Tag Archives: batman

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus at the Movies Ep. 5 – Batman V Superman (w/ Ben Doublett and Jackson Ferrell)

batman v superman - cantus firmus at the movies

“The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world–
God versus man.”

In this episode I and special guests Ben Doublett and Jackson Ferrell watched Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and talked about its examination of the problem of evil and how it portrays a Christian answer to the problem by way of Superman’s identification with humanity. We also discussed the idea of one’s view of God being shaped by their relationship with their father, as portrayed in the film. Because Ben is an atheist influenced by the egoistic moral philosophy of Ayn Rand, we also had some excellent discussion of egoism and altruism (and which of the heroes represented which view). A very philosophical episode!

Ben Doublett’s recent novella, Kung Fu Gladiator, can be found on Amazon. Jackson Ferrell’s blog, Chocolate Book, can be found at www.chocolatebook.net

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170615-CFATM-Ep5-BatmanVSuperman(wBenDoublettandJacksonFerrell).mp3

Music:
“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

The Gospel According to Batman V Superman

Fresh from the theater after having seen Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have been reflecting upon one particularly fascinating theme within it. In a far more thoughtful and sophisticated manner than the vast majority of overtly “Christian” movies, this film promotes a theology–even a gospel.

Warning: some spoilers ahead.

From the outset, I want to point out that this isn’t a theologian finding theology where it wasn’t intended. Indeed, Lex Luthor (of all people) reiterates explicitly and repeatedly that what transpires in this film points to something greater–the problem of evil and man’s relationship to God.

Luthor provides the viewpoint of the unrepentant cynic. Superman is odious because he resembles God and God cannot be trusted. If God couldn’t prevent the suffering of a young, abused Lex, better for God to die (or at least his proxy). Luthor therefore attempts to orchestrate deicide against Superman, first by the hands of man (Batman) and then by the hands of the devil (Doomsday).

The answer to Lex’s supposedly unsolvable problem of evil comes out of left field. How does a seemingly omnipotent and omnibenevolent God respond to evil, particularly when it results in free human beings who want to kill him despite His desire to save them? He identifies with their humanity and gives his life in order to defeat him who has the power of death (in this case, Doomsday). In doing so, he inspires conversion in men (represented here by Batman) who for the first time see God as loving–and pure love means being willing to suffer for the good of the beloved even though the lover doesn’t have to.

If God is willing to suffer with us, maybe our suffering isn’t as meaningless as we think it is. This seems to be the catharsis of Bruce Wayne. When Wayne sees Superman as powerful and alien, Superman (like God) seems quite dangerous. But when Wayne realizes that Superman has taken on humanity and even feels a love for his human mother as great as Wayne did, this changes him. Suddenly Wayne is overwhelmed with compassion–with empathy even–and helps Superman to rescue his mother from the clutches of Luthor. One can hear echoes of Jesus’ words to John on the cross to take care of Mary: “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27).

This theology addresses what bothered so many fanboys about this movie–Batman’s willingness to kill. In this reading, it makes sense for Batman to kill for most of the movie–life is ultimately meaningless to him, so he creates his own purpose. It is Superman’s love and sacrifice that changes Batman, not a cold, deontological ethic grounded in passionless conviction. Despite what the enlightenment deists affirmed, it is not philosophy which makes us good but love. After seeing Superman’s self-identification and self-sacrifice to save humanity from death, Batman is determined to be a better man. This is the reason why he decides not to brand Luthor in prison, a brand which we are told sets inmates apart for death by the hands of fellow prisoners.

Though it has to be teased out, there is a rich theology in this film which is frankly unparalleled by what the Christian film industry is producing. It presents a gospel which is somehow more moving and more compelling despite not having to be spelled out.

The Dark Knight Rises, the French Revolution, and the Dangers of Political Extremism

Recently released on DVD, The Dark Knight Rises completes director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The plot hinges upon villain Bane’s takeover of Gotham for the purpose of destroying it, on the pretense that he is a liberator giving Gotham back to the people in an anti-rich uprising. This event pulls Batman out of retirement, forcing him to do something to save his city.

The Dark Knight Rises was released at the tail end of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s popularity. OWS was a generally strongly left leaning movement (though there were certainly libertarian factions) that reacted against a few Americans holding much of the country’s wealth. They called themselves the 99%, although compared to the rest of the world’s wealth distribution, most of them had much more in common with the wealthy 1% who lived a life of comparative leisure. That aside, many of the concerns they raised were quite valid, though some of the more extreme rhetoric was at times quite troubling.

The Dark Knight Rises places some of the OWS rhetoric into the mouth of Selina Kyle (Catwoman). Kyle aligns herself with Bane against those in power in Gotham who she views as greedy and selfish (including, ironically, Bruce Wayne, though he has admittedly been lax in recent years of his philanthropic responsibilites). At first she almost seems to view Bane as a force of retributive justice, but it doesn’t take long for her to see how volatile and twisted he is.

