The Gospel Coalition

The Rev. Edward Casaubon had a handsome, intelligent wife, but squandered his marriage---along with his health and his life---in a futile attempt to write his masterwork, The Key to All Mythologies. When she wrote Middlemarch, George Eliot probably intended for readers to scoff at the dusty and deluded scholar-cleric trying to unlock the secrets of ancient myth. But I can relate to the good reverend. Like other film and comic book geeks, I've wasted hours trying to find the key to some modern folk mythology when I could have enjoyed time with my bright, beautiful bride.

But unlike Casaubon, I have actually found a key. Not to all mythologies, of course, but to one of the most intriguing---Christopher Nolan's series of Batman films.

The interpretative key to the Batman films is obvious once you notice what is missing.

Batman Doesn't Know Jesus



Of course, you might say, Jesus is absent from almost all mainstream films. True, but not wholly true. While direct acknowledgement of Jesus is rare in movies today, there are few epic trilogies set in modern times in which allusions to Christ do not appear at all. Yet during the entire 456 minutes of the Batman series, thousands of characters appear in a diverse urban landscape, and not a single image or symbol alludes to an awareness of Jesus. (See update below.) There are no priests or nuns, no Bibles or churches. In the one funeral scene in the film, the reading is not from Scripture but from . . . Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities.

Nolan has scrubbed all references to Jesus---intentionally I believe---in order to present a pre-Christian pagan universe, a world in which Christ's earthly ministry has not yet begun.

Once we acknowledge this fact, we're limited in the number of applicable interpretations of Nolan's Batman myth. For example, the overused redemptive template, in which Batman is viewed as a Christ-figure because he sacrifices himself for others, fails to account for the central themes of the series. [1] Likewise, the cheap political readings that rely on a Christianized view of equality fall short of accounting for the Nolan's layered, nuanced storytelling.

Nolan's Batman is a unique exercise in myth-making, a film set in a pre-Christian, pagan universe that resembles a post-Christian secular world.

Batman and the French Theorist


Applying the concepts of a French literary theorist to explain a superhero franchise is generally the type of useless activity that prevents graduate students in humanities from finding employment. But I think, and as others have noticed, the insights of René Girard can shed light on Nolan's film series.

Girard is a historian turned literary critic who developed a set of ideas that, among other uses, provides a suitable explanatory framework for Nolan's Batman series. [2] One of his Girard's key concepts is that humans learn to desire by imitation. Just as an infant learns to speak by imitating the language of his or her parents, we learn how to desire by imitating what others desire. When we're toddlers, we want the toys the other toddlers want---a behavior that continues throughout adulthood. This imitation of desire, what Girard dubs "mimetic desire," can either be positive or negative, leading to mutual love or escalating to violence.

"Positive mimetic desire," Girard says, "works out to recapitulate the Golden Rule: we desire for the other what the other desires for her or himself." Most often we learn how to want the good for others by imitating a model of positive behavior. This is what motivates Bruce Wayne to become Batman. As Wayne explains in The Dark Knight Rises, he dons a mask to hide his individuality, so that "anyone could be Batman."

In the beginning of the series, Wayne believes that if only the people of Gotham have a positive role model, they will be able to overcome the lawlessness, violence, and chaos that constantly threaten the city. But by the second film, The Dark Knight, Wayne discovers that some citizens are imitating his example too literally by becoming mask-wearing vigilantes. He realizes that they need a more noble model to imitate---Gotham's district attorney, Harvey Dent. [3]

Mimetic desire can also lead to envy, which escalates into conflict and violence---what Girard calls "mimetic rivalry." Girard argues that such rivalries can develop to the point where people forget the object of their desire and begin to imitate their rival's antagonism. This antagonism and violence, which starts at the individual level, can eventually spread throughout the community and lead to a "war of all-against-all." The violence threatens to destroy everyone involved, unless the antagonism is channeled toward a "war of all-against-one," violence against a sacrifice---the scapegoat.

The Scapegoat Process


According to Girard, the mimetic crisis is resolved when the community singles out a scapegoat, the one whose death absorbs the violence in the community and brings resolution to the conflict. Over time, the community mistakenly comes to believe that the scapegoat was at once the cause as well as the all-powerful cure for the crisis. The pagan concept of the gods, Girard says, emerges from this misrecognition. The deliverance brought about by the sacrifice of the scapegoat forms the basis of archaic pagan religions.

The scapegoat is a recurring theme in Nolan's films. For instance, the Joker says that his violence can be averted if the citizens of Gotham will murder the Wayne Enterprises employee who threatened to reveal the identity of Batman. Other examples could be mentioned, but the most prominent instance of the scapegoat process is the figurative murder of Batman at the end of The Dark Knight.

"The brutal elimination of the victim [the scapegoat] would reduce the appetite for violence that possessed everyone a moment before, and leaves the group suddenly appeased and calm," Girard says. This is the situation at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. The scapegoating of Batman has lead to eight years of decreased violence in Gotham. The process recurs in this movie, but by the end of the film Batman has been transformed from scapegoat to sacred symbol.

