The Dark Knight of the Soul

The Dark Knight Rises PosterThe weekend was a Batman buzz, torn between celebrating the release of The Dark Knight Rises and mourning the events of the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. Throughout the discussion included comments about the killer’s mental health and questions about whether it’s time for the country to revisit gun control. One Facebook friend made the following post:

Waking this morning to a sick feeling when I see what happened in another theater in Colorado. While we were mesmerized, watching a film about the heroic strength of the human spirit and how it cannot be dominated by brutality, someone else took the opposite message and chose the comic-book villains as their inspiration. I hate to say it, but someone took their cue from this series a little too completely. – Katie G.

And here’s a link to a wonderful op-ed written by Roger Ebert: We’ve Seen this Movie Before.

This trilogy revisits the Batman mythos in a fascinating way, and the title of this third film makes a clear statement about its overall message. But there is something about the Batman mythos that invited the events of Colorado (not to suggest that I condone the events).

But first, my relationship to Batman. I have never read a Bat-comic, but I did watch the old Adam West reruns growing up. Beyond that, Batman was just another superhero until I stumbled upon the Lego: Batman videogame a few years ago. The ability to play a story as either a hero or a villain drew me in with Joker and Harley Quinn becoming my favorite characters to play. This is the only Lego videogame I’ve played through not once, not twice, but four times. My fascination for the game encouraged me to watch Batman Begins and later The Dark Knight, and my love of Batman was cemented. Last year, I celebrated my birthday with a Batman themed cake and a marathon of the Tim Burton Batmans. I’m waiting patiently for my chance to play Lego: Batman 2. And I keep looking for a Batman omnibus at my local used bookstore hoping for an easy foray into the comics.


Of all the super heroes, Batman is a shadow hero (and this is the main reason why I prefer DC to Marvel). He is deep, tormented, and is motivated by an unhealthy desire for revenge. As such, the villains that he combats are either shallow and stupid or are as equally deep, tormented, and mad as Batman (Joker, Scarecrow, Riddler, or the new Bane, for instance). This latter category of villain leads me to my point. Joker et al sees Batman as a nemesis and toy with him whenever possible. By doing this, they test the limits of his desire for revenge and his inherent goodness to save people. See for instance the climax of The Dark Knight, when Joker gave Batman an impossible choice. And Batman took the bait.

(As an aside, we watched the blu-ray over the weekend and this was our first time watching the film since the theater. The final scene with Joker was vastly different than we remembered it. Our cousin confirmed our suspicions. So I have to ask: was the film reedited for home release and why?)

Last week, the people of Aurora bore witness to someone acting out the Batman villain, but it seems as though the villain attacked a crowded movie theater to see if the Masked Crusader would come to the rescue. It’s no accident that the villain chose a Batman film, rather than say The Avengers or Spider-Man or Brave. The Batman mythos invites madness and it invites us to play into our place of personal wounding.

We have a chronic problem in this country of denying the shadow, and the more we deny it, the more it is going to affect more people. We are living in an era full of disease (dis-ease), medication/self-medication, and explosive tempers. For most of us, whatever ails us doesn’t affect a larger radius of people. We may not even realize that we are ailing at all until we lash out at our loved ones and ruin a relationship over something seemingly petty. Others take their ailment to a larger level, such as the young man who attacked Aurora. He didn’t need to affect the lives and families of so many people, or even the trust of an entire country’s movie-going public. But, yet, somehow he did, which is why the events transpired.

Identifying with the villains seems to be a recent phenomenon, but a necessary practice since we try as a society to ignore the shadow. I was first struck by the idea of Vampire: the Masquerade and reports in the 90s of kids actually sucking the blood out of people resulting in some deaths). Then there was the whole Columbine thing. And then at Harry Potter conferences, the number of people who dress up as Snape or a Malfoy or Voldemort. By playing the villain, we can confront our innermost negative energies. They’re there, even if we’d like to believe they’re not. Once upon a time, kids just played Cowboys and Indians, but today, we need a little more than that to satisfy our shadow. Our shadow is burdened with the shadow of America, which we have been carrying on our shoulders since the end of WWII. Events like Columbine or Aurora, when one person snaps and takes the game into the real world, reflect this.

The rules have changed, and this is what Batman reminds us at the end of The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises sees Batman trying to restore the rules in a way that adapts them to a new Gotham. Not enough attention is being given to this same practice in the real world, but if enough media outlets (Hollywood, YA literature) keep challenging the status quo, perhaps we can excite some real change. As Batman shows us, it’s not enough to occupy. One has to take up the cause. Meanwhile, as Batman further shows us in The Dark Knight Rises, it’s okay to struggle with your own stuff, as long as you remember the cause.


One thought on “The Dark Knight of the Soul

  1. “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now,” concludes police commissioner Jim Gordon, “a silent guardian… a watchful protector. A dark knight.” No wonder some journalists saw the movie as a grim celebration of Bush policy; Batman’s position outside the law seems to echo vice-president Dick Cheney’s statement on 16 September 2001 that the administration would have to “work through the dark side…we’ve got to spend time in the shadows”.

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