Yes, I’m writing about The Dark Knight again. No, I’m not obsessed with the movie. But I do have some more that I want to say about it and decided on two posts rather than a massively long one. You can thank me later.
Batman typically has a “by any means necessary” approach to his fight against crime that I find troubling. It shocks me, for example, when he drops the mob boss from a balcony, breaking his legs. This is no innocent civilian, but it’s a cruel and torturous way to extract information. Again, in his interrogation with the Joker, Batman is violent and terrorizing in his attempt to intimidate an answer out of the Joker. But this is a different situation; I’m almost ready to cheer when Batman appears out of the darkness behind the Joker. Surely that guy deserves whatever he gets. And surely there is no other way to get the necessary information out of him, so it’s acceptable, right? And Batman’s cell-phone-spy-sonar system is acceptable just this time because he has to stop the Joker, right? I always feel uncomfortable with the actions Batman takes but, at the same time, feel like it’s the most appropriate course to bring resolution and save lives.
But what if Commissioner Gordon had done those things instead of Batman? Or Harvey Dent? Could the audience support a civil servant who bashes someone’s head into a table during an interrogation? Could we continue to think of Gordon as the one good cop in Gotham if he didn’t try to stop Batman’s interrogation when it began to look out of control? Dent takes one of the Joker’s men to interrogate secretly and terrorizes the man with death threats, the point at which I stopped trusting him. This is why Batman is not the hero Gotham needs; he’s a vigilante, operating outside the law, unelected, unrepresentative of the community’s values and wishes. Because of that, he’s able to do things that the community could never approve of but needs and probably desires.
And yet, Batman is the hero Gotham needs, but certainly not the one it deserves. They desperately need someone to take a stand on their behalf, someone stronger than themselves to battle the evil that seems always about to devour the city, someone stronger than the perpetrators that oppress them. But they, like all of us, don’t deserve such a hero who is willing to sacrifice himself in whatever way is best for them.
This is one of the things that I find intriguing about Batman–his willingness to become a scapegoat. He’s not exactly a Christ-figure; his treatement of the bad guys is, while basely satisfying, unmerciful and frightening. But he never wavers from the belief that brought him home and influenced him to create Batman: Gotham can still be saved. He never for a moment looks over the city and fails to remember that at its heart, it is more than the criminals it has produced. He can look past the sins of the city, even take Harvey Dent’s sins onto himself, because he believes that Gotham is worth saving. And that, I think, is the way that we have to look at the world. Evil and oppression exist in staggering depth in this world, but we have to believe that it can still be saved. God believes that. It’s why he sent the hero we need, but not one we deserve.