Batman and Satan


Before he becomes a symbol, Bruce Wayne must first become a hero. At the beginning of the first film, Batman Begins, Wayne is in self-imposed exile in a third-world prison beginning his day with a vicious assault. "You're in Hell, little man," his attacker says. "And I am the Devil!"

"You're not the Devil," Wayne replies. "You're practice."

The first fight of the film series is indeed practice---and foreshadowing---since Wayne will fight the Devil in three incarnations: Ra's al Ghul (Batman Begins), the Joker (The Dark Knight), and Bane (The Dark Knight Rises).

Each of these villains fills what Girard considers the role of Satan: to personify the mimetic crisis:
To the question How can Satan cast out Satan? (Mark 3:23), the answer is unanimous victimization.

On the one hand, Satan is the instigator of [crisis], the force that disintegrates communities; on the other hand, he is the resolution of [crisis] in unanimous victimization. This trick of last resort enables the prince of this world to rescue his possessions in extremis, when they are too badly threatened by his own disorder. Being both a principle of disorder and a principle of order, Satan is truly divided against himself.

Batman's three main nemeses play the dual role of being the personification of Satan and personification of the crisis. In each of the films, they seek to achieve their goal---bringing the apocalypse to Gotham---by tempting the people to destroy themselves and their neighbors. Without Batman to play the scapegoat, though, the diabolic forces would destroy humanity and thus end the pleasure they get in tormenting God's creatures.

Death of the Sacred Myth---and of Batman


While God's restraining grace exists in Gotham, Christ has not yet come, so the Devil remains unbound. Gothamites lack the "good news" of Christ, the only power that can destroy paganism's sacred myths and end the cycle of violence. As Girard explains,
In the Bible, the false or insignificant causes of mythical violence are effectively dismissed in the simple and sweeping statement, They hated me without a cause (John 15:25), in which Jesus quotes and virtually summarizes Psalm 35---one of the "scapegoat psalms" that literally turns the mob's mythical justifications inside out. Instead of the mob speaking to justify violence with causes that it perceives as legitimate, the victim speaks to denounce the causes as nonexistent.

Where the light of truth shines, noble lies cannot endure. Ritual sacrifice and scapegoat murder lose their power and appeal in a world where the lamb has laid down his own life.

Nolan has created a fascinating vision of what our world could look like if Christ has not yet come to earth. But by the time we leave the theater, we are relieved that we do not live in Gotham. We can admire Bruce Wayne, but we can't envy him. Gotham may have Batman, but we have Jesus.

____________________

(1) Some Christians may also interpret the title of the latest film---The Dark Knight Rises---to be an allusion to resurrection, since Batman dies (figuratively) in the second film of the trilogy. The more obvious reading is that the "rise" refers to the rise of Bruce Wayne's will to live, which is displayed in a key scene.

(2) I'm not a "Girardian." Girard's ideas provide an intriguing framework for literary and anthropological analysis. But I'm not sure they can bear the load for serious theological reflection.

(2) Many viewers of the film are perplexed why Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon consider Harvey Dent to be a better man they they are. In the films he appears, especially to Christian viewers, to be an underwhelming model of heroism. But Dent embodies many pagan virtues such as courage and honor that are often idealized in pre-Christian cultures, which makes him a more suitable hero in the context of the series.

Update: As many of the commenters---and my own daughter---have pointed out, the tombstones of Bruce Waynes parents both had crosses. Readers also say that the man who ran the orphanage was a priest, though I don't recall him wearing a priest's collar. Whatever the case, I was wrong about the complete absence of Christian religious sympbols. However, in the interest of saving my theory, which I think is still applicable, (you didn't think I'd give it up that easily did you?) I would say that the crosses could be a sign that Jesus indeed had already come to earth but that Christianity had not yet taken root in Gotham. Christianity would be, at best, a minor religion in a city dominated by a pagan ethos.


Comments:

larry gyuricza

September 24, 2012 at 11:47 PM

The Joker sees something different in Batman-He says"those mob folks want you gone so they can get back to the way things were. But I know the truth.There is no going back. You've changed things. Forever! (Nolan 86) He also says-"you truly are incorruptible aren't you." (Nolan 131)

Griffin Gulledge

July 30, 2012 at 12:22 AM

I'm not sure, as you said, that this will stand up to serious theological reflection. With that said, however, it was a pleasure to read. Very good work and I would love to see more like it instead of "Batman saves people just like Jesus" garbage on the rest of the internet. Thank you for your reflection and challenging me to think on more than just the movie.

Batman and Jesus | For Christ and Culture

July 30, 2012 at 10:27 AM

[...] can read the rest of the article here. Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was [...]

Steven Opp

July 30, 2012 at 09:40 AM

Where's your attachment?

Stephen

July 30, 2012 at 09:10 PM

As a woefully socially defunct Batman fan (and a fairly big fan of Christ to boot ;) ) I loved this! It seemed really well thought out/put together and was a pleasure to read.

