It seems there is an underlying condemnation among several Christian groups for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” The condemnations tend to focus on the sinister aspect of the Joker’s character, as well as how dark, gritty, and violent the film is for the super-hero genre. This if course is a valid argument in some circumstances, but considering the nature of Quentin Tarentino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and the violence perpetrated in that film, ‘The Dark Knight’s violent content by far falls into place as acceptable to the story-telling. One must remember that it is the evil side which is violent, while good is pitted against this violence and destruction.
I am in no way condoning violence in movies, but the above statement has reference to the rest of this post. My title in particular reflects the nature of this article, as I wish to extract particular elements of Christopher Nolan’s film, and expose the spiritual metaphors that are so tightly interwoven within the film’s narrative.
The Dark Knight of the Soul is a pun in reference to the Catholic term of “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Where a holy individual is put to the utmost test of perseverance, where the fine line between hope and despair is tread daringly. In context with this note, I will begin on my brief analysis.
The Dark Knight
Gotham’s ‘Dark Knight’ is none other than Batman. A caped vigilante working for justice by night within the streets of the city. He is called the “Dark Knight” for his war against crime, waged through an entourage of fear and cunning, going unnamed and unrewarded as the city’s hero. What is even more striking about this hero’s title, is the very spiritual nature it encompasses. The Dark Knight.
Being of the school of thought based upon Marian Chivalry and Franciscan Spirituality, being a dark knight isn’t so far fetched. While we prefer to go by the title of “Knights of Christ;” in very essence, we are ‘dark’ knights. (Outside of the stereotypical ‘dark is evil’). We strive to do the right thing, practicing virtue in the utmost of circumstances, ensuring that Christ’s light shines through us. We ourselves do not take the glory of heroic virtue for ourselves, but attribute it to Christ.
In Nolan’s film, Batman’s character acts very similarly. He is put to the test by the wiles of the Joker. Our hero questions the very moral nature of heroism itself. When the world around you comes crashing down and cries out for you to hand in the towel, do you comply? Or do you continue to fight the good fight?
As Christians, and particularly Catholics in the world today, we see society screaming and shouting for us to hand in the towel. The age of Catholic virtue seems to be at an end. And the very people who you continue to practice charity towards, seem to want you to give up the path of heroic virtue. Persecution ensues, and one ultimately questions the very nature of being Christian. Should we give in to the social pressures of secularism, sin, and utter temptation? Or should we continue following in the footsteps of Christ, no matter what arrows and insults are flung at us with the utmost spite and contempt?
If we choose to follow after Christ; if we choose to fight the good fight, we become the dark knight. A symbol reflecting the true nature of Christ, setting example for others to follow. We must remember though, that being a dark knight has its burden. We are not in it for ourselves or the praise it can gain us. We must be selfless and commit to the ordeal, realizing that what we do, is for the sake of others. True heroism.
The Last Laugh
Of course, one cannot approach the topic of Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ without touching upon the nature of Joker within the film. Unlike previous adaptions of the character, he is sinister, cunning, sick, and ultimately diabolical; something which very easily reflects the nature of Satan within our own reality. To understand the underlying metaphor of the Joker, we have to realize that life simply isn’t about fighting the ‘big bad devil.’ Satan himself is at war with God, not with us. His true design and intentions are to destroy our dignity which reflects the image which we are made in. The image of God.
Taking this into consideration, the Joker’s ultimate battle is not to simply kill Batman, but to toy with him. Testing him. His traps and plans consist of forcing Gotham’s Dark Knight to make extreme moral decisions, which result in the life and death of certain characters of the story. (One of the major condemnations for why the film was so dark.) But this has a very powerful connection to the reality of our spiritual life.
