For anyone who actually checks up on me here regularly I have to apologize. Since Omaha Bible Church’s South Campus has gotten underway I’ve been teaching Adult Bible School and ! Corinthians 12-14 have been wiping the floor with me. Most evenings aren’t winding down till 9:30 or 10pm, and I just haven’t have the gumption to write after all that.
That said, I saw something that I found jarring, disturbing and deeply profound.
I went to go see “The Dark Night” last weekend, for my birthday by the way, and I’ve been stewing in the residue of the film since. if you’ve been by this blog much you probably know that I enjoy the subject of Christian worldview and particularly the work of Francis Schaeffer. I also have some ideas about how Christians should look at art that I think need to be considered. Approaching this movie from that vantage point, my mind was spinning so furiously during this movie that smoke was coming out of my ears. I think there are several posts in the offing but I have to start with the performance that stirred me the most since the bold statements about truth and meaning made in the “Matrix” trilogy: Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker.
Now I don’t want to be a philosophical bore who reviews movies on the side, but this character fascinated me. Not just because the character was played so well, but because he was right.
You read that right: In this film, the Joker is the only character who isn’t crazy.
The joker is a character who poses at first simply as a really crazy villain. Then we start to see that he seems to engage in evil just for it’s own sake. And then we see that the Joker has a very profound and deliberate point to make. About two thirds of the way into the movie, adding a nurse’s uniform and curly red wig to his already grotesque appearance, the Joker makes this assertion:
“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”
That statement chilled me because because he is right. Exactly right.
Toward the end of the film, the Joker’s elaborate scheme is all devised to make the point that the kind of evil that thrives in him is present in everyone. By devising a moral dilemma in which only one of two parties can live, and that by first killing the other, the Joker hopes to prove this point. In other words, the Joker assumes the total depravity of man.
Worse than that, the Joker combines human depravity with another dangerous ingredient: the lack of objective truth. What people in this world fail to realize is that when we abandon God as the objective source of truth, we also abandon our moral compass (more on that here). Nothing revolutionary here, humanism has been trying to replace God as a source of moral direction for centuries now.
What’s fascinating to me is that the Joker rejects the belief of secular humanism that man is basically good. He believes that all that is needed to reveal man’s depravity is a little push. As in, when a man’s life is at stake he will take another’s to preserve his own. As a Christian, I agree with the Joker on this one. When you mix man’s depravity with the “anything goes” mentality of moral relativism, what you get is anarchy. My point is that the Joker is the only character in this movie who doesn’t try to live in denial of this. The Joker is right.
The film tries to salvage the nobility of man from the joker’s plot. In the movie, the citizens of Gotham ultimately refuse to play the Joker’s game. I believe that in real life, two things curb the depravity of man:
- Government bears the sword against evil ( Romans 13:4). This point is reflected in the film, especially during the climactic game played by the Joker.
- Our creation in the image of God ensures that we have a conscience of evil, and sometimes do what is right even if for the wrong reasons (Romans 2:14-16). This point was also echoed in the final sequence, though director Christopher Nolan would have us see this as the latent nobility of man.
Heath Ledger’s Joker was frightening to me because he was bold enough to really live out the implications of his belief. He lives out what most people in this world are too cowardly to admit: that their rejecting of God as the moral center of the universe leaves them with no ability to declare wrong from right. The result is a world in which people must be freed to pursue their desires to their fullest extent.
Even uglier is the fact that the Joker’s depravity is inside all of us. His corruption of district attorney Harvey Dent , Gotham City’s “white knight”, remains a victory for the Joker, even though Batman takes the fall for it. It interests me that the film declined to dignify his fall. The truth is that this apparent lunatic knows us better than we know ourselves, and that is real food for thought. I am very interested to see what Hollywood does with the popularity of this character.
More to come: “The Dark knight” inadvertently tips it’s hat to the Biblical worldview on government, and also toys with justifying moral ambiguity. In exploring the radical beliefs of the Joker, “The Dark Knight” also develops Batman as an anti-hero who himself muddies the moral waters in order to stop the Joker. There is a lot to be said. Stick around to see it through.