Why did James Holmes pick this particular movie, The Dark Knight Rises, to kill 12 people and injure some 58 others, when there are so many violent movies – many of them slasher movies - far more violent than this one?
In the nine days since this horrific act, the net has filled with revelations and reactions. FoxNews.Com reports a notebook Holmes, a former PhD student in neuroscience, sent to a University of Colorado psychology professor. He had filled it with “drawings and illustrations”[i] with “details about how he was going to kill people.” But this is summer and few professors regularly check campus snail mail off semester. So, the package sat unopened. Citing his bizarre behavior of slaughtering innocent strangers and then calmly surrendering to police (rather than shooting it out or killing himself), the NESARA website cites a New York Times interview with a fellow pre-med classmate and research assistant and speculates on the “conjecture that James Holmes may have been involved in mind-altering neuroscience research and ended up becoming involved at a depth he never anticipated. His actions clearly show a strange detachment from reality, indicating he was not in his right mind. That can only typically be accomplished through drugs, hypnosis or trauma (and sometimes all three).”[ii]
Here at The Christian Post, a number of varied and thoughtful blogs looked deeper into the reason for this unprovoked violence against strangers. Later the same day of the shootings, Michael Greiner reminded us, “James Holmes did this because he is a normal man. We will say that he went nuts, and of course he did. But nuts in a very human manner. James Holmes killed those people because humans kill people. That’s what we do. We are murderers . We kill.”[iii] The next day, Olabode Ososami cited the account of Laban’s goats to draw out the lesson that “we produce in kind of what we visualize,” concluding “If we see a future glory, and catch a vision of God’s revival then we will eventually be part of these events. If we are continually bombarded with violence, vanity, lusts and filth often enough…soon we are drawn into paths that bring these ills into our lives.”[iv] Two days later, Colorado resident Pastor Steven R. Dodd examined the problem of evil in Job to find hope that “God sometimes will use your own personal tragedy later in life as a way for you to minister to people who are going through what you’ve already been through.”[v] The next day, Peter Mattice asked, “Does that mean the movie is to blame?” And answered, “We need to stop wasting time…blaming the movies for the act of the person. And start blaming the people responsible. The people who didn’t see the signs and get them help they need.”[vi] Also that day, John D. Wilsey asked, “Will the church be salt?” Citing the excessive violence in the second of the series, The Dark Knight, he mused, “It is certainly ironic that people love to watch grotesque violence in graphic detail, but become so surprised and horrified when it happens in real life,” concluding “a bloodthirsty culture begets a bloodletting culture,” and urging the church “to speak truth, love, and life into the culture,” bringing “the only thing that will change hearts…the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[vii]
Over at Christianity Today blogs, Todd Hertz sees The Dark Knight Rises “proving that defeating evil is not a one-time proposition. It is relentless and will just keep coming. And so, good must be persistent as well.”[viii] And Nick Olson observes a dissonance in all filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s protagonists in their struggle “to recognize our propensity to deceive ourselves,” seeking “how we might transcend it,” while creating a conflict between a need to “believe in something outside ourselves” and a desire to see that “totem” “fall,” which signals to us that “something’s wrong.” As Olson concludes, “We need a Light to break through.”[ix]
Taken together, each of these insights pinpoints fallen humanity as the focus of attention in its predilection for violence and its need of the search and rescue mission of God-Among-Us, Jesus the Christ. As catalyst, this is what The Dark Knight Rises reveals.
What makes the choice to wreak such havoc in this specific film so jarring is that, in it, the figure of Batman and the honest police who work with him attempt to stand relentlessly for good. At its core, The Dark Knight Rises is actually a movie about the overwhelming need for mercy in human relationships. Unlike many movies of this genre – and this is a constant through all three movies in this series - the villains are not simply greedy, ultilitarian (or crazed) egocentrics. All three movies deal with the farthest right imaginable fascists who have decided to eliminate evil by introducing anarchy, allowing people they have judged to be beyond saving to begin to destroy themselves, and then to finish the job.
Batman, for all his strong arm tactics, is actually the champion of mercy. As he tells the Catwoman, no guns! What he is combating is what drives the conflict in all three movies: this viewpoint that if we leave people without the restraint of law they will utterly destroy themselves so we would serve the moral balance of the universe better to finish them off.
But Batman is resolutely unwaveringly dedicated to intervening and ironically becomes a Christ-type in the sacrifices he is willing to make as he lays down his life for strangers.
First, he gives up his normal life style, health, safety, money for his mission. The Joker in movie 2 is such a formidable enemy because his ruthlessness is not driven by a common sin of greed for gain. If Batman is giving away his money in all his causes, the Joker is taking everyone’s money away, burning stacks of it to the horror of his accomplices. The Joker is dedicated to anarchy, Batman to order. In the interest of order, supplying a hero to inspire the people, Batman gives up his dream of being the symbol himself in movie one and gives up his reputation in movie 2, because, as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance instructed us so many years ago, when the legend eclipses the truth, one prints the legend. The cost to Batman continues as he loses the woman that he loves (and with it his own sexually moral center, as he sleeps with someone [as it turns out a villain (!) in movie 3] -something he did not do in movie 1 or 2), though he can still redeem the Catwoman by an example of extending mercy. Losing people he loves culminates in the loss of his relationship with his surrogate father, his dedicated butler, Alfred. Then, Batman appears to give up his life.
