Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Dark Knight Rules

Raymond J. Keating

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On the Church and Society
August 15, 2008

Raymond J. Keating

How far can, or should, a civilized society go to protect its citizens from terrorists?

That certainly is a question for our time. It also happens to be the question that lies at the center of "The Dark Knight," which was written and directed by Christopher Nolan.

"The Dark Knight" ranks not only as the best Batman film ever made, but arguably the most compelling superhero movie of all time. Indeed, there are many good reasons - including style, action and dialogue - why this film earned an astounding $449 million at the domestic box office, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, as of August 12.

But "The Dark Knight" reaches new heights due to the story's three main characters, and the choices and challenges associated with each.

The late Heath Ledger takes the villainous Joker to new depths of creepiness. The character commits atrocities without any hint of regret. He is a psychotic, who terrorizes without purpose. The Joker murders for enjoyment. As Alfred (Michael Caine) says, "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Harvey Dent (portrayed by Aaron Eckhart) is the fearless, handsome district attorney willing to take the fight to the criminals. He is the public face that provides hope to citizens.

And then, of course, there is Batman, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale. Bale combines suave, moodiness and a touch of humor as Wayne, while also being appropriately menacing as Batman, the self-appointed vigilante protector of the citizens of Gotham City.

The Joker's objective is to bring Gotham down to his own level of depravity. He tries to do so, for example, by murdering police officers, exploding a hospital, and testing two groups of people to see if one will kill the other in order to save themselves.

The Joker's test for Harvey Dent involves both the murder of his love and the hideous scarring of half his face. Dent breaks, descending into madness and setting out to murder those he deems responsible for the death of the woman he loves.

But what about Batman? Does the Joker corrupt him?

Bruce Wayne is concerned about what he might have to become to stop the Joker. By the end of the movie, some might wonder if, or argue that the Batman actually does succumb. For example, he roughs up the Joker trying to get information on how to stop others from being murdered. He also sets up a spy system that can locate individuals through every cell phone in Gotham in order to find out where the Joker is, and again, to stop his destruction of innocent human life.

Is this going too far, or simply what's necessary to stop this mad terrorist?

The difference between the Joker and Batman is clear. Everything Batman does is to protect others, while the Joker's actions spring from nihilism. Batman has boundaries - not even willing to kill the Joker, the very personification of evil - while the Joker's insanity knows absolutely no bounds. Batman's actions have a just purpose.

In the end, the Joker declares Batman to be incorruptible. To the extent this is possible, it turns out to be true.

Batman is willing to sacrifice himself for the people of Gotham. He not only loses his love, but willingly takes the blame for Dent's murders - thereby making himself an outlaw - in order to salvage the heroic public reputation of Dent, and to avoid having the city descend into complete hopelessness.

Batman is not popular, but he turns out to be exactly what Gotham needs - a protector willing to do what is needed in the face of evil.

The film unmistakably points at today's world, such as the question of the Iraq war, the tools to carry out the war on terrorists and to protect citizens, and yes, one can even read into this how President George W. Bush is viewed by the pubic.

Indeed, a film for our time, and an excellent one at that.

Raymond J. Keating is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report." This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report." To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Posted: 29-Aug-2008

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