The Dark Knight Rises by: Les Newsom

Posted: August 24, 2012 by jperritt in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Christopher Nolan presently excels at something that the church is often only late to tackle. He is honestly wrestling with the problem of evil.

The Problem goes something like this: evil exists. If there were someone that could or was willing to stop that evil, they would have done so by now. Yet evil persists; therefore, there is no one able or willing to do so. In the end, we are cosmically alone.

This tension is realized in the form of Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy. A victim of early violence, the hero has embodied his sense of loss in an image burned in his memory after being stuck in a well as a child: a bat. Therefore, in his adulthood, tragedy and fear meet and marry to give birth to a tormented, postmodern crusader with nothing to push him forward in life but a death wish. This deep irony is the dramatic tension of Nolan’s series.

In his latest installment, however, the vision states explicitly what we could hardly bear to imagine through the eyes of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight: the misery of life cannot be passively dismissed, but extends from within your own abandoned mind.

Nolan wisely left Ledger’s performance alone and chose a new embodiment for The Dark Knight Rises in the brilliant and brawny Bane. We learn somewhat early Bane’s true identity when a hapless victim, right before he is snuffed out, squeaks, “You’re pure evil…!”

“I am necessary evil,” Bane corrects.

The inescapability of misery is not new to thoughtful modern pop cinema. Agent Smith stood over Neo’s battered body now pinned down on a subway rail in The Matrix. As the train approaches, Smith monologues, “Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death.”

What is new, and more terrifying, is Nolan’s ostensible response to this defeatist attitude. I think Jeffrey Overstreet is correct in his review at that Batman’s ability to finally bring salvation to the people of Gotham, in the end, depends on nothing more than who has the biggest guns. It is Batman’s will to power (armed by the genius of Mr. Fox) that ultimately brings peace to Gotham’s soul.

I have long insisted that in a culture’s absence of genuine conviction, the more disturbing darkness is NOT that the next generation will believe nothing, but that they will believe anything. Atheism is not the problem. What fills up the vacuum created by atheism is the true face of future fear.

This was brought home to me recently in a conversation with a friend about HBO’s epic World War 2 miniseries Band of Brothers. My friend wondered out loud about Nazi atrocities and how a culture gets to a place where it is capable of exacting death on that kind of scale. I have an answer to that question that few are interested in hearing, but I am most unsettled by the thought that the upcoming generation is (perhaps?) inadvertently suggesting that when all is said and done, the bigger stick possesses the only real authority in a generation with no moral moorings. How many superhero movies have been made in the last decade?

It’s worth noting, however, in the closing images of The Dark Knight Rises, that Nolan cannot escape the compelling hope in resurrection. For Christians, they will likely do in the coming days as they have always done since the Ascension of their Lord: suffer death with her fellow image bearers in the emboldening hope that death’s sting has been extracted and Babylon’s days are numbered.


Les Newsom is a native of Memphis, TN and graduated from The University of Memphis in the 1991.  He earned a Masters of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson graduating in 1994.  In the Fall of ’94, Les moved back to Memphis to start the ministry of RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) at The University of Memphis.  He soon met and married Ginger Hubbard, a Jackson, MS native and Graduate of Ole Miss with her Masters in Mathematics.  After five years in Memphis, Les was called to The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in the Fall of ’99. In the summer of 2011, Les accepted a position as Area Coordinator of RUF ministries in Arkansas, West Tennessee, and Mississippi (Midsouth) and Alabama.  Les and Ginger are the proud parents of three beautiful children: Anna Grace, ’99, Caroline, ’01, and Luke, ’04.

  1. Knox White says:

    Les, I don’t know if we have met but I’ve heard you speak at RUF several times. I’m a student at RTS Jackson, and I was at summer conference this past year and liked your preaching. If you don’t mind, I’d like to comment on your analysis here.

    Les, while you make some good points here, I have to disagree with your analysis overall. I don’t think it is Batman’s “will to power that ultimately brings peace to Gotham’s soul.” On the contrary, it is his deep-seated Christlikeness that brings salvation to Gotham. Like Bane, Batman also has a prophetic understanding of and opposition to the corruption and ugliness of Gotham. Like Bane, Batman knows that Gotham deserves only judgment. HOWEVER, the difference between Bane and Batman is that Batman believes in redemption, whereas Bane only believes in damnation and destruction. You are wrong when you say “we learn Bane’s true identity when a…victim squeaks ‘You’re pure evil.'” Actually, Bane is far more righteous than the Gotham he seeks to destroy. What makes Bane the enemy is NOT that he is wicked- but that he has adopted a pagan notion of judgment without redemption. Bane embodies the righteous, prophetic wrath of God WITHOUT ANY REDEMPTION, MERCY, SACRIFICE OR SALVATION! Bane is absolutely RIGHT to want to see Gotham destroyed in the sense that Gotham is wicked. But the glory of the Batman movie is that we see the beauty of Christlikeness. Batman shows us that REDEMPTION, SACRIFICE, GRACE, AND MERCY TRUMP THE JUDGMENT THAT MANKIND DESERVES.

    Actually, I think the best way to understand this 3rd Batman movie is as a conflict between a pagan, hopeless, Eastern philosophy (of judgment, history-as-fatalistic-cycles, emphasis on the collective, Monism) VS a Christian philosophy (redemption, value of the individual person as image of God, self-sacrifice etc).

    Tell me what you think 🙂

    Knox White

    • David Howie says:

      I’m going to disagree with both of you (as an aside – a good movie is one that gets people thinking and talking).

      Batman wins, not because he has the biggest guns, but because in Nolan’s Dark Knight world, people are basically good at the last. Yes, people ignore sin and suffering, and there is corruption. And there is certainly evil ‘out there’ in the monsters of the world. But when the chips are down, the average citizen will do the right thing. Think of the convicts on the ferry at the end of The Dark Knight. Think of Selena leaving the path to freedom and returning to fight, and the police captain leaving the safety of his home and returning to lead the frontal assault (big diversion) on Bane. As the big good guy and the big bad guy battle it out, the deciding vote is cast by the average guy – and he is good so the good guy wins. Thank God that we don’t have to depend on man’s goodness for God’s victory.

      That and because the bad guy with the bomb detonator monologues too long.

      And I disagree with Mr. White that Batman is grace vs Bane’s judgement. Yes, Bane is judgement. He wants to destroy everyone (even himself and his followers). The Scarecrow presides over a joke court condemning everyone. But that does not make Bane righteous. To me he is more like Babylon conquering corrupt Judah (see Habakkuk). And Batman is not analogous to Christ’s redemption (but then, what is?). I would argue that Batman saves without redemption. He saves the city from Joker’s random violence, but leaves the city right where it is. There is no transformation. Bruce Wayne doesn’t work for a better Gotham, but becomes a hermit. He saves the city from Bane’s complete destruction, but is not there to rebuild. Are people going to rebuild more rightly because of a Batman statue in City Hall?

      Praise God for Ephesians 2:10 as well as 8 and 9.

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