Personally, I think there's a GOLDMINE of edification in the movies and comic books, I just think we tend to look in the wrong places. Obviously, not every scene in the movie will match up with one 2-hour-45-minute-long extended metaphor. Batman's not Aslan, and he was never meant to be.

For example, look at the 'rising' of the Batman, which I take to be ultimately him reclaiming his mantle as the bat by coming out of his 8 year funk, which he does by defeating Bane, which he does by healing/getting out of that prison. It's sorta like 3 'concentric' risings, if you will.

The typical Christian programming is to immediately conclude that Batman typifies Christ, but what if instead of looking at Batman as Christ (a role in which he is quite wanting) we identify ourselves with him? With his drive, his determination, his anger at the state of things? What if the New Man is Batman, and the Old Man is Bane? Do we not want to exact vengeance on our sinful selves in Bat-like fashion? I know when I sin, I feel quite like a battered Bruce Wayne hanging limp in a prison cell. But isn't the point to fight like hell to get up, and climb back up the walls of our despair towards Christ? Of course, I mean no nonsense about us redeeming ourselves...but aren't we to fight hard for it? By God's grace and for His glory? Now THAT is something I can identify with! I think John Piper has very recently tweeted and old sermon from the 90s on pursing holiness with an Olympian-like intensity (it's quite good, actually). This seems kinda similar, no?

Just thoughts... Feel free to rebuke as needed ;)

Stephen

July 30, 2012 at 08:45 PM

Hahahaha!

"When it's all said and done, he is elected mayor, marries Catwoman in front of the world thereby publicly vindicating her, and then the two of them spend their days joyfully training all those orphans at Wayne Manor in their skills and raise an army of just warriors to run the city legally in the name of Bruce Wayne the Batman."

I love it! I would TOTALLY see that movie. Over. And over.

nhe

July 29, 2012 at 12:15 PM

I've thought for a long time that I need to write a blog post about Phil 4:8.

It has to be the most wrongly interpreted verse on the planet. Bible verses, poem verses, ANY verses.

Thinking on things that are lovely, pure, true, praise-worthy DOES NOT MEAN thinking about Jesus running through a meadow swinging children around merrily.

Sometimes it means thinking about what a true hero is, and sometimes that positive image can be aided by thinking about the themes in the Dark Knight trilogy.

RN, please understand that Philippians 4:8 is not a weapon with which to bludgeon other believers who have a well-developed Christian world view and understanding of how to process even evil images as part of a much larger, much richer redemption story.

nhe

July 29, 2012 at 11:42 AM

"Pagans had resurrection themes too."

Yes Joe, but where do their resurrection themes come from, if not from the image bearer inside of them?

I just appreciate that even an imperfectly rendered, not completely orthodox resurrection ending of TDKR can give us a jumping off point for discussion. Yes the resurrection is incomplete, as Steven Opp pointed out very well in this thread. But it enables us to point the unbeliever to that which is complete.

For the most part, anything that "helps me" point to the gospel IS redemptive.

Daniel Cojocaru

July 29, 2012 at 04:25 AM

Dear Joe

I agree with you that Gotham in the end remains trapped in the Girardian cycle of violence. However, the whole trilogy shows an astonishing awareness that the restoration of order through violence no longer works. Following Girard, the trilogy's ethos is thus Christian. The search for Christian symbols becomes redundant since the Film's structure is obviously a Christian awareness of the inefficiency of the scapegoat mechanism.

I've attached my Girardian review of the film and would be thankful for any thoughts you might have.

peterH

July 28, 2012 at 11:00 AM

...Part II to this article (remember there are three Batman movies) should start with Genesis 6:4-8.
By the way, I liked the connection to Psalm 35.

Steven Opp

July 28, 2012 at 02:41 AM

**Warning: Spoiler Alert!**
Interesting article. However, there are three components to Girard's theory, which are Trinitarian, corresponding to the Batman trilogy, but you only mentioned the first two, probably because Nolan fumbles the ball on the third part in the third movie, which is why the second movie is still the best and also why the trilogy appears pre-Christian to you. The problem with the trilogy isn't so much that it is Girard minus Jesus, but that it is Girard minus half of the Holy Spirit...

Here's Girard's three part package, (also notice this structure, both in Girard and in the movies, parallels James Jordan's Father--> Brother --> Intermarriage/Stranger pattern):

1. Mimesis: (imitate the desires of Father, both in the form of Bruce's biological father and his new "father", Ra's al Ghul, in Batman Begins. Batman becomes the "ideal". Dostoevsky says ideas are fathers)

2. Scapegoat mechanism: (Batman is pitted against the Joker, his opposite, in the second film. Also, Harvey Dent is Batman's "brother", the White Knight in contrast to the Dark Knight, both after the same girl. Like brother Abel, Batman is scapegoated at the end of the movie for his "brother's" sin and the city has peace for a time)

3. Paraclete: This is the feature of Girardian theory left out in the article. For Girard, the paraclete is what differentiates the biblical stories from pagan myths. The paraclete, which means defense attorney or advocate, is missing in pagan literature where no one defends the victim, who is always guilty whether they really are or not because that's what the community needs to function, like in the end of The Dark Knight. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete in John, which Girard writes about extensively.

