The Bright Knight Rises (Or, Why I’m Not A Libertarian)

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None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I have posted previously about what makes The Dark Knight Rises such a brilliant film, and this chart kind of summarizes my previous point about the thematic elements in each film. Some others have contributed to this discussion (like this guy and this one), and so far I’ve been enjoying the diverse discussion happening around this film. I’d like to continue my thoughts a bit, particularly in relation to a question I was asked recently: “aren’t you a libertarian?”

The question itself is interesting. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Libertarianism…is the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things.” Both the positive and negative aspects of this are showcased in the Batman Trilogy (and Jordan Ballor has sort of hit on this in his article), but the third film really explores this concept. Bane sets the people free, but they are in actuality shackled by this liberating madman. Which brings me to my chief concern with Nolan’s artistic visions: mankind is not the solution.

I think the themes of truth and hope that arc throughout the three films are beautiful, and both have echoes of God. But they do ultimately fall short, and where it all falls apart in my mind is the notion of liberty seen in the films. The League of Shadows and the Joker see people as inherently evil, easy to control and incredibly selfish. Batman, of course, argues the exact opposite by inspiring people through his example and reminding people that they can stand up for themselves. The only problem is that this doesn’t play out in reality (I know it’s a movie, but it’s a movie striving for realism so I think the application sticks).

Libertarianism puts all its eggs in the “free people will self-govern” concept. Except it doesn’t take into account the Fall of Humanity and the impact of sin on human choices. Bane seems to understand this, but he takes it too far assuming that the people will all give into their sin natures. When this doesn’t happen, Batman capitalizes on the good and overthrows Bane’s evil plot. This is a residual leftover of being created in God’s image, which is why this goodness rises out of the darkness in Nolan’s movie. But I don’t think this completely pans out.

I totally get what Paul means when he says that liberty abounds wherever God’s Spirit is, but that’s the point! Libertarianism doesn’t work if God’s Spirit isn’t present. And, in Nolan’s films, the Spirit is not present. I genuinely believe that the only successful form of government is a theocracy, a top down affair where God is the head. Until that happens though, I do think Libertarianism is the best hope for Christians in our present world, but it only works in a unified community that is governed by the Holy Spirit. In the United States specifically, this is problematic because without the proper Truth serving as the foundation of a group of people, deception becomes the order of the day and hope gets buried under the chaotic fear-mongering of the few. I can’t be a libertarian because I don’t have confidence in others to use their liberty wisely.

That may sound elitist, or heretical, or whatever. But it’s the only thing I know. I think Nolan moves towards this in The Dark Knight Rises, even if his conclusion is different.

A Dark Knight? Or A Bright Hope?

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In light of recent events, I hesitate to write about Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in the Dark Knight Trilogy. I by no means desire to trivialize the tragic loss of life that took place in Aurora. Nor do I wish to politicize something for my own ends. There is a better way to approach this whole thing, and its not being kept a secret. But I’m not interested in rehashing something someone else said (better than I could have, at that). Rather, I’d like to briefly explain why The Dark Knight Rises is easily my favorite movie now, and why that matters.

I’ll avoid serious spoilers of this latest film, but I have to revisit Nolan’s previous installments to show you the bigger picture. Read with caution though, minor spoilers will be necessary throughout.

Each of Nolan’s films has a theme. In Batman Begins, the theme is fear. In The Dark Knight, the theme is chaos. What both films thematically have in common is their treatment of truth, which is arguably the underlying theme of the entire trilogy.

To summarize, Batman Begins treats truth as malleable, especially in light of the positive and negative effects of fear upon the human condition. Think of Batman’s use of theatricality and deception. He deceives to help, and in the process alienates those closest to him (starting with Rachel Dawes, and slowly doing the same to Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth by the end of everything). His deception is seen as a necessity by all, but understood to be temporary. Of course, this changes dramatically with the entrance of the Joker in The Dark Knight, as chaos turns this deception on its head and exposes the ugliness inside of people. It would seem, at the close of the second film, that for every time trust and hope are rewarded, they are also overwhelmed by the continued need for deception instead of truth. Nolan paints this ominous picture so well that the closing lines of film sound so true that we forget what is happening:

Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

Despite knowing that something is wrong with this idea, you buy into it because the fear and the chaos have simply overwhelmed you. What other recourse is there?

