My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dark Knight of the Soul

St. Paul wrote: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things (Phil. 4:8)."

Many Christians read this passage and focus on the pure & lovely. But notice that the first word Paul uses is TRUE. Think on the truth. Not every truth is delightful to behold. According to the pure & lovely standard, narrowly understood, one might need to exclude important scriptures such as the beheading of Goliath, the global destruction of the flood, the slaughter of the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, or the torture and murder of Jesus. Those are horrifying scenes indeed. I know of people who have been deeply upset to learn of such excessive violence in Holy Scripture. In some cases, their very faith was shaken. The book of Ecclesiastes often takes fire for being, in the eyes of some, a hopeless text. The Gospels are blamed for inciting hatred against the Jews. The epistles of St. Paul have several rather harsh blasts of holy anger. My point is that the Bible itself contains much distasteful content. It is, at times, disturbing, unsettling, and infuriating.

Other important works of literature may not pass the pure & lovely test either, including the plays of Shakespeare (Macbeth, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus), Homer's Odyssey, the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Graham Greene, and John Steinbeck to name only a few.

Some Christians will disagree with me vehemently, but I think the latest cinematic Batman episode, The Dark Knight, written and directed by Chris Nolan, is a work of genius. Yes, it is dark. Yes, parts of it are hard to watch. But it tells the truth, at least part of it. An important part.

I'm no expert on the work of Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, but I am familiar with his great work entitled "Dark Night of the Soul." That phrase has come to refer to those times in the life of a person when God seems particularly distant, when the soul is alone with his corruption. That's what this movie is about. The Joker is the archetypal man.

Much of contemporary culture is infused with a deadly optimism about human nature. And this is a demonic lie which blinds people to the depth of their need for someone more than a super-hero, a true white and noble Knight to rescue them.

Mutilation. Disfigurement. Anarchy. Random violence. Betrayal. It's no Frank Capra flick. Chris Nolan did not make a "feel good" picture. But he did make a great movie that tells the important truth of mankind's deep inbred narcissism. Without external restraints, we are worse than savages. Apart from restoration in Christ, all people are disfigurements. Deep beneath the veneer of civility, all human beings are unfunny clowns who appear to thrive on mayhem. At one point, the Joker says, "Madness is like gravity. All people need is a little push."

One extremely useful insight the film conveys is the utter meaninglessness of evil. We don't want to believe that. We constantly want to explain away our bad behavior, to make excuses, to justify ourselves. I steal because I'm poor. I hate because I'm ignorant. I kill because I'm a victim. Ultimately, that is just baloney. We do those things because we are bad. That's all. Sinners sin because they are sinful.

The Joker says, "Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don't have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just *do* things."

Alfred, Batman's butler, gets it. He says, "Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

In the dark night of the soul, when God is absent, there is no meaning, no purpose, no direction. Even an evil direction would be more bearable than having none whatsoever. Of course, Chris Nolan's masterpiece knows nothing of the dawn, the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). But if you can sit through the 2 1/2 hours of "Dark Knight" and not exit craving the sunshine, you are made of cement.

The untimely death of actor Heath Ledger several months ago, makes his performance particularly bitter to watch. What a loss. His Joker strikes me as one of the most amazing on-screen performances I've ever seen. Of course, it goes a bit over-the-top. It has to. Otherwise most of us would scarcely notice. As Flannery O'Connor once said, "you have to make your vision apparant by shock, to the hard of hearing, you must shout. And for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures."

In my judgment, this is not a movie about Batman. It's about the Joker. Which is to say that it's about me. The Joker is a mirror, a truth-teller of unpretty realities.

Sphere: Related Content


Rob Olson said...

Great post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and enlightening review.
I was quite ambiguous about how I should fell about this film, but you have helped much with this review.
A Christian could even borrow one of the Joker's sayings, when referencing Christ and His cross:
"You've changed things, forever!" :)

New Curriculum at Concordia Theological Seminary