IVM is mostly about music, but I think this community also cares about movies, right? So why not have some Metaphysical Monday posts that relate to movies and their message? Ok, ok, you’ve convinced me. Let’s do it!
Let’s look at Christopher Nolan films, mainly his 3 titles in the Batman franchise, since there’s a new Batman movie coming out. Not only is he the best director of our time, I sincerely think his movies will go down in history as some of the best and most creative movies ever made. The philosophical and even spiritual implications of movies like Memento, The Prestige and Inception are profoundly moving and contain much food for thought. But in the Batman series, we are able to most easily see connections between morality, ethics and spiritual dilemma.
In preparation for the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” I re-watched The Dark Knight and rediscovered a world of emotion that I had forgotten that this movie conjured in me. When Two-face says “We tried to be decent men in an indecent time,” I thought of the plight of so many Christians struggling to maintain piety while not giving in to either despair or self-righteousness. When not-yet-Commissioner Gordon says about the Bat-signal “I just like to remind people he’s out there,” I thought of how sometimes that’s what Christians are called to do: to remind people that God is out there, working in the world on our behalf, doing what’s best for us, whether we can see Him or not.
But I don’t mean to reduce the movie to a simple allegory where everything is over-spiritualized. The movie has much more depth than that and there is so much to analyze in nearly every piece of dialogue that I think The Dark Knight requires several viewings to really understand all the aspects of what is going on and the ideas that are being suggested by the characters.
For instance, on a more philosophical aspect, when Joker goes to the hospital and turns Harvey Dent, he says “I’m an agent of chaos, and you know the one thing about chaos? It’s fair.” I’d never thought about it before, but if you look at fairness that way, he’s absolutely right. Chaos (or chance) is blind. Two-Face is right to flip a coin when making a decision because if you define “fair” as complete unbias, nothing could be more fair than flipping a coin. The coin has no bias. However, the idea of fairness can have a much deeper, fuller meaning than just pure neutrality. And that’s what the Joker and Two-Face miss. The world doesn’t operate on the limitations of our definitions or our ability to comprehend it. So it often seems unfair, cruel and chaotic to us. But that doesn’t necessitate our defining “fair” as simply “unbiased.”
I also liked that in the movie, making the right choice wasn’t always spectacular and it didn’t make the person that made the right choice feel good about himself. On each of the boats that are rigged with explosives, there is a member who makes the right choice by not blowing up the other boat. And instead of rejoicing or having a victorious feeling, the message is clearly that they are uneasy with their choice and everyone around realizes they might have just been doomed. I think that’s how life works. In a cheaper superhero movie, a person makes the right choice and immediately feels the validation of their actions. But in life, sometimes making the right decision feels wrong. Sometimes we wonder if we did the right thing and second-guess our decision. I think that’s a profound realization about humanity that Nolan shows us.
And finally, I think Nolan tapped into an incredible aspect of a hero in the ending of the movie. A masked superhero has the opportunity to be something more than a hero. He can do something that a public figure can’t: he can take the fall for something he didn’t do. He can let someone else be the hero at his own expense and be something more than a hero.
At the end of the movie, Gordon says that Harvey Dent is “not the hero we deserved – the hero we needed.” That line is changed when his son walks out and says “Why’s he running, Dad?” (in reference to Batman). And Gordon replies “Because we have to chase him. He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” It gives me goosebumps every time I talk about it. That’s powerful.