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‘Daredevil’ Fights For True Heroism In Redemptive Darkness

The Netflix series is known for gritty realism, but is actually about a hero fighting for integrity and faith.
| May 28, 2015 | 20 comments |

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Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix quickly gained a reputation of being dark, brooding, and not your usual Marvel Cinematic Universe story. You might expect this series review to explore the story’s themes of confronting evil, but not with the added themes of conquering evil and maintaining one’s idealism. But I’ll argue that Daredevil explores all of these themes as an integral part of the plot.

The series is about idealistic young lawyers Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. The two want to help their neighborhood — a New York City section informally called “Hell’s Kitchen” — by using their knowledge of the law to aid the residents. It should be noted that Hell’s Kitchen seems to have changed, just as the sections would in real life, but its current state is almost as bad as it was in the original comics many years ago. This is explained in-universe by the Chitauri invasion that occurred during The Avengers film.1

After the invasion, the people of Hell’s Kitchen are trying to rebuild. But the constant corruption controlled by the criminal elements of the city makes this difficult. To combat this, Matt Murdock decides to fight crime on his own, outside the law, in a vigilante disguise. At first he makes some progress in his efforts to clean up the city. Then he bumps into a massive wall.

daredevil_wilsonfiskA shadowy force is manipulating the neighborhood’s underworld, and until he finds a way to stop them, all of his efforts are in vain. The main person controlling these elements is ruthless crime lord Wilson Fisk.2

Speak of the Devil

Newcomers to Daredevil will quickly discover that Matt is blind. So how can he fight crime? The story soon reveals the cause and nature of his blindness and other senses. As a boy, Matt saved an elderly man from an oncoming truck and was doused by chemicals all over his face and eyes — chemicals that stole his sight but increased his other senses. His new abilities allow him to “see” a vague picture that, by itself, leaves him at a disadvantage to others. But Matt can also use his other heightened senses that give him a vast sensory advantage over normal people. He uses these abilities to fight for justice — both in the courtroom as lawyer Matt Murdock, and on the streets as the vigilant who soon becomes known as The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.

As Matt struggles more and more with his desperation to stop the increasingly triumphant Fisk, he considers violating his morals and murdering Fisk. This is a real struggle for him, and he almost makes a grave mistake.

In the midst of this, he consults at times with a priest (Matt is a lifelong Catholic) with whom he speaks about the nature of evil. It turns out the priest, Father Lantom, has already figured out that Matt is “the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” or “the man in the mask,” among other names.

Father Lantom discusses with Matt his own past skepticism and theological liberalism — and when Matt quietly snarks about how Lantom doesn’t sound “very Catholic,” the priest has the good grace to admit the strangeness of his past beliefs.

Lantom then goes into a philosophical examination of the origins of the Devil and discusses how in the past, he didn’t believe such a malevolent being existed. Interestingly, he doesn’t use typical arguments, but historical ones about the development of the figure from the Bible. Originally, the Devil was just an “adversary.” He wasn’t known as one mythic figure of evil.

(Of course, Lantom is right. You see, just as with resurrection, the truth of the Devil wasn’t known to the ancient Hebrews. Therefore, the Old Testament Jews recognized him wrongly before the prophets and the revelations of the New Testament showed his true nature and history.)

But when Matt begins to assume Father Lantom doesn’t believe in the existence of the Devil, the tells a story about when he worked with poor people in Rwanda. He once saw a good man whom no one, not even enemy soldiers, wanted to kill. For hours an enemy commander spoke to the good man to learn about the one whom even his own soldiers refused to kill, or asked to kill more mercifully than the warlord wanted. After this talk, the commander brutally murdered the man and his family. When that happened, Father Lantom says, “I saw the Devil. So yes, Matthew, I believe he walks among us.”

daredevil_mattmurdockandfatherlantom

Devil in the details

This understanding — that hideous evil does exist — strengthens Matt in his desire to defeat Fisk. But the old priest cautions him not to cross the ultimate line. Perhaps some of his actions can be defended, or perhaps they can not, but do not cross that final line. Do not kill the adversary, or you risk becoming like him.