But, as a Christ-type, he experiences a continual resurrection motif. He is always disappearing, thought dead and then reappearing. Called by a signal, rather than a prayer, he reappears, even climbing out of the prison of the earth, where he has been left, broken, to return to work to redeem (not save in the salvific sense of Jesus, but redeem in the salvaging sense) the people for whom he has given everything.
All three movies involve a search for symbols. In the first movie, Batman tries to create a symbol that is terrifying to the criminal class but encouraging to good people. In the second movie, symbols clash between the Joker’s and Batman’s. The Joker symbolizes the wild card of chaos, Batman order. At the end of the second movie all converge. The people choose Harvey Dent as their symbol and Batman has to take the other role, the negative image to highlight the positive image he and his police ally, Commissioner Gordon, think the people need.
But, in the third movie, truth must win out because that is part of the moral universe of the worldview of the movie. The Harvey Dent image must be replaced by the truth—that Batman is the real deliverer. In the final scene, he returns to “heaven” and gives his legacy on earth to the orphans and the mansion to his friend (the butler Alfred).
No wonder the makers of The Dark Knight Rises were so horrified at the chaotic killing. It was the antithesis of what they were hoping to convey. On July 24, within four days of the shootings, Christian Bale, the actor who played Batman, and his wife visited the wounded at Aurora Medical Center, a memorial set up for the victims, and the bereaved families, Warner Brothers pointing out he was doing this himself and not as a representative of the company.[x] On the movie’s official website, Christopher Nolan wrote, “The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”[xi]
Like Christ, the character Batman struggles to do good, but, unlike Christ, he continually gets deceived by those who look good but are not throughout the series. (Good thing he has a protective suit!) He is a Christ-type but not Christ.
It is an irony in this fallen world (and even in the Scriptures which contain horrific descriptions of violence [e.g. Judges 19]) that this movie series against mass murderers and the gratuitous use of violence is itself so violent. The good use force – and that excessively - but not gratuitous violence. Often, though, as in Batman beating the Joker to no avail in movie 2 to the horror of the on-watching police, it is easy to slip from one to the other, to become increasingly indistinguishable from the ultimate vigilantes one is trying to combat.
Like Jesus, Batman realizes there is hope for people’s redemption, but not if they are dead. As Jesus, Batman too comes to seek out and to save the lost (Gospel of Luke 19:10). But, unlike Jesus, despite his no-guns policy, Batman’s success is sketchy in leaving his opponents still with us, and he must ultimately step back and salvage what is left of his own life, while Jesus goes on to intercede for us, as our high priest representative, until the last judgment.
Still, the mission of the Christ-type in literature and film does not end and will not end until Jesus Christ, the true Source of what the type images, returns. So, Robin emerging at the end as a heroic figure suggests the saga will continue with a movie four—the rise of Robin!
Bill and Aida
[ii] NESARA-Restore America – Galactics News, “Colorado killing EXPOSED!!” http://nesaranews.blogspot.com/2012/07/colorado-killing-exposed.html
[iii] Michael Greiner, “James Holmes, Average Man, Killer,” http://blogs.christianpost.com/preaching-as-war/james-holmes-average…”
[iv] Olabode Ososmi, “Havoc of the Dark Knight – Aurora Massacre,” http://blogs.christianpost.com/christianlife/havoc-of-the-dark-knight-au...
[v] Pastor Steven R. Dodd, “Why Did God Allow the ‘Dark Knight’ to Rise?” http://blogs.christianpost.com/building=his-kingdom/why-did-god-allow...
[vi] Peter Mattice, “Blaming Others for One’s Mental Illness,” http://blogs.christianpost.com/the-pastors-eye/blaming-others-for-ones...
[vii] John D Wilsey, “Will the Church Be Salt?” http://blogs.christianpost.com/to-breathe-your-free-air/will -the-church...
[viii] Todd Hertz, “The Dark Knight Rises,” www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/julyweb-only/dark-knight-rises.html?start=2.
[ix] Nick Olson, “Deception’s Darkness: Seeking the Light in the Films of Christopher Nolan,” www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/julyweb-only/deceptions-darkness-christopher-nolan.html?start=3.
[x] “Christian Bale –Visiting “Dark Knight Rises” Shooting Victims in Colorado, “http://www.tmz.com/2012/07/24/christian-bale-visiting-shooting-victim..., and http://www.csmonitor.com/Photo-Galleries/In-Pictures/Aurora-Colo.-s...
[xi] Christopher Nolan, www.thedarkknightrises.com.