The Dark Knight of the Soul

Batmanblog 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; Jokersomething 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…

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About Xavier

I am currently an English Major and Writing Tutor. I love reading, writing, and enjoy creative and free thinking.
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7 Responses to The Dark Knight of the Soul

  1. Master Paul,

    A true Catholic Knight must be a Knight in his heart. He obeys Spiritual Laws that no one enforces. He lives by a Knightly Code, in which almost no one believes amymore. He swaears an Oath that no one hears – only himself and his God. No one holds him to that Oath, to the Code of Chivalry. He does that himself, because of his love of and loyalty to his Heavenly King & Queen.

    A true Catholic Knight often lives a life of hard work and brutal toil. A hash life with little ease and less comfort. He knows that he will probably gain no personal wealth. The most he can ever hope to gain or earn, will be the respect of his Fellow Knights and the love of his Heavenly Father. He will, if need be, even forego the love of a family and friends. Many do thos by entering upon the holy vocation of the Priesthood or Religious Life. Taking their place will be battle against the Forces of Darkness and glory and honor for Almighty God, his Heavenly King and Father. When all is said and done………that is the greatest reward any true Catholic Knight could ask for.

  2. Andy says:

    Well-posted, Master Paul! I like the above comment, too. It has Batman written all over it. :)

  3. William says:

    But the Batman is alone. The True Knight is not, he is part of a household, an order, a community to which he is allied and which keeps him aligned with the light. Where is Batman’s guide, his mentor, his church? What keeps him on the right path? His character? Not enough. Batman is not a knight. He is a ronin, a masterless samurai, beholden to none, subject to none and therefore a potential danger to those he, for the moment, has chosen to protect. Batman fights the Joker, but what’s to stop him from becoming the Joker?


  4. Quite true; though I am using literary figuration to draw the connections. Batman isn’t real. Though at the same time, each and every human individual, even if they are part of a household, order, community, or Church, are capable of falling. It is part of human nature. The heroic nature of being human is to surpass the selfishness inherent in us due to the fall, for the sake of those around us. Even the greatest of heroes is capable of falling into sin.

  5. Andy says:

    William, isn’t that the very question which The Dark Knight poses? I think it’s actually implied throughout the movie several times as something that Batman wrestles with. There’s precious few people who can support him as Bruce Wayne and Batman: Lucius, Alfred, and Rachel. He has a small community of friends who know him as Batman alone.

    There is a very real sense in which he is alone. He struggles with this. He fights his darker side.

    But who says a ronin can’t accomplish good? Good character alone may not be sufficient to safeguard someone’s actions, but it certainly goes a long way in doing so. This actually reminds me of something we discussed in Theology of the Church today, of the contrast between Lutheranism and Catholicism in the early 16th Century.

    Lutheranism taught that man was a stinking pile of refuse, covered by the white snow of Christ’s blood, made to look pristine. But once you removed that profession of faith, that concealing veil, all that was left was the dark nature of man. Our teacher (Dr. Regis Martin) connected this with the same sense of depravity upheld by William Golding in The Lord of the Flies. As long as you keep man constrained with moral order, his animal side will be hidden, and he’ll be good.

    Catholicism taught that the refuse of human nature can be and is transformed by Christ’s blood, the saving grace of God. Along with that comes the idea of habit. Whereas Luther commands the building of virtue as a way to mark one’s alignment with the concealing shroud of Christ, Catholicism sees virtue as a way to build up a habit of grace, to transform oneself bit by bit.

    Just as anyone who’s in a community can fall, anyone who’s on their own can still rise. And Batman’s not alone. More than anything else, he has a Truth that he follows, a Truth that (whether he knows it or not) can console him in the darkest moments of the night, a hope that his fellow man can learn to love.

    Yeah, Batman fights a lonely battle, even a losing battle at times. But he fights.

  6. William says:

    I understand what you’re saying, one who’s alone can rise. But is s/he likely to ? That’s why the image of Batman presented in the comic books, as possibly being insane, rings true: a man alone (and Bruce’s small community isn’t really shaping him. It’s a few folks being dragged along in his wake, hoping to just keep him alive) would need to be insane to keep on task, to keep focused on his cause, to be able to ignore the voices of community, humanity and conscience which might cause him to hesitate when the going gets rough. But then, he would be left with the voices arising from inside and who knows what they may whisper ?

    One of the graphic novels DC came out with years ago (“Kingdom Come”) presented a future where the spread of “heroes” went bad, a plague of superpowered men and women who thought of themselves as being “above” the human society about them. The result: the heroes were as big a threat to the world as the villains they were supposedly fighting. At the end, the heroes came out of the shadows, dropped their masks and applied their great talents and abilities to helping society as open members of society, not as “godlike” figures standing over the community and it’s standards
    But of course, Batman and the like is fiction and it wouldn’t be as much fun if he wasn’t who he is. I just question how valuable a model he presents for forming one’s real life. Especially in a world where individualism uber alles and people alienated from community may be the source of our greatest problems.

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