After Bane kills the rich and “gives Gotham back to the people,” including redistributing their property, Kyle, while looking through what once was a wealthy person’s home, woefully remarks to her friend, “This is someone’s home.” To which her friend responds, “no, it’s everyone’s home… this is what you wanted.”

Similarly, when Bane “occupies Wall Street,” some police seem less than enthralled about stopping him. When it is remarked that he’s messing with everyone’s money, one cop says, “my money’s under my pillow,” suggesting he has no sympathy for the rich because they live more comfortably. Of course, he fails to understand that the economy is an inter-connected web, and the loss of a (at least relatively) free market harms everyone, and he is chastised for it. If Wall Street falls, the money under his pillow won’t be worth anything.

Bane is not only no better than the power-hungry capitalists Kyle railed against, he is far worse– far more destructive. The implication is that one can’t be too careful when jumping on political bandwagons. Just because someone is against the old order doesn’t mean they can be trusted to bring a better new order. Political extremism is dangerous, no matter what side of the spectrum it’s on.

This point seems to be driven home by plotpoints with historical parallels, particularly in the French Revolution– an event in history where the king and many aristocrats were killed (by the use of the guillotine, the Revolution’s most terrifying symbol) and power was given to “the people,” which is to say to anti-aristocratic, anti-religious tyrants who claimed to represent the rights of all men. Their concerns about the privilege of the powerful were quite valid, but what they inherited through the tools of violent oppression were no better.

One key example of TDKR paralleling the French Revolution deals with the iconic moment par excellence of the Revolution– the storming of the Bastille prison. This is matched in TDKR by Bane storming Blackgate Prison and releasing the prisoners. In both instances it was claimed to be an act of liberation against the oppressive jailers who are at the head of society.

Other similarities include the leaders of the new order– in TDKR they are seated as judges on ridiculous high benches; during the French Revolution the Montagnards (mountain men) were named for the high benches from which they declared the fates of the formerly rich and powerful. Also of note is that the French new order’s convention began meeting in a tennis court, whereas Bane announces the new order in a football stadium. All of these parallels in TDKR point to the fact that the threat of political extremism isn’t theoretical– it’s a genuine danger. It’s happened before.

Other parallels are less specific, such as when Bane tears up a picture of Harvey Dent in front of the crowds, claiming it is a false idol. This brings to remembrance the destruction of places of worship by the anti-religious French revolutionaries. Bane claims that he has given Gotham back to the people, but then rules over it far more despotically than the capitalists and cops had before, demanding the deaths of the rich and powerful in the name of freedom. Bane is the French Robespierre, the Russian Lenin, the Chinese Mao. He claims to represent the people, and because his tyrannical approach looks different than that of the previous corrupt forces, he is mistakenly hailed as a savior. However, his impact is in hindsight only detrimental to freedom, prosperity, and human life.

The Dark Knight Rises also seems to pull from fictional protrayals of the French Revolution, specifically Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. This becomes clear at the end of the film, when Commissioner Gordon reads an apt selection from it.

The Dark Knight Rises is a more complicated film than one might suspect at first glance. Sure, it’s a superhero movie and some of its events seem improbable, but the points it illustrates are incredibly significant for our lives, and have a lot more to do with historical and contemporary reality than we would be expected to think.

The Dark Knight and Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement

I know I’m posting kind of late about what has long ago been a cultural phenomenon, but I felt like I had made an interesting discovery and wanted to share it. There’s a theme in the film that I’m not sure was intended. There seems to be a strong Christian parallel of Batman, Joker, and Harvey Dent with Jesus, Satan, and Adam respectively.

The Joker is unique as a villain because he doesn’t have some sob story to rationalize why he does what he does. He simply loves to hurt people. However, killing people is not necessarily his main focus. In fact, he would gladly face death himself if he could bring Batman or Dent into sin, ruining whatever good is in them.

Harvey Dent, the squeaky clean district attorney of Gotham, shares an important characteristic with Adam– he starts off good, but is led away by the Joker, constantly being torn between his original good nature and the evil nature that has taken over. Finally, he completely demolishes all of the morals he once believed in. That’s where Batman (as a type of Christ) steps in.

Although I can’t say Batman shares a lot of characteristics with Jesus, he at least shares three– he is the last source of moral order in a world gone wrong, he doesn’t succumb to Joker’s temptations, and he takes Harvey Dent’s place by putting his sin upon himself. This seems to me to be a clear parallel of substitutionary atonement– Christ taking on our sins and allowing himself to be punished so we can be declared righteous (justified).