Monday, July 21, 2008
The Dark Knight
On Saturday I went to see The Dark Knight. I went hesitantly because, while I’d heard the great reviews about Heath Ledger as the Joker, I’ve shied away from DC-based action films in recent years. Ultimately, while I thought the movie was way too long, it was otherwise a great action film (so, so much better than Wanted, which we’d seen several weeks before). Not only was Ledger wonderful, but I also enjoyed the way that the Harvey Dent/Two-Face character was woven into the story. (I knew I recognized Dent’s name from the comics, but –despite the lucky coin being tossed around several times before in the film, it wasn’t until his face actually was burned that I realized it was because he was Two-Face.) Despite all this, can I say I loved The Dark Knight? I can’t.
The reason I didn’t love it once again became clear to me when I was leaving the theater and a friend with whom I’d seen the film said something along the lines of “Now that’s what I want to do… become the Dark Knight of (an organization we both belong to). Or even better, how about we both do that…” I just said “I don’t have any desire to be a knight of any kind” and let it go but it’s that knightly kind of feeling that the film stirs up in people that makes me less than love it.
For, just as I lamented when folks loved the most recent Harry Potter film, knights are virtuous examples of people who are superheroes, vanquishing evil by fighting the good fight, all to restore the status quo. Knights divide the world dualistically into good and bad, winners and losers, right and wrong, just as Batman and Harvey Dent did in the film, aiming to lock up all the evil criminals and throw away the key. And knights are more (and therefore less) than human—always on guard against evil, always living true to principle and absolute truth, always focusing on slaying whoever/whatever the dragon of the day may be and always keeping one’s self heroic and separate.
I’m not at all interested in that. I don’t see the world in those terms and no longer aspire in the least to be or become a knight in any cause or group (though I have to admit that in my teens I did). None of those who are heroes to me are knights, though society again and again tries to clean them up and make them such. Instead I’m interested in those who are more interested in struggling along with the people—good and bad—because they realize that we’re all a mixture of the two--, those who aim not to contain evil but to bring everyone together into a better future, those who put people above principles, and those who remain very, very human throughout it all.
I want to remember and follow in the way of the humanity of Gandhi, who despite poorly treating his wife and neglecting the education of his kids, still managed to think through and help put satyagraha into practice as a way to approach imperialisms of all kinds. I respect and hope to learn in my life from Martin Luther King Jr. who was no knight, but a flawed and wounded hero who spent the last years of his life not just dreaming a sentimental dream of integration, but searching, stumbling, experimenting and groping his way toward his wondrous Riverside Church speech and a life committed to working against materialism, racism, and militarism
and the very flawed but courageous non-knight John Kennedy who never really worked for a knightly Camelot, but almost brought us to nuclear war before turning and taking steps to move away from US imperialism and toward the end of the Cold War. (Just think of his speech at American University if you want to see the human Kennedy giving up knightly thinking and wresting with what it would mean to turn toward peace.)
Knightly thinking labels people and forces flawed but good people like Harvey Dent to become Two Faces when they can’t quite live up to their own principles and the principles they foist on others. I want to follow in the way of the least knightly person I know, Jesus of Nazareth, who cared deeply about those around him but refused a knightly role when Satan offered it; who in his humanity struggled with and fell short of God’s radical principles of hospitality and inclusion of all, needing to be reminded of God’s ever-available love by the least likely of his day, a marginalized poor Canaanite woman; who never seems to have used a knightly image in any of his parables, instead speaking about gardens and plants and birds and people who are a mixture of good and bad in his stories.
So go see the Dark Knight if you’re in the mood for a good action film. But as you do so remember how how much of a danger there is in seeing the world from a knightly viewpoint or taking on the martyr role that Batman assumes at the end of the film. After all, if we could just eliminate knightly thinking, there'd be more than enough work for all of us flawed two-faced humans to do together to move in the direction of God’s reign of love and peace!