The paraclete in The Dark Knight Rises is officer Blake, who defends Batman before his accusers. Also, the topic of "intermarriage" is paramount in TDKR. Which woman, Miranda or Selina, will prove to be the true "helper," or paraclete? Where Nolan blows it with the paraclete is his failure to completely publicly vindicate both Batman AND Bruce Wayne. The name of Bruce Wayne remains scapegoated, or dead to the world. Having him appear in a restaurant in Europe doesn't rectify this. In the Gospel, both public and private faces are brought to light to be proven righteous, as Jesus (Bruce) is shown to be Christ (Batman) to everyone.

So Nolan's Batman world is both Christian in that there is some sense of vindication and paraclete in that Batman is proven innocent, something not possible in the pre-Christian world, according to Girard. But Bruce Wayne the man is not vindicated, not publicly defended, and dies as the goofball who lost his house in the first movie, his lamborghini in the second movie, and his money in the third movie, a tragic figure with a poorly attended funeral. We're happy for him that he found a girl and a nice restaurant, and that his nice butler gets to see it, and that the nice Commissioner Gordon solved the riddle, all in classic Christopher Nolan head-scratching ending twists, but how does that help the city who thinks he died a spoiled rich kid, and which is now devoid of his skills which saved it, doomed to return to its corrupt ways (and the suggestion that Robin can fill his shoes has no biblical or Girardian parallel)? No one has a problem with this because we are accustomed to this sort of dualism, or privatization of faith, in real life. We are happy if people's personal lives are raised from the dead, and we can be surprised and scratch our heads or stroke our chins like Nolan would have us do, as long as it doesn't effect public life or policy, reversing the mimetic patterns in the culture, as long as the city or nation isn't shaken up too much. But the conclusion to a trilogy needs more than Nolanian puzzles and small surprises. It needs a fantastic happy ending for everyone with all the pomp and celebration which Nolan is obviously uncomfortable with. No subtleties allowed when ending a trilogy because the Holy Spirit isn't subtle, and the Holy Spirit is the main character in Part 3. People can be blown away by a mind-bender in Part 2, but not in Part 3. To blow them away in Part 3 you need glory, the missing component. A much more biblical and Girardian outcome would be Bruce Wayne fighting that final battle WITHOUT a mask so that everyone knows who the resurrected Batman is (1 John 3:2). When it's all said and done, he is elected mayor, marries Catwoman in front of the world thereby publicly vindicating her, and then the two of them spend their days joyfully training all those orphans at Wayne Manor in their skills and raise an army of just warriors to run the city legally in the name of Bruce Wayne the Batman. The full Paraclete feature within Girardian theory, and in the Gospel, would thus be demonstrated, and fans would be shocked and fulfilled simultaneously. That would be the Christian, and Girardian, way to end the trilogy.

Adam B. Embry

July 27, 2012 at 12:35 PM

This is deep. Loved it.

[...] Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus – One of the best analytical approaches to Nolan’s trilogy and its worldview [...]

Batman and Jesus? | A.T. Ross

July 27, 2012 at 08:21 PM

[...] Carter of The Gospel Coalition thinks Batman doesn’t know Jesus. What he actually doesn’t know is how to interpret stories. As Brad Littlejohn has repeatedly [...]

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/25/why-batman-doesnt-know-jesus/ [...]

[...] failed to sate your appetite for theo-philosophical takes on The Caped Crusader, Joe Carter’s “Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus” is particularly worthy of your time. It’s not at all what you’d expect.2. On a more [...]

SLIMJIM

July 27, 2012 at 03:25 AM

Thanks for this review...I have yet to see the movie but sometimes I find watching a film after a Christian worldview review makes me pay attention more closely and lead me to see things that the reviewer might not have seen as well...but for sure, it points things out that I would have not been conscious of and is a great exercise in practicing discernment.

[...] to exhaust your appetite for theo-philosophical takes on The Caped Crusader, Joe Carter’s “Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus” is particularly worthy of your time. It’s not at all what you’d expect.2. But on a more [...]

Chris Woznicki

July 27, 2012 at 03:03 PM

To Joe Donaldson and David Tank. I was thinking about how Batman serves as a Christ figure in the movies a little bit, and I do agree with ya'll that he is a Christ figure, however with David I agree that its not the traditional "Christ," King Jesus, that we are dealing with. However I do believe that we can correlate Batman and what he does for Gotham with an (unorthodox) view of Christ and the atonement that has been popular in the history of the church: the moral exemplar theory.

Joe Carter's paragraph: ""Positive mimetic desire," Girard says, "works out to recapitulate the Golden Rule: we desire for the other what the other desires for her or himself." Most often we learn how to want the good for others by imitating a model of positive behavior. This is what motivates Bruce Wayne to become Batman. As Wayne explains in The Dark Knight Rises, he dons a mask to hide his individuality, so that "anyone could be Batman."" really convinced me that thinking about Batman as a Christ figure needs to be done in light of a moral exemplar theory.

