Christopher Nolan‘s Batman films are among the best, if not the best, of the superhero films out there. Iron Man is excellent, I really enjoyed the Spider-Man films (even the third one), and I thought that The Incredible Hulk was well-written and emotional. However, none of the installments in this new generation of superhero films hold a candle to the Batman duo (soon to be trilogy), comprised of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
While only The Dark Knight is on the Top 100 Modern Classics list (and rightly so, for raising the issues discussed below), I believe that the two films should be viewed as a unit, two parts of one story (to be concluded with the third installment of the trilogy), much like The Lord of the Rings. Because I believe that most people have seen these movies, I’ll dispense with a traditional synopsis.
One of the prevalent themes of this series is corruption in society, and that people must make a stand against it. It can certainly be broken down into good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, but most definitely morality despite all social constraints.
In Batman Begins, the League of Shadows’ purpose is to restore society to its normal level, much like a slash and burn, where a field is given a burst of fertilizing nutrients upon burning. However, what man can claim moral superiority to dictate this on a societal level? Batman, though he realizes that society is inherently base and depraved, remains determined to save it at all costs.
The question remains, however, do the ends justify the means? What does Batman stand for? He seeks to uphold justice, yet he goes outside the law to do so. Does this not lead to some form of chaos? Batman Begins is the story of Bruce Wayne learning to see beyond his own anger and taking a stand for what is right.
The Dark Knight begins shortly after its predecessor, with the introduction of the Joker. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with some friends about what this film was all about (and I hope they further this discussion below), but I believe that Joker represents chaos, but oddly, chaos with a purpose. He seeks to demonstrate what Batman stands for. Who is he and why?
He acts as a foil to Batman; he seeks to show that Batman is merely mortal, no better than any one man. He continues to put Batman and the citizens of Gotham into morally ambiguous situations to break them down. He’s not in it for money, but for anarchy, to deconstruct established constructs.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.”
“Some people just want to watch the world burn.”
“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”
Even more, the Joker desires to take the symbol of all that is good in society–Harvey Dent–down to the level of everyone else, to show that he is capable of evil.
Even though Dent breaks, there are those who remain upstanding–Lucius Fox, Alfred, Lieutenant Gordon. They remain, for the most part, within the law. So, is it right or wrong for Batman to do what he does? Should he remain within the law? Do man-made laws supersede morality? Do they define morality? Or are there moral absolutes that must be upheld regardless of what society deems proper?
In the end, Batman becomes a Christ figure who must do what is right, taking the sins of mankind upon himself, becoming their scapegoat in order to redeem them.
I love these films and I cannot wait for the third and final installment from the brilliance that is Christopher Nolan.