Monday, August 6, 2012

Taking Evil Seriously—Part I: "The Thin Gray Line"


WARNING: Trying not to divulge too many plot details, but there are some minor spoilers here. If you’ve not seen the film yet, continue at your own risk.

I saw Batman: The Dark Knight Rises recently. How was it?  In a word: good!  It’s obviously not appropriate for young audiences, and it’s quite violent in places, but I think director, Christopher Nolan, captured the essence of the genre—and of the complicated characters that inhabit Gotham City.  I have to wonder if we’ve seen the last of the “caped crusader” on the big screen; the ending certainly leaves the door open wide for Nolan or someone else to pick up the story at some point.

I enjoyed this three-film adaptation of the rise and fall of Batman—the previous two being Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. There are lots of things that I could discuss.  But as I thought about it recently, one thing in particular stood out.

These movies took evil seriously.

To begin with, the films are honest that the division between good and evil often blurs.  Rather than white and black, we find a variety of shades of gray in Gotham. Even the film’s “hero”—Batman—blurs the line between good and evil, hero and vigilante—certainly much more than a hero like Superman.  Bruce Wayne receives his initial training from an organization called the League of Shadows, which he betrays when he discovers their sinister plot to destroy Gotham.  (In Nolan’s adaptation, his former mentor becomes Batman’s greatest foe—Ra’s al Ghul.) Throughout the trilogy, Wayne wrestles with his identity and what purpose the “symbol of the bat” really should serve.  This is an especially important plot thread in Dark Knight Rises.

As the third movie begins, Bruce Wayne is in hiding.  His alter-ego—Batman—is now a wanted criminal for his alleged role in the murder of Harvey Dent—former Gotham district attorney.  Wayne convinced Police Commissioner Gordon to sacrifice Batman’s reputation in order to protect Dent’s—and the current peace in Gotham City rests on that deception.

The character of Catwoman (appearing in Dark Knight Rises) definitely embodies someone who walks that “thin gray line” between good and evil.  She has her own agenda and pursues it pretty effectively.  At times, when it serves her purpose, she is Batman’s ally, but at other times she works against him, even betraying him at one point.  Eventually, however, there came a moment where Catwoman had to choose what “side” she was on—and her choice is critical in the outcome of the movie. 

While it’s hard to distinguish “good” and “evil” sometimes, it’s also hard to stay neutral very long in real life.  Sooner or later you have to pick a side.  And the choice you make is one of the most important one’s you’ll ever make...

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