Kyle

July 27, 2012 at 02:52 AM

The Wayne parents' stones definitely had crosses, though Bruce's did not (the contrast is what sparked my recognition). And Blake's confederate on the bridge in the final sequence was most certainly a priest.

[...] to exhaust your appetite for theo-philosophical takes on The Caped Crusader, Joe Carter’s “Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus” is particularly worthy of your time. It’s not at all what you’d expect.2. But on a more [...]

Joe Carter

July 27, 2012 at 01:32 PM

***Why use language of anticipation ("Christianity had not yet taken root in Gotham") rather than apostacy and see Gotham as what we are, not pre-Christianly but post-Christianly pagan?***

I don't think that Gotham is post-Christianly pagan because I'm not sure such category is possible. It's similar to the reason we couldn't say that a Western culture in 2012 is post-Medieval. Modernity came after the medieval period and changed everything so much that "post-Medieval" can not longer be a coherent moniker.

I think the same is true for the term "post-Christianly pagan"—both from a Christian and secular perspective. From the Christian point of view, the entrance of Christ changed our eschatological hope and provides a backstop against how bad things can get. It's hard to erase the effects that Christ has on a culture.

From a secular perspective, I don't think a post-Christianly pagan society is possible because it wouldn't really be pagan—it would be much, much worse. For instance, even the worst pagan cultures (in the West) never dreamed of same-sex marriage. They believed in real virtues (honor, courage) rather than the faux virtues (tolerance) of our own culture.

I believe Nolan's films can only be prophetic if they are pre-Christianly pagan. If they were about a post-Christian society—one that had completely abandoned Christ—then they would not have been able to end on a hopeful note as they do.

Adam Nigh

July 27, 2012 at 01:14 PM

Again, how is Gotham not the exact society we live in? Why use language of anticipation ("Christianity had not yet taken root in Gotham") rather than apostacy and see Gotham as what we are, not pre-Christianly but post-Christianly pagan? Is our post-Christian American society not torn apart by exactly what Gotham is - class division, over-criminalization, and the alienation of the governed populace from their supposedly representative government? Gotham is America exactly as it is. Thinking of it as some alternate universe totally mutes the prophetic force of this trilogy to shine light on our current politics of fear and division. The revision isn't enough to save your theory.

Joe Carter

July 27, 2012 at 01:00 PM

It's not that I didn't *believe* the commenters who told me that the tombstone's of Bruce Wayne's parents had crosses on their tombstones, but I was skeptical (i.e., I wanted them to be wrong).

My daughter, who I saw the movie with, said she was going to see it again, so I asked her to double-check those details for me. "Oh yeah, I read your article," she said. "You're wrong. They did have crosses on their tombstones." (Guess I should have asked her before I wrote the piece.)

I added the following update to the article so I thought I should add it to the comments section too:

"As many of the commenters—and my own daughter—have pointed out, the tombstones of Bruce Wayne's parents both had crosses. Readers also say that the man who ran the orphanage was a priest, though I don't recall him wearing a priest's collar. Whatever the case, I was wrong about that detail. However, in the interest of saving my theory (which I think is still applicable), I would say that the crosses could be a sign that Jesus indeed had already come to earth but that Christianity had not yet taken root in Gotham. Christianity would be, at best, a minor religion in a city dominated by a pagan ethos. "

David

July 26, 2012 at 12:55 AM

The orphanage where Blake came from, and the one which he still supports is a Catholic run orphanage. Its leader is in clergy dress if I remember correctly, and he his refered to as father. Still though, it is a very fleeting moment when this occurs, so I don't really think it takes away from the heart of your view of the films. Very interesting. Thank you for the post.

Joe Carter

July 26, 2012 at 12:47 AM

Do you remember what part of the film that was? I could have missed something, though I was watching fairly closely. I went into the last film ready to test this theory. There was talk of prayer but that was the only reference to religion that I noticed.

David Tank

July 26, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Your second comment resounds ever true also. As someone studying to pursue ministry, I enjoy the arts and all of their complexities, as they have the power and beautiful ability to remind us of the dark existence in which we live but also more importantly, the fact also that we are able to Rise with Christ due to his redemptive work. In my experience so far, I appreciate these stark reminders of our world, for they also remind us of our redemption and future glorification.

On your first point, I agree and disagree. Yes, the point of the Batman was to be the scapegoat, and Batman did bear that many times in the Dark Knight trilogy, even unto his end of Rises. However, I have a problem with glorifying the Batman too much as to make him Christ-like for Gotham... I don't know completely what sits well with me, for I love the film; I have already seen it twice. Maybe the fact which doesn't settle well with me is that there is such a huge ideology difference between our King Jesus, and the Dark Knight? I definitely agree that there are aspects of the actions/character of the Batman which reflect dimly what is personified in Christ Jesus, but we are only looking at a dim reflection here.
Maybe it is the ego and self-righteousness which personifies the character of the Batman and Bruce Wayne which makes me nervous inside... I know that as a young man, who would not want to be a warrior and strong being like the Dark Knight glorifying our own egos, but maybe that's the problem. The Dark Knight trilogy is definitely not bad literature, but perhaps I might be able to say that it is not good Christian living to emulate per say. We are not to be fueled by self righteousness, but we are to exemplify Christ, who fights the battles for us, and who even himself, "became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8)
Maybe we should just call the Dark Knight Rises a good film? Maybe we can learn a lot about our culture in which we live by enjoying these films? Maybe these films are just about social justice and the importance of righteousness in civilization, or were not meant to push religion/Christianity one way or the other? Either way, there are aways going to be good and bad things from good--acclaimed literature and the mythical epic, and The Dark Knight is definitely, like the LOTR or even STAR WARS, a classic epic in literature of our time, to be enjoyed.