But in reality, this is a setup. Every bit of it. Because, the truth is this: fear and chaos cannot rule. Humanity, as Nolan demonstrates, needs to have hope. Which is where the third film turns everything around. Hope is the theme of The Dark Knight Rises, and for the first time in Gotham City, truth is the vehicle of that hope.

For whatever short comings you may find in the film, like Batman not being enough of a “detective,” or whatever, I urge you not to miss the point of this film. What sets this movie apart from every superhero film before it (and probably after it) is its message. Even in the face of tragedy, there must be hope. While Bane would use that to destroy, turning ordinary individuals’ hope into a weapon of violence and selfishness, Batman and his friends will have no part of it.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make? “Its just a movie,” you might say. “It doesn’t change the real life tragedy that is overshadowing this weekend.” I disagree. And so does Paul:

Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love. – Romans 5:1-5

I’m not saying Nolan intentionally represented the Christian concept of hope in his comic book movie (he may have, I ultimately don’t know). But accidentally or not, its there. I cannot think of the movie from last night without hearing Paul’s words echo in my ears, reminding me that all Truth is God’s Truth, and as such it is not malleable nor deceptive. It is pure and righteous, as I believe the actions of the heroes in this film are as well. The Gospel is imbedded in this movie. For what greater hope is there than the resurrection of Christ?

You’re welcome to take issue with my interpretation. It doesn’t bother me. I simply ask that you think about it. Consider what I’ve suggested as the foundation of this film and ask yourself, “could this be true?” Then you too might find yourself on the path to rise out of the darkness.

Early Christmas

I just can’t articulate enough how much I am looking forward to this movie. One day I’ll blog about how Nolan has redefined movies in way totally unique in a culture where blockbuster = sensory overload and terrible writing (see Transformers 2). Nolan refuses to insult his art like that.

But instead, I’m just going say this: watch the trailer.

The Dark Knight trilogy oozes with the need for Christ. But more on that later.

The Joys of Halloween

I enjoy Halloween. It’s a night that can be a lot of fun, if handled properly. The focus on death (which consumes one extreme) and the focus on dressing “trashy” (which consumes another extreme) tend to be the most concentrated on elements. Churches, through elaborate “fall festivals,” try to balance it all out by providing a place where people don’t look like a zombie or they aren’t dressed like a hooker. What Churches often don’t understand is that this behavior is simply another extreme.

There is this very interesting book that details the history of Halloween in America, and the findings are worth examining. What will probably strike most people is that this tradition has its roots in the Church.

And not just in the Church, but in direct connection to one of the most widely celebrated Christian Holy Days: All Saints’ Day. Basically, the poor would go from house to house asking for prayers for the Saints, as well as any offerings of charity for themselves.

I could vent for a minute about Christians who bemoan Halloween because of “witchcraft,” but I won’t. I will point out that those same Christians probably ignore the correlations between Christmas and various pagan holidays, but I will stop there. I could also lament how far we’ve come from a tradition that began with generosity towards the poor, and how’ our culture has reduced this grand idea into something trivial and “sugary.” But I won’t.

Instead, I’d like to briefly mention a couple of reasons why I enjoy Halloween:

1) It’s a family affair. My wife and I dress up. Now that our son is old enough, he dresses up too. We spend time with friends and one another. It’s a genuine time of fellowship for us. We relax; share stories; laugh. We do it all.

l_7586cb155c694b778a075bef197004e02) It’s fun. We went as Waldo & Friends this year. Two years ago, we went as tourists (we were in the Dominican Republic which made it funnier). Before that, we went as Batman & Catwoman. We make the most of this event.

3) It’s a reminder. Days like this cause me to look back at history, particularly Church traditions, and remind myself that the Body of Christ has a rich past. Yes, it’s full of mistakes, just like the stories of the heroes of faith. But it is a story that continually points towards God’s redemptive plans for this world.

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I will celebrate those who have walked before me in our common faith, and do so with my family. Whether you do or don’t observe the day, just remember not to be too harsh on any Halloween goers this year.

After all, God has a way of bring people back to their roots.