Satan wants to force us to make difficult moral decisions. Temptation is one of those decisions, the choice between God’s will and our own sinful will. Though temptation does not always suffice, especially for the saintly individual. Satan puts man to the ultimate test by turning those who are closest to him, against him. In the essence of the film the Joker’s sinister plots work to turn the people of Gotham City against their very own hero. He formulates an elaborate threat, stating that for every day Batman doesn’t take off his mask and turn himself in for who is really is, people will die. As Batman repeatedly fails to bring the Joker to justice, and more and more people are suffering because of it, the inhabitants of the city cry for Batman to give up his role as the city’s hero and protector.
This brings him to the ultimate moral question. Does he continue in his fight against the Joker? Or should he comply with the pressure around him, and give up the good fight altogether? At what cost will heroism endure?
The charity of Christians is often more bitter than the persecution of the pagans. I find this to be an essential part of the Christian life, where hypocrisy settles in and causes upheaval among the Catholic community. Those who wish to pursue after God’s will and practice heroic virtue find themselves loathed and even despised by the community. The true test is perseverance. Will the true Christian, the ‘Dark Knight’ endure in his fight for good? Or will the pressure and persecution of those whom he is ‘fighting for’ bring him down and force him to turn in the towel?
God desires fidelity, and such a situation brings about what I referenced earlier. A dark night of the soul. We are torn between our basic need for human approval and companionship, as well as the desire to follow after God’s will. But what do we do? What do we allow to shape our actions? God’s will or society’s will? This is where we must make the ultimate stand, and become the ‘dark knight’ of the soul. We must persist in the battle for good, and never give up in our love for God and our desire to do the right thing. The path of the dark knight is fraught with loneliness and uncertainty. In reference to my MIM (Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix) class, it is a path “devoid of consolation.”
Persistence, charity, and the will to endure is what shapes us for who we are. The Last Laugh, in context, is Satan’s attempt to ensnare us from God’s grace. He attempts to bring us down to our lowest point and make us a weapon against our own fellow Christians. In essence, he drives us to the insanity of the final point.
The Two Faced Question
This is the ultimate point of moral question. It might not directly apply to the individual who is undergoing a ‘dark night’ within their soul, but it can have a very powerful and negative effect on those who look up to such an individual who does fall.
In Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight,’ the character of Gotham’s District Attorney, Harvey Dent, is driven to madness. He was once Gotham’s ‘White Knight,’ meaning the epitome of heroism in the public fashion. Standing for justice, freedom, and safety. Part of the Joker’s plan is to destroy the faith of Gotham City’s population in their leaders. He attacks both Harvey Dent and Batman on the same front. A moral question. The Joker kidnaps both Harvey Dent and his girlfriend Rachel Dawes, and hides them at opposite ends of the city. He rigs a bomb for both hide-outs, and presents Batman with the locations of both prisoners. Batman sets out to rescue Rachel, and the police to rescue Harvey. Upon arriving at the location, Batman finds out he’s been tricked. Harvey is located at Rachel’s address, and vice versa. With seconds to spare, Batman rescues Harvey, but the police are unable to get to Rachel.
Harvey is confronted with the fact that Batman could have saved Rachel rather than himself; and goes mad with hatred for Batman, deeming him responsible for her death. Batman, on the other hand, is faced with the guilt of being unable to save Rachel, and further questions his essence as the city’s hero.
While Batman still remains the hero, the Joker succeeds in his plot. He ruins the public’s vision of a hero they can relate to, the glorified district attorney. Now that Rachel is dead, Harvey goes on a vendetta to kill those responsible in her death. (Aka, the Mob Bosses who hired the Joker.) Thus thrusting Harvey Dent into crime and ultimately destroying his public name and identity. A scandal to the population.
Satan does the same in the spiritual realm. He plots against us, not simply to make us sin, but to ruin the example we give to those around us. He wishes to destroys the light in the lives of others, and give them incentive to despair and give up in their quest to follow God’s will.
This is what encompasses the life of a dark knight. Do you give in to the pressures of the crowd? Who demand that you give up the practice of virtue and the fight against Satan? Do you give in to the trials Satan throws at you? As he strives to make you snap and forsake the path of righteousness? Or do you endure. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of being Catholic. You can be the outcast. You can make the choice that no one else can make. The right choice…