David Tank

July 26, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Your second comment resounds ever true also. As someone studying to pursue ministry, I enjoy the arts and all of their complexities, as they have the power and beautiful ability to remind us of the dark existence in which we live but also more importantly, the fact also that we are able to Rise with Christ due to his redemptive work. In my experience so far, I appreciate these stark reminders of our world, for they also remind us of our redemption and future glorification.

On your first point, I agree and disagree. Yes, the point of the Batman was to be the scapegoat, and Batman did bear that many times in the Dark Knight trilogy, even unto his end of Rises. However, I have a problem with glorifying the Batman too much as to make him Christ-like for Gotham... I don't know completely what sits well with me, for I love the film; I have already seen it twice. Maybe the fact which doesn't settle well with me is that there is such a huge ideology difference between our King Jesus, and the Dark Knight? I definitely agree that there are aspects of the actions/character of the Batman which reflect dimly what is personified in Christ Jesus, but we are only looking at a dim reflection here.
Maybe it is the ego and self-righteousness which personifies the character of the Batman and Bruce Wayne which makes me nervous inside... I know that as a young man, who would not want to be a warrior and strong being like the Dark Knight glorifying our own egos, but maybe that's the problem. The Dark Knight trilogy is definitely not bad literature, but perhaps I might be able to say that it is not good Christian living to emulate per say. We are not to be fueled by self righteousness, but we are to exemplify Christ, who fights the battles for us, and who even himself, "became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8)
Maybe we should just call the Dark Knight Rises a good film? Maybe we can learn a lot about our culture in which we live by enjoying these films? Maybe these films are just about social justice and the importance of righteousness in civilization, or were not meant to push religion/Christianity one way or the other? Either way, there are aways going to be good and bad things from good--acclaimed literature and the mythical epic, and The Dark Knight is definitely, like the LOTR or even STAR WARS, a classic epic in literature of our time, to be enjoyed.

Gethin

July 26, 2012 at 12:29 AM

Interesting - though I think I'll need to re-read it. But I was fairly sure I saw a church in the background briefly in The Dark Knight Rises...

DP

July 26, 2012 at 11:51 AM

To RN: I just read that book, you know the one where the guy stabs the King and all his guts spill out, and where that woman drives a stake through that guy's head straight through into the ground. Oh wait...that was the Book of Judges. I wonder if TGC should endorse reading such a book. :)

Thomas

July 26, 2012 at 10:54 AM

So much ink spilled opining this and that about a relatively weak movie, handcuffed with even weaker story-telling.

What more can been projected on an over-hyped, flawed storyline.

Emily

July 26, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Sorry, but it definitely was Catholic run. The man is referred to as "Father," he wears a priest's collar, and at the end when they think the boys are going to die from the bomb, he gathers them in a circle and instructs them to pray.

[...] Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus [...]

StuartB

July 26, 2012 at 10:22 AM

The priest had no white collar, I think he had a sweater vest on, but was indeed referred to as "Father".

And Phil 4:8 only applies when you are being critical about something someone else likes. There's one in every comment thread...

Ian

July 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM

I really love your engagement with the movie, and I really like the way you read literary theory alongside. Very impressive article.

However I'm not sure it's appropriate to call the movie 'pre-christian'. I wonder of Nolan is writing a myth for Nietzsche's world where God is dead. So, the solution isn't to introduce Christ since the purpose of the death of God is to undo the need for any idea of a saviour.

At the very least, Nolan writes the scapegoat myth not to preach to us, but because this is the myth our culture believes in. Our cultured despisers would claim that such a primitive reaction is due to Christianity's influence over culture.

Jesus and Batman… « bonhoefferblog

July 26, 2012 at 10:17 PM

[...] Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus [...]

Seth Houser

July 26, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Joe, great article. You might want to put "Spoiler Alert" in the title. Lol

JD

July 26, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Seriously?

Dean P

July 26, 2012 at 09:32 PM

Well said Nick O.

[...] Rene Girard.  Girard has a fascinating theory that human beings learn desire by imitation.  In a recent Gospel Coalition article, Joe Carter explains this concept this way:  “Just as an infant learns to speak by imitating [...]

Matt

July 26, 2012 at 09:18 PM

I will be looking as I watch it. thanks for the article. I love Campbell how he wishes to destroy Christianity and yet offers so much insight into the metanarrative of God in the cosmos through mythology.

