The Theology of “The Dark Knight”

13 08 2008

I just saw “The Dark Knight” and was very impressed.  I was a fan of Christopher Nolan before he signed on to direct “Batman Begins”, and have only become more enamored with his work since.  This incarnation of the Batman brought excellent direction and vision as well as wonderful acting.  The recent surge of comic book movie adaptations has been well served by a desire to stay true to the underlying human element working out in the storyline.  This has made them more relatable and relevant, both of which makes for great movies.

What I really liked about “The Dark Knight” is that it focuses so much on the psychology or rationale behind what drives the characters.  This ultimately makes the roles more compelling, but more importantly places different philosophies of life in a spotlight to consider.

In short, the movie makes you think.

If you find yourself talking about this movie with a friend, it could be a great springboard into talking about the spiritual implications of the philosophies put forth in the movie.  Let me break it down for you:

Batman is all about justice.  He believes that there is right and wrong.  He believe justice can be administered and enjoyed by society, but only if pursued within the confines of a set of rules and morality.  Now neither the comics or the movie ever discuss the standard for these rules or morality, but for the christian, it should be obvious that to us it is God’s word (Ex 20:1-17).  Batman also believes in the ideal of sacrificial serving.  He is willing to give up his wants or his livelihood for the greater good (John 15:13).  While the movie will never be confused with an evangelistic tract, it does espouse very broad biblical truths.

The Joker
The Joker believes there is no morality. He believes that rules are merely perpetuated by tradition and that at it’s core the world is chaotic.  Anyone who tries to bring order to this chaos is kidding themselves.  The Joker is not motivated by a desire for money or power, but to prove to the world that everyone has a price and will abandon their morality at some point or another.  He wants to prove that the higher one’s standard of morality, the more that person is a liar.

While I don’t know anyone who takes this line of thinking to the extreme portrayed in this film, this sentiment is more common than you may think.  How many people casually break the rules and never give it a second thought?  If you know it’s wrong, why do you do it?  Many fail to feel any accountability in these moments because they fail to grasp the authority they are under.  If you don’t believe there is an authority watching over you when you lie on your taxes, fudge your timecard, etc.., then you are admitting that there is no fundamental right or wrong.  For that moment, you believe the law only exists when someone is there to enforce it.  Think about it… then read Revelation 20:11-15.

Two-Face makes a brief, albeit very powerful appearance in this film.  He surveys the world in the same manner as the Joker, but he takes a different spin on it.  He does believe the world is random and chaotic, but he also wants justice.  In his mind, the only justice is fairness, and the only fairness is chance.  The conclusion of his logic is that the best way to be fair is to throw out rules and morality and leave everything to chance.  This removes all responsibility from Two-Face and allows him to act with conviction because to him randomness is justice (see Prov 16:33).

Many people buy into this way of thinking but don’t make the jump to leaving everything to chance.  They stop at the concept that justice is fairness.  They are driven by a desire for fairness, although to be honest, they only seek fairness for themselves.  “Why can’t I have a new car?” or “I’ve been waiting here all day, why does that guy get to go to the front of the line?”  Being fair is swell, but most of the time our desire for fairness is simply an application of our pride.  Instead of “being fair”, lets focus on trying to accomplish the most amount of good for those around us as possible (Phil 2:3-4).

So how could you use this movie to glorify God?  If you’re discussing the movie with someone (maybe an unbeliever), ask them what they think about right and wrong.  Ask them where they think morality comes from.  Ask them if they think everything is up to chance or if someone is in control.  Don’t be surprised if the answer you get is a wide open door for the gospel!




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