But Matt can’t see how he can defeat the corrupt Fisk in a non-lethal way. Fisk has already successfully turned most of the city against Matt’s alter ego, has gained media adulation and the praise of Hell’s Kitchen residents — and controls a great deal of the police department and justice system. At this point, Matt honestly believes he must resort to actions that contradict his Catholic beliefs.

One issue that really caught my attention was how the series makes clear that Matt is not entirely pure. At night he goes out and beats up people — bad people, yes, but human beings with whom the story frequently sympathizes. How does Matt reconcile this with his oaths as a lawyer? Can his crossing of so many moral lines justify his crossing more? Is he good just because Wilson is bad? This moral struggle is encapsulated by a brief exchange between Mattew and his priest.

Matt: I know my soul is damned if I take his life. But if I stand idle, if I, if I let him consume this city, all the people that will suffer and die …

Father Lantom: There is a wide gulf between inaction and murder, Matthew. Another man’s evil does not make you good. Men have used the atrocities of their enemies to justify their own throughout history.

So the question you have to ask yourself is: Are you struggling with the fact that you don’t want to kill this man, but have to? Or that you don’t have to kill him, but want to?

“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is the righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Proverbs 25-something. I never can remember.

Matt: Meaning righteous men have a duty to stand up to evil.

Father Lantom: One interpretation. Another is that when the righteous succumb to sin, it is as harmful as if the public well were poisoned. Because the darkness of such an act, of taking a life, will spread to friends, neighbors, the entire community.

During this time of uncertainty, Matt’s success rate is increasingly spotty. He just can’t find the means to defeat Fisk. And indeed, when he tries to cross the line, it doesn’t work. It is only when, with the help of his best friend and partner Foggy (who knows his secret) and his and Foggy’s secretary Karen (who does not know his secret) that Matt finally finds his moral foundation and begins to actually succeed in stopping the villain.

Foggy and Karen are also crucial to this story and its themes. The fact that they are there for him, and he and the two of them forgive each other for their mistakes, is what, along with his faith, helps anchor Matt so that he does the right thing in the end.

If I had more space, I would sing Foggy’s praises, because he is really such an awesome character on the show. Karen is also someone who bravely fights for justice and is very fun. I’ll settle for this exchange in which Foggy pulls Matt from the brink:

Matt: Ben is dead, Foggy! Because he got dragged into this, and now you’re doing the same with your ex.

Foggy: We’re being careful.

Matt: This has to stop. Fisk has to – I have to stop this before there’s no one left to bury.

Foggy: Matt. Matt! Last time you went after Fisk, I found you half-dead. More than half. You go after him in the mask again, he might kill you. Or you might kill him! Which would probably have the same effect on someone as Catholic as you are.

Matt: What am I supposed to do?! How do I stop him?

Foggy: By using the law, Matt, like you told me and Karen to do. That’s how we take him down.

This journey matters. This is just some average “there are some things I can’t do as a hero” concept reflected in many stories about a hero’s reluctance to kill. It is a morally grounded idea that evil exists, and no hero should want to become that evil.

A time to kill?

Perhaps the clearest moment when "Daredevil" ties into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Perhaps the clearest moment when “Daredevil” ties into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

At the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) doesn’t portray all forms of killing as evil. This is Scriptural. The Bible does differentiate between acts and purposes of killing other human beings. It shows that murder, self-defense, accidental killing, and war are all entirely separate acts — not the same action, universally right or wrong, but different actions, though all the result of sin.

In the MCU, the heroes sometimes need to kill bad guys, but they are separate acts of accidental killing, self-defense, or war. But this is not true of Matt, who would do the specific act of murder if he tries stop Fisk outside the law.

Finally, Daredevil like many stories frequently compares its hero and villain. For Matt and Fisk, their motives seem the same: They want to improve Hell’s Kitchen. But ultimately, they choose opposite ways to meet their goals. Matt and Fisk both use morally murky means at times, but in the end, Matt refuses to cross his moral boundary after truly wrestles with his beliefs in a way that Fisk, who rejects religion, never considers. The ends do not necessarily justify the means for Matt, but for Fisk, they do.

