Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Batman & Jesus

This is an assignment I submitted for University. The task was to write a review of 800 words, for a film currently in theatrical release.

Because I had already done over and above this for Batman, and wasn't really interested in trying to condense all those thoughts, I decided to use 800 words to layout (in brief) the parallel between Batman and Jesus.

Once again, spoilers follow...

The Dark Knight Rises
       An Analysis of Metaphor

If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely… A legend, Mr. Wayne
-Ra’s Al Gul, Batman Begins

The Dark Knight Rises is the final instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The films track the journey of Bruce Wayne, an orphaned billionaire who takes on the alter ego Batman in order to fight crime, and save the city of Gotham from destruction. In this tale, Nolan creates a parallel in Batman to that of Jesus Christ. The most obvious points of reference for this metaphor are in the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Christian tradition, as compared with Batmans’ in the final film – each as a sacrifice on behalf of the people.  Jesus is also invoked on a deeper level by the construction of Bruce Wayne’s character, and the way the trilogy deals with themes like, justice, compassion, hope and discipleship.

  I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there's no one there to save it.
-Batman, The Dark Knight Rises

In the final act of The Dark Knight Rises, Batman volunteers himself to drag a nuclear bomb away from the city in The Bat. With no autopilot, and no time left, Bruce Wayne literally sacrifices his life – as Jesus did when he submitted to being crucified by the Roman authorities. However, as Christian tradition holds, Jesus’ death was not permanent, and three days after the fact, he rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. So too does Batman, after a short period, reappear alive to Alfred in the final shot of this film – in what could be seen as an idyllic paradise (Alfred earlier described the scene as his fantasy). The film implies that Bruce has now accomplished his purpose as Batman, and is beginning a new life away from Gotham. In dying yet not dying, Bruce Wayne imitates Jesus’ death and resurrection in order to save the people of his world.
In Batman Begins, Bruce’s desire for justice is ignited by a traumatic childhood experience; the murder of his parents right before his eyes.  Although he initially seeks vengeance on the perpetrator, and later becomes embroiled in the League of Shadows quest for absolute justice, Bruce finally resolves to administer justice, tempered with mercy. When the League calls for Gotham to be destroyed in light of its absolute moral corruption, Bruce rebukes it, and creates an identity and a symbol in order to set an example for the people of Gotham to follow. As Batman, Bruce Wayne stands between the corrupt people, and the system of justice that demands their destruction.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
-John 8:10-11 (NIV)

This is in close parallel with Jesus’ relationship with religious leaders of the time. In Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry, society was dominated by religious law, and sinners were persecuted in accordance with it. In one particular incident recorded in John chapter 8, the Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery – a sin for which the law demands capital punishment. Jesus stands as the mediator between the system and the person, calling for only those who are blameless to condemn the woman. When there is no one left but him, Jesus exercises compassion, and releases her, granting her a second chance. Although Batman uses more violence than Jesus, his golden rule of never killing could be seen as analogous to this same principle; giving even the worst of criminals a chance at redemption.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.
-1 Peter 2:21 (NIV)

People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man I'm flesh and blood; I can be ignored, I can be destroyed but as a symbol… As a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.
-Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

Like Jesus, the persona of Batman is established as an example for regular people to follow. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is said to have lived a life completely free of sin; pure in the eyes of God. This was necessary in order for him to atone for the sins of humanity. In Nolan’s Batman film we see a similar situation; Batman never compromises his principles in order to accomplish his ends – he has nothing on his conscience that he needs to atone for, yet lives as though he does in order that others might follow him. Bruce adopts the symbol of the Batman to construct this exemplary figure; a symbol that transcends human struggles and the human condition.

In a similar vein, we see Batman literally taking the blame for Harvey Dents’ crimes – in order to restore his purity, in much the same way Jesus is said to bear the guilt for the sins of humanity. Like Jesus, Batman is innocent of the crimes he is persecuted for, but accepts responsibility for the sake of others.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”
-Matthew 16:24 (NIV)

Finally we see Jesus’ attitudes toward discipleship embodied in Bruce Wayne’s relationship with John Blake. Jesus warned his disciples that life would be difficult as an imitator of Christ – and history proves that many of them suffered greatly as a result of spreading the gospel. Bruce Wayne has a number of conversations with John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, explaining to him why the mask is important to protect loved ones, and the purpose of Batman as a symbol; that anybody can be a hero. In the last sequence of the film, Blake is seen entering the Batcave, and ascending on a platform as Bruce does earlier – the implication being that John Blake will become the new Batman.

Batman, like Jesus, is an exemplary figure to be imitated; a messianic character who not only saves Gotham from annihilation, but also redeems the cities soul through his sacrifice.

(Originally I had intended this as an even-handed comparison, but given the word limit I didn't really have space to discuss the differences, so it comes off as a strong affirmative argument. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, opinions, ideas etc.)