time that Batman comes back from being an outlaw in Gotham and defeats evil for good. I honestly don’t know yet. But I’m definitely looking forward to this movie. And my prayer for you now is that you will realize the sacrifice that Jesus made for your sins, and you will trust in Him no matter how much people around you turn their backs to Him.

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