Also a note for everyone pointing out Christian themes in contrast to the article. Every good story has themes which reflect reality. Otherwise no-one would watch them. No savior, no movie. I think the authors point is that these movies are particularly void of Christian imagery and painting a dark world without hope in Christ, and intentionally so(the author believes). Even in such a movie, great themes cannot be missing entirely.

Alberto Hurtado

July 26, 2012 at 09:03 AM

You missed the priest in TDKR who worked closely with John Blake and ran the orphanage. Gotham may be functionally post-Christian but there are Christian elements...

...another point: the movies seem large not about redemption but first justice ("justice is balance"). Moreover, the first time "redemption" really appears was (spoiler! spoiler!) when Selina Kyle seeks the program that will "wipe clean her past." In so much as this world is void of "true justice" (which appears not as a restoration of harm done but an equality of harm done to the perpetrators) so too redemption falls a bit short (a forgetting of past rather than a true restoration). But I think those points would further enrich your thesis.

Joe Donaldson

July 26, 2012 at 08:58 AM

I don't agree with this at all. The Dark Knight clearly has pictures of atonement and bearing the sins of many. I think Batman is Christ to Gotham, a fact we can excuse. He is the hero that the people needs but which they reject, just like the builders rejected the cornerstone they needed.

Secondly to RN, the Lord of the Rings has such grotesque images, should we thus ignore these beautiful films?

RN

July 26, 2012 at 08:53 AM

I watched the second batman film, the one with the character with the slashed face that jabbed pencils into eyes, oh, and the sadistic guy with half of his face mutilated from fire, and made me ponder the apostle's words of Phil. 4:8 and if by watching these films I was filling my head with "whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable..."

Probably not. Should TGC be endorsing these films?

Grant

July 26, 2012 at 08:51 AM

The tombstones did have crosses on them. And the guy running the orphange had a white priests collar.

Joe Carter

July 26, 2012 at 08:51 AM

***Any thoughts on the "Tale Of Two Cities" allusions in the movie?***

Because of space limitations (this article was already too long), I cut out my thoughts on how the class division is reflection of mimetic rivalry. I think that is the source of antagonism that leads to violence in the film.

Also, while I love Brett and appreciate his review, I think Christians too easily see a "resurrection/redemption" motif in almost every film with a hero—and not without reason. As mythologist Joseph Cambell explains in "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," part of the heros journey is the "resurrection." Screenwriter Christopher Voegler wrote a book about how to translate Campell's template for the screen. He describes the "resurrection" step as, "At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved."

While the story of Christ provides the ultimate (and literal) example of the hero's resurrection (and a resurrection hope for us), it isn't the only one in the history of story-telling. Pagans had resurrection themes too.

Joe Carter

July 26, 2012 at 08:37 AM

I don't think they did. I looked at those pretty carefully in the movie and didn't see any religious symbols on the gravestone's of Bruces parents. Here's a link to pics of the graveyard: http://bit.ly/ilEhrV

It's not conclusive but the tombstones are certainly not shaped like crosses.

Dean P

July 26, 2012 at 08:36 AM

Any thoughts on the "Tale Of Two Cities" allusions in the movie? Brett Mccracken wrote a great article on how that and the resurrection motif permeates the film.
http://stillsearching.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/batman-dickens-and-resurrection/

mel

July 26, 2012 at 08:14 AM

seriously? Spoiler Alerts really only work when you write a large paragraph that a person can't take in with a glance.

Kyle

July 26, 2012 at 08:12 AM

Hey brother, I encourage you to watch all the movies again with subtitles on.

Kyle

July 26, 2012 at 08:11 AM

Hey brother, I encourage you to watch the movies again with subtitles on.

Warner

July 26, 2012 at 06:38 AM

Check out www.movieguide.org they are saying there are some crosses in the backgrounds. I havent seen the movie yet to determine though.

Darren

July 26, 2012 at 06:16 AM

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Bruce Wayne's parents graves at the end of Dark Knight Rises had crosses for tombstones [spoiler redacted by editor]. I think that reflects today's post-Christian world pretty accurately.

Gethin

July 26, 2012 at 06:13 PM

I live in Paris so watched it here with two French friends. I was tempted at one point to turn to one of them and say "hey, that's just like what you guys did!" - but I was enjoying the film a bit too much, as was everyone else so thought I'd leave it...

Gethin

July 26, 2012 at 06:10 PM

Sorry - can't remember - I think it was probably towards the end - just one brief shot of people getting ready for the disaster - you see it behind the characters at the end of the street but it does fill the rest of the screen so I'm pretty sure it's a church.
Mind you, this could just confirm your point because it did stand out for me.

Dustin

July 26, 2012 at 03:36 PM

The orphanage only pushed boys out that were older than 16 I believe. The money coming in from the Wayne Foundation went towards helping those boys originally.