You see, evil and good are opposites. In every one of us, they both exist. There are no completely good or evil people, other than Jesus Christ who is completely Good. We all have sin natures, we know right and wrong, and we all have free will. How we as Christians use that free will to act, whether to serve God or not, is our choice, guided by God’s Holy Spirit.

The existence of evil, not giving into that evil impulse ourselves, keeping our idealism and ethics intact, and seeing the incredible choice we all have to make — these are themes Daredevil honors.

  1. Funnily enough, the characters only refer to said invasion as “the incident.” I guess references to it don’t fit the “gritty” tone of the series.
  2. It should be noted that I will refer to these men as names other than “Daredevil” for Matt and “Kingpin” for Fisk. This series is essentially the origin story of both men. Though they oppose each other in their respective roles from the beginning, neither man is really his alter-ego until the very end of the series.
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Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

(Of course, Lantom is right. You see, just as with resurrection, the truth of the Devil wasn’t known to the ancient Hebrews. Therefore, the Old Testament Jews recognized him wrongly before the prophets and the revelations of the New Testament showed his true nature and history.)

It’s kind of amazing how much the Bible doesn’t talk about the Devil, and how much people assume is Biblical that’s actually more Miltonic, from Paradise Lost. Though I have to say, this is the neatest handwave I’ve seen to dismiss and excuse the literary evolution of Satan/the Devil for the sake of imposing an overarching Biblical narrative.

I’ve probably linked this here before, but it’s still relevant: https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/princes-of-darkness-the-devils-many-faces-in-scripture-and-tradition/

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Except Jesus Christ Himself treated the Devil as a real, personal, malevolent entity.

References available upon request.

And even apart from the Bible, Father Lantom’s logic is sound. Some people might want it to be so. Because if there’s no Devil (and therefore no hidden spiritual dimension of good/evil), then humans shoulder the blame for even more evil. We are even more totally depraved than certain religions would remind us we are.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

With the exception of the Temptation of Jesus thing, I can’t think of a passage where it couldn’t be interpreted as a metaphor or allegory. The various demon possessions that Jesus handled? Not specifically Satan. And that’s not even addressing the elephant in the room as to what the things they interpreted as demon possession actually were. Mental illness?

There’s more than one way around the text besides literalism.

Scott Appleton
Member

In response to Notleia’s comments:

That the Devil/Satan is a literal personal being there can be no doubt when reading Scripture. “Fallen angel” simply comes from the verses that speak of Lucifer’s fall from heaven.

“How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! …For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God… I will be like the most High. Yet you will be brought down to hell…. Is this he that shook kingdoms?…” -Isaiah
“And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.” -Revelation 12:9
As to Satan being a literal person. Yes, there is the temptation of the Lord Jesus… but there is also the earlier account in the book of Job.
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.” -Job 1:6
There is far more including Zechariah 3… But you can go beyond the Bible texts and find numerous supportive texts that aid in the context of the Devil/Satan/Lucifer as a literal personality or “fallen angel.”
I would point out that the book of Enoch corroborates the fall of the angels.
Beyond that consider the earliest history of the church from Eusebius (whose chief concern was the preservation of the apostolic tradition and not the interpretations of his day). The early church believed in Satan.
There is a lot of effort being put forward today to change our perception of what the Bible is, what it teaches, and how it should be applied. Our focus should be understanding apostolic tradition because only in reading the works of Christ’s immediate followers can the truth remain. Historical tradition is a powerful thing. There’s no need to reinterpret it. We are no wiser than the generations that came before us.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Yes, the early church believed in Satan, but their concept of Satan wasn’t exactly the same as ours. It certainly wasn’t the same at the time of the writing of Job, where Satan is freakin’ hobnobbing with God.

Christianity did not spring fully formed from the forehead of Paul. There is very little of a continuous Christian tradition.

