Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #8

Re: The Dark Knight (2008)

My problem is that the heroes were too compromised in this film. Batman decides to do something he believes is immoral in order to save Gotham, and in the end he doesn’t have enough faith in people so he decides to lie to the people of Gotham in order to protect them from hard truth about their DA. Batman breaks the law all the time but when he taps phone lines the omnipotent deity Morgan Freeman tells him he has gone too far and that this is unethical.

One can see the connection between Joker and the terrorists that we are dealing with in the real world but I noticed that the Joker makes his point too well and in the end he is proven to be correct in his summation of mankind because the heroes Harvey Dent and Batman choose to ignore morality when chaos breaks loose. Interestingly, Batman, Harvey Dent, and the Joker are all in a similar predicament; they have lost faith in mankind.

On a high note in the midst of chaos the people of Gotham actually do the right thing and begin to pray. Maybe the heroes are relying too much on their own power and not enough on God’s power. One does walk away from the movie feeling like Gotham city needs saints, not superheroes. That could be a good thing.

What I love about superheroes is that they make me feel like there is someone out there that can set things right. When the terrorists come in and take over the tower and we know that Bruce Willis is in there with them, we know that things will eventually be set is right and he will make sure justice is done. It makes me feel safer. I walk away from the superhero movie feeling glad in the knowledge that there is someone watching over me. This film caused me to doubt that superheroes really have that power and it made me feel a little despairing. I have always thought that superhero movies were supposed to be escapist in that way. But this film seems to say that superheroes are not to be depended on; that it is really up to us. This may be a great theme but it is not the reason I go to the theater to watch heroes. It is a paradigm that I’m not used to. I watch the heroes to lift me up and to see a great virtue being practiced and consequently, it makes me want to be like them. I don’t know if I’m ready to have a superhero tell me tell me he is imperfect and that he needs me to step up.

I’m very impressed that you connected the theme from Liberty Valance and Dark Knight — so did I! In Liberty Valance the legend became bigger than the truth so they let things lay. But Batman decides to tell us lies because he lacks faith that we can handle the truth. But we proved on the ferries that we are capable of handling the truth. I went through that idea in my own head even before reading your review, but I didn’t come to the same conclusion.

Keep up the good work, Steve, but we may have to disagree on this one.

I love escapist heroics myself, and I can understand you feeling that what you go to super hero movies for is not what The Dark Knight is doing. I think you’ve done an admirable job of articulating what it is that The Dark Knight is doing in spite of your wish that it had done something else instead.

In particular I think you put your finger on part of what Nolan is doing when you describe the sense of losing faith in super heroes and feeling that it’s up to us. To take it a step further, our super heroes are only us, and every one of us on our own level has to be the hero or not every day. As Harvey Dent didn’t quite say, “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Soldiers, saints, policemen, priests, nurses, bishops, presidents, popes — they’re all limited and fallible human beings, just like we are. It’s not just that often enough instead of Moses and David we get Hophni and Phineas. When you get right down to it, Moses and David are made of the same flawed stuff as Hophni and Phineas.

This is powerful for me because as much as I love the idea of a hero, and as much as I admire particular heroic people, I’m acutely aware that we can’t ultimately put our hope in heroes. What I love about The Dark Knight is that it knows this too — and doesn’t despair. Even if our heroes have feet of clay and may sometimes let us down, there is still hope, both for them and for us.

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