(Also posted today on FaithFusion.)
The Dark Knight is gripping. And very deep. Its evil is powerfully and horribly represented, especially on the part of The Joker, whom apparently you cannot even hurt. If he’s tortured or in pain, he just laughs. He lives to “watch the world burn.” He kills without a hint of remorse, and in fact, while he takes a life he merely jokes and (dare I say it) “cuts up.”
In the future, if I’ve ever encountered anyone, whether non-Christian or professing Christian, who claims total evil isn’t real or that people are basically good, I’ll likely refer to The Joker in The Dark Knight. His is an especially insidious evil.
But the film’s representation of goodness is even deeper. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the moral quandary at the end, which — a hint of spoiler may be impossible to avoid here, so I hope you’ve already seen the film — Batman himself resolves by deciding to become, in effect, a penal substitution for one man’s sins. This skewed and backward-heroic act, becoming the villain but really the hero, the total unfairness of it all, is riveting. But it’s a choice that we ultimately know Batman must make for the Joker’s evil plan to be thwarted.
As Plugged In reviewer Paul Asay wrote, “Batman takes [the man’s] sin on his own shoulders, leaving [him], in Gotham’s eyes, pure and spotless and clean. Sound familiar?”
Even as I write that, tears come to my eyes. It’s so unfair. It seems so unjust. But it is “an echo of the sacrifice Christ—utterly innocent, yet humiliated and judged on our behalf—made for us,” Asay continues. That’s what I though I saw then, and what I see now even more clearly: Christ becoming the “villain” to save human rebels, just as Batman needed to be.
But apparently several movie reviewers just aren’t getting it.
The Joker’s total depravity
Secular movie critic Roger Ebert didn’t get it about the Joker. In his Dark Knight review, he wrote that with The Joker’s “cackle betraying deep wounds, he seeks revenge, he claims, for the horrible punishment his father exacted on him when he was a child.”
But Ebert misses the whole point about the supposed father-torture motivation: the Joker is lying about how he got his scars! Later, for example, he begins telling another victim that his scars were self-inflicted, when he was supposedly trying to make his wife feel better about her disfigurement. And at least twice more he’s about to tell his “backstory” again — and though we don’t hear further versions of whatever happened, we know he’ll just lie again.
(Was Ebert out getting popcorn during those film portions?)
The late actor Heath Ledger himself confirmed that the Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy,” he told The New York Times. The Joker doesn’t even want money or even simply power. He wants to wreak havoc simply because he is truly and totally depraved. That’s it. And paradoxically, that makes his character more complex than anyone who’s portrayed as evil partly because of childhood abuse.
Batman’s ‘lying’ substitution for sin
Meanwhile, Christian reviewer Ted Beahr’s MovieGuide site didn’t get it about Batman. Their take on the film? “Very confused and eclectic, or mixed pagan, philosophical perspectives ending on a relativistic, deconstructionist ‘truth does not matter’ sentiment.”
Seriously, were they watching the same movie? (I’m still utterly confused by them since they gave Pirates 3 such high marks for supposedly containing so many Christian metaphors!)
Oh, and MovieGuide also got the Joker wrong as well. “Joker is psychotic and mean from the beginning,” the site writes. “He’s shown to be psychotic and mean several times. A little character growth would have helped him a great deal.”
Mm-mmm, not at all. That would have defeated the whole point. The Joker has no character growth. He is evil, through and through. Wrap your heads around it, and while you’re at it, consider that according to Scripture, that is how God, because of His absolutely perfect moral standards, sees us without any intervention from Christ.
But back to Batman: MovieGuide goes on, finding fault especially with Batman’s decision to take on one man’s sin as his own, and thus keep the Joker’s corruption of the man’s posthumous reputation from succeeding. In response: “[H]ero decides to lie to solve plot problem and police commissioner agrees with him,” the site writes. “It suggests a hero can be a liar without tarnishing his heroic qualities.”
Let’s see. Christ, the God-man, lay down His life on the Cross, suffering physical and even worse spiritual torment from God’s wrath, in place of rebel sinners. He takes blame for sins he hasn’t committed, and God “agrees with Him,” and punishes Him — all part of the plan.
That, it’s very clear, makes Christ a “liar.” He becomes the villain in our place, and in that way, He is the true hero — but a hero on a level much deeper than many would think.
Even some professing Christians don’t understand that. They decide that the idea of Christ laying down his life and in effect “lying” about the sins He’s claiming as His own is “cosmic child abuse.” God wouldn’t do that! such writers insist. He’s all about love and He could never be a villain! But apparently God Himself, in actual Scripture, didn’t see the need for such sugar-coating propaganda. As author/pastor CJ Mahaney says, “He crushed His Son.”
It’s a terrible truth, even an “unfair” truth. But it’s unfair to the glorious benefit of rebel sinners. And thus Christ is truly heroic, even though many now try to hunt Him, hate Him, loathe Him as a villain. The reaction of many to Him now is just like the angry mob’s reaction to Him then. And ultimately it’s very similar to the fate chosen by the Dark Knight as well.