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.