Adam Nigh

July 26, 2012 at 03:09 PM

"Nolan has created a fascinating vision of what our world could look like if Christ has not yet come to earth. But by the time we leave the theater, we are relieved that we do not live in Gotham." I'm sorry, but this statement seems reflective of a theology with absolutely no eschatological tension. Christ has indeed come, born our sins, and reconciled humanity with God, but that reality is one known to faith, not sight. Our redemption is at present hidden in Christ with God. Gotham is EXACTLY where we live. We live in a world broken by sin where all of its structures for restraining and purging sin merely perpetuate it. The new heavenly city Christ has won us citizenship, Augustine's City of God, is present to us as hope precisely as we live in Gotham, the broken city of man. I HIGHLY recommend Brad Littlejohn's series of theo-political interactions with the triology. Its much longer, but offers profound insights on the nature of sin, judgment and community. The first post is here: http://www.swordandploughshare.com/main-blog/2012/7/23/judgment-according-to-truth-theopolitical-reflections-on-nol.html

[...] In response to an article on the Gospel Coalition: Why Batman Doesn’t Know Jesus [...]

Nick O.

July 26, 2012 at 02:26 PM

Oh and the third film shows how problematic it was for Batman and Gordon to think that Dent needed to be the White Knight. Alfred's right: "truth needs to have its day." And as far as Dent goes, it does.

Nick O.

July 26, 2012 at 02:25 PM

I'm not sure how your thesis can stand up when 1. there are crosses on his parents' tombstones 2. The orphanage is headed up by a "Father" who takes care of them during Bane's occupation and 3. We catch a brief glimpse of the prisoners in the ferry boat scene praying after ridding of the detonator. This is not to say that the spiritual references aren't scant, but it is to say that it seems to make your thesis illegitimate from the get-go.

Secondly, you're right that resurrection themes are not singular to Christ's, and I don't ultimately consider Batman a "Christ-figure." But I don't know how you come up with a better framework than Christianity that makes sense of 1. taking the fall for others 2. making sacrifices 3. Suggesting that people are worth saving 4. Rising (like 3 times) and 5. Taking care of orphans (true religion--with a Father involved, no less).

Also, I don't think we should overlook Bruce Wayne's rise at the end of the film. For Batman to have allowed himself to die in the bomb would have been for him to tragically fulfill Alfred's concern. And it would have had tragic implications for the goodness of fighting for justice and seeking to protect people.

Joe Carter

July 26, 2012 at 01:37 AM

***The orphanage where Blake came from, and the one which he still supports is a Catholic run orphanage. ***

Hmm. . . you may be right about the head of the orphanage being referred to as "father" (I may have missed that). But I'm not sure that there is evidence that the orphanage is Catholic run. From the references in the film to the orphanage, it seems that it is run completely by the Wayne Foundation. When the profits from the foundation stop coming in, the orphanage starts pushing boys out.

It would be rather odd for a Catholic run institution to put boys out on the street just because a non-religious donor stopped financing them. It's possible, of course, but it seems more likely that an orphanage run by the Catholic Church would be paid for by the local diocese.

Of course, that could just be a rationalization to save my theory. ; )

Chris Woznicki

July 26, 2012 at 01:29 PM

The tombstones which belonged to Bruce's parents were not shaped like crosses, however they did have crosses engraved under their names.

Another Theory

August 8, 2012 at 10:52 PM

I actually noticed the "lack of religion" in the second film more so than the others, mostly due to the fact that in the times of true crisis and panic people weren't praying as they usually would be in my paradigm. Which got me thinking about where our world is currently in regards to religion. I honestly don't know that it was much of a stretch to show a seemingly godless society that appears to resemble quite easily that of New York today. Not because New York or large city's in general don't have Christ but because the world is shifting priorities and the first thing someone tells you about themselves is unlikely to be their belief in God. It has been my experience that as we become less comfortable displaying our religion we slowly shift away from practicing it. Maybe Nolan was giving the world incite to what he sees as our future.

nhe

August 3, 2012 at 01:48 PM

No.....we won't find Christology in everything the world creates, but we should look for it, because it is in every image bearer, and when it comes out, it becomes a starting point for a conversation about the gospel.

There is great value in spending time and effort fussing over art in an attempt to find redemption and point others to it's source.

Jack Waller

August 14, 2012 at 03:57 PM

Yeah, your right. It was the trinity church in New York. During the epic fighting scene between the police and the mercenaries and batman and bane's last encounter.

Truth Unites... and Divides

August 12, 2012 at 01:48 PM

I've learned much from both Joe Carter's review and A.T. Ross's review. Just saw the TDKR last night while the kids watched Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Thanks Honey!).

Look forward to reading LittleJohn's analysis after reading the Wikipedia summary entries on BB and DK to refresh my memory.

Thanks to all for your thoughts.

Jesus, the true superhero God!

Isaac

August 1, 2012 at 06:21 PM

Don't forget the scene from Batman Begins where Batman is interrogating a crooked cop:

Cop: "I don't know. I swear to God..."
Batman: "SWEAR TO ME!"

Clearly, God is present, at least in concept, in the Batman mythos.

Wayne

August 1, 2012 at 04:54 PM

This is an outstanding response to the article above.