The soul of “The Dark Knight”

Batman and Joker.jpg It is a dark soul indeed, and that is what makes the movie–which I saw last (k)night–so powerful.
I can’t qualify as a comic-book or action-hero or sci-fi geek (though my geekiness is evident in other areas), and I am completely insensate as far as the whole LOTR phenomenon and its ilk go. (I love using “LOTR” as it took me so long to figure out what it meant.) But for whatever reason I do invest a great deal of anticipation into these summer comic blockbusters, if only the first Spider-Man movie really paid off for me. Perhaps it is the appeal of religious themes that are veiled enough to seem literary yet obvious enough so that I don’t have to try too hard to discern them, and thus can feel smart as I exit the theater parsing its various ideas and metaphors.
Several threads emerge brightly from The Dark Knight, not least of which is my own (surely it’s been noted elesewhere in all the blogosphere blather) clear sense of the wartime warnings of how easily we can be corrupted by fear, and thus enlisted in the project of evil. Besides DC Comics, a good companion reader to the film would be Jane Mayer’s disturbing new book, “The Dark Side,” about the moral and legal corruption of the Bush White House and the “war on terror.”
It is a corruption we all share, however, and which the movie suggests we can all choose to defeat, as well.
The principal drama though, is about how that corruption tempts those most involved in the fight of good and evil, as we all should be, and the moral ambiguity is as dense as some of the action sequences. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” as Alfred tells Bruce.
Speaking of action, there are some of the usual missteps, for me, like video-game action sequences you can’t follow without a rewind button (granted, I’m middle-aged) and key bits of dialogue rendered inaudible by the heaving soundtrack. The sonar-cellphone technology was weird and way too confusing to watch; don’t know how Bruce Wayne figured out what was happening inside that fishbowl or a mask. And lots of terrible wounds that never hurt. But some funny moments and lines…Such as when The Joker tells Batman, “You complete me.” Take that, Katie Holmes, via Tom Cruise.
Heath Ledger--The Joker.jpgThat mutual embrace of good and evil, however, is at the heart of the film, and what makes it so good–and so disturbing. A friend of mine, a pseudo-geek but by no means a prude, wondered if the movie should be rated R.
Over at the Dallas Morning News, the omnivorous Jeff Weiss has several posts which get at the dark heart of the matter, including a parsing of the classic “Trolley Question” which provides the drama of the finale (and is the favored plot device for so many shows these days, like “24,” that some poor social scientist should be getting royalties.) But Jeff also gets at the darker side of merchandising such violence to kids. Jeff writes:


“Dark Knight” is a staggeringly violent and disturbing film. Thought-provoking for adults, but potentially terrifying for children. Yeah, yeah, marketers can say they’re just playing off the longstanding Batman “brand.” But these products will make kids beg to see the movie — and will dupe less-attentive parents into thinking it’s a safe “comic book” flick. The PG-13 rating should offer some warning, yes. But this film dances just south of an R in my book.

Jeff also points to a very Christian take on the film by a Halifax, Va., pastor, Mike Parnell, who writes at, who calls it the best movie of 2008 so far, and notes its Clockwork Orange references. Over at First Things, Thomas Hibbs has a longer reflection (it is First Things, after all) on director Christopher Nolan’s “achievement,” which is a comprehensive wrap.
Of course the presence Heath Ledger, who died from a drug overdose after the movie wrapped, and whose almost steals the show with his protryal of the Joker, makes all of this moralizing both more dangerous–it’s a movie, after all, and he was a real person who suffered a real tragedy. But Ledger’s real story also makes it more poignant, pointing toward the dark night that awaits.

Comments read comments(6)
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Charles Cosimano

posted July 22, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Given the choice of dying a hero or living a long and happy life as a villain, I’ll take villain. Besides, you get all the good lines.

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Florence H.

posted July 23, 2008 at 12:39 am

We desperately need priests who are in a teaching capacity to see this movie…soon…so they can explain to parents the need to BE parents and not to get talked into letting their children see this morally and psychologically harmful movie. Some parents just don’t care. They say they do and priests say they do, too, but is anyone investing the time in finding out about these kinds of movies? There is at least one priest I know who does care, and God bless him.

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Jurgen Adams

posted July 23, 2008 at 4:34 am

Dark knight is a poisonous movie, bad for the soul. See more at

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New Age Cowboy

posted July 23, 2008 at 5:36 am

Florence H. & Jurgen Adams:
I’m not completely sure about your trick; but, just in case, there’s better ways to spend our time than condemning movies.
I grew up in the 80s and my parents did prevent me from seeing “Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins”, the much hyped and violent movies of ’84. *Actually, “Temple of Doom” was a big part of the reason for PG-13 and should serve as a hint for what passes for PG-13.*
I don’t think it’s that hard for parents to prevent there young kids from going to the multi-plex. Kids under 13 should be accompanied by an adult.
To boot, there’s also several other more family friendly versions of BATMAN… like 4 other BATMAN movies since Michael Keaton donned the costume and countless direct to video BATMAN cartoons.
If you find something offensive, we live in a free country – simply ignore it or shut it off.
Example: After enough BS and lies with the Iraq war, I simply stopped watching our lousy president on the television. If he came on, I simply changed the channel.

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Qiana M Davis

posted July 23, 2008 at 11:46 pm

The live long enough to see yourself become the villain quote was said by Harvey Dent to Bruce not Alfred and Katie Holmes is not in the Dark Knight.Maggie Gylenhal took over her role. Other than that good article. I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Knight for its duality and exploration of humanity. While its too violent for real young kids,its no more “poisonous”for teens than some schools,neighborhoods,and people their exposed to on a daily basis. Parents and society need to stop trying to put ALL the blame on movies and other media. Step up and accept responsibility for what your child learns! It starts in the homes!

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posted July 27, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Parents definitely should step up as the last person suggests. But I agree with the second that parents need some guidance, from priests or otherwise. Because many kids will not understand why they can see other PG-13 movies but not see the biggest blockbuster (potentially of them all, financially-speaking) with an equal rating. But this movie is too sophisticated, morally ambivalent, and violent to be appropriate for most children. But how will parents know that it is a far-cry from the also PG-13 The Mummy Returns for example. As far as villains go, most kids are not ready to understand the Joker. For that matter, as an adult, I’m not sure I’m ready to understand the joker. So, please, priests and other public figures, help parents out.

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