As for the Isaiah reference, Lucifer was a term for the planet Venus, and with Lucifer being a Latin name, Isaiah wouldn’t’ve used it. Another reason literalism fails is that translation to English only gets you so far.

Scott Appleton
Member

Job was the earliest of all the Biblical books, so tradition does not support your position on this.

As to Christian tradition there is a very strong continuous tradition all the way back to the Lord’s disciples. Christ’s own brother, James, was killed in Jerusalem for preaching the same tradition. And an uncle of the Lord died a martyr’s death when he was very advanced in years because he would not renounce the same Christian tradition.

Your assertion that Lucifer was a term for Venus is incorrect. Venus has often been known as the morning star, not son of the morning. I have long been a student of astronomy and even secular astronomers laugh when they hear the assertion that Lucifer is another term for Venus.

If you are making these assertions you need to give us the source material. What references support your claims? What extra-biblical works substantiate them? I have given some of my source material. What is yours?

Scott Appleton
Member

I just had to make one more comment 🙂 Jesus himself said that he saw “Satan fallen as lightning from heaven.” There is much support for the personhood of the Devil.

I will also note that there are misconceptions as to Lucifer meaning Venus, however these appear founded in astrology and not actual observable science. There is a strange assertion that Saturn equals Satan, and Venus equals Lucifer. …Enough said, mysticism is not the answer to anything.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

If you’re meaning to distract me into arguing about the name Lucifer, it’s working, because I can argue about words all day.

Lucifer more or less means “light-bearer,” so it’s conceivable that it could be used as a poetic name for the brightest, shiniest thing that isn’t the sun or moon. Like “son of morning,” or are you going to start arguing that Lucifer/Satan is a child of the goddess Aurora?

Scott Appleton
Member

Conceivable, yes. Applicable, no. 😉 I’m not sure what you mean by that Aurora reference. I made it quite clear astrology should have no bearing on this discussion. But astronomy certainly should.

The most important question here is: What are your source materials? In order to disprove the personhood of Satan you would need to show evidence comparable in ancient reference to the authority of Job.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Wait, what? You’ve never read Greek mythology? What kind of Philistine rock do you live under?

But if we can’t even get past a passing reference to Aurora, there is nowhere near enough time and space in this comments section to explain comparative mythology to you.

BUT SERIOUSLY, did you never get even a drive-by survey of Classical mythology when studying pretty much every Renaissance or Romantic poet or FREAKIN’ SHAKESPEARE??? If you haven’t even read Shakespeare, you need to get right the heck off my lawn. I’m not supposed to be deploring the state of education at my age.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Not sure its that specific. The word means bright star, and to be honest I’m not sure how that verse is interpreted as meaning Satan at all. They are talking about The king of Babylon, not Satan, in that prophesy.

It might be from that school of exegesis that sees Song of Solomon as being a metaphor for God and the church. The link between Babylon and the world/Satan is a historically Christian one, and that might be why that verse has the dual interpretation. I don’t know though.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

There are many passages where it’s not an allegory:

Luke 22:31 has Jesus mention Satan desires to sift Peter like wheat, and one is several verses where Satan is mentioned as a specific adversary. Like Luke 13:16 mentions that Satan has bound a woman for 13 years. The “jesus in the wilderness” stories have him being tempted by Satan, and you can see in the NT the idea of a specific adversary being said, one who isn’t used by God, but who is actively hostile to him. You also see this in the epistles, where Satan is seen to roam like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

I agree there is some evolution from the OT to the NT, as the OT seems to have a general adversary that may be used by the Lord. But I think the idea of a specific tempter/adversary is not a historical addition over time, but emerged in the canon more or less fully formed. I do agree the sort of miltonic Satan, or the Satan of pop culture is not Biblical, and we really need to be careful about how we meld ideas to scripture.

 

Julie D
Guest

Okay, getting back to Daredevil and away from the hermanuetics lesson… this makes me even more curious to get into it, but I don’t have a Netflix subscription. How long are the trials?