Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark Knight

Just saw the new Batman movie. The Dark Knight. Liked it, I did. It was visually compelling, action-packed, and a ripping good yarn darkly drawn.

Philosophically, there are a number of ideas that can be drawn from the telling of this tale. For me, principal among them is the observation that, in a fallen world, there will be and has always been a need for a few meritous, ethically-motivated men who willingly rise up to confront evil, even when doing so spins them into a difficult place, drawing from them morally compromising or ambiguous behavior. As the oft quoted Theodore Roosevelt sagely observed, "Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

One of the lines of dialog that I believe to be true is Alfred’s (Michael Caine) observation that the motivation behind the violent deeds perpetrated by some men is a perverse desire to see the world burn. This view, and it is one of the core values of the movie, signifies that Evil, with a capital E, does exist. It does not represent a “clash of values”, or some kind of situationally-dependent, relative evil rooted in a sophomoric understanding of contemporary culture, nor is it an evil motivated by a poor upbringing, or some kind of psychological disturbance that can be cured by therapy. No. It is the kind of pure Evil whose sole hunger is for destruction, chaos, and power, before which the only appropriate resistance is the unfettered full measure of action and unrestrained determination that results not merely in Evil’s surrender, but in it’s utter defeat. It is that uncomfortable, hard place where we unwillingly are forced to admit quietly, if only to ourselves and God that, in fact, sometimes the end does justify the means.

The movie also captures, with not much subtlety, the idea that, though we all know that sometimes our heroes must be ruthless and implacable to win the day, as civilized people, we must periodically scourge our warriors in the vain and failing attempt to, symbolically, cleanse ourselves of their blood sins.

For me, pretending that this dichotomy doesn’t exist is the greater of two deceits, for that embraces a lie. Personally, I am glad that somewhere, in a windowless inner office, deep within the bowels of CIA headquarters in Quantico there are a few good, rough men who compose secret plots of violence and assassination with the goal of keeping me, my family, and my country safe and free. No, it’s not legal. It’s ugly, cynical, messy work. But it is necessary and I hope they keep at it.

Another, not unrelated theme rests in the character of Harvey Dent, in whom we plainly see that even the best of men are capable of evil. This is not a subtle thing, but rather is painted in broad brush strokes so that it will not be missed by even the youngest or least attentive viewer.

That said, The Dark Knight is just a movie, not some deep social commentary. Unlike some folks, I don’t think it is a sign of the coming Apocalypse. We already have plenty of those.

So, if you’ve seen the movie, did you like it? What did you think?

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