Batman Begins, Additional Thoughts

In my previous post, Archetypical Heroes, I discussed seeing Batman Begins last night with my wife. As a result, my dreams were rich with Batman imagery and upon reflection I thought of a few additional things to say.

There is no mention of God or Jesus in the film (not surprising) and thankfully there are no caricatures of Christians as ineffectual do-gooders or bigoted extremists. Most Christians will see the lack of any spirituality and Bruce Wayne’s positive view of basic humanity as a negative, but I am neutral about that. Instead the movie centers on the two human approaches to evil. Despite that premise, as I noted in my last post, Bruce Wayne acts in a very biblical manner, especially for someone working outside the law. The difference between Batman and other vigilante-style characters, such as his antagonist in the movie, is that he does not take the lives of those who are evil on purpose, nor does he execute judgment. Instead, the caped crusader (interesting choice of words) confronts evil by binding the strong man (Matthew 12:29) and turning him over to authority.

There is a rich streak of vigilantism in our cultural history in which executioners of evil predominate, like Charles Bronson’s character in the Death Wish series of movies. But I think that the most powerful images from that vein are those who do not execute the bad guys, but instead either capture them red-handed, or set up scenarios where they get their just deserts. A good example of this was seen in the long-running television series The Pretender (I am not talking about its lurching demise but its early success). In that series, Jarod, the gifted pretender who escaped from a top secret black ops operation spends his freedom bringing evil-doers to justice. He traps them in their own schemes, leaving them trussed up and overflowing with convicting evidence. There is a great line from one of the early shows where a woman in a hospital bed asks him, “Are you my doctor?” Jarod replies, “I am today.” Jarod became whatever was necessary (he successfully pretended) to capture the bad guys.

Batman and The Pretender are two examples of what biblical extra-governmental vigilantes might ideally be like. Sometimes private citizens are the only resource to bring evil to justice. But only God or his agents, such as legitimate government (Romans 13:3-5), have the right to execute judgment and to wield the sword of retribution.

With that in mind, one very troubling but very interesting movie that tried to join the vigilante/agent of God premise was Frailty. In that movie Bill Paxton plays a father who gets visions from God (later followed by his sons) in which he is instructed to do away with specific people, demons he calls them (mostly serial killers, serial rapists, and pedophiles), who regular justice cannot seem to identify and deal with. His chosen method is an axe. Though through the whole movie you are led to doubt the legitimacy of his claim of God’s calling, at the end, during their closing execution, they walk through an entire FBI office filled with surveillance cameras. When later reviewed, the playback only shows static where the brothers should be, implying supernatural intervention and God’s protection on their mission. All the people they have killed do turn out to be vile predators. The protagonists are led to these people without any external evidence, relying instead on God’s guidance. Yet the movie was strangely believable. It made you wonder if God was really doing something like that to deal with severe and hidden evil.

When looking at the Old Testament, this sort of mission might be conceivable. However, it would be highly unlikely in the Church age. Making it even more unlikely is the fact that Satan has already co-opted this scenario for himself. His protagonists, who usually kill only regular sinners or even relative innocents, loudly blame God for their actions, declaring He commanded them to do it.

So, why do we have these types of characters and cultural heroes? I believe they speak to a deep need we all possess for justice, for setting things right. Christians know that we all carry within us the image of God, an image that reflects, among other things, God’s demand for judgment and justice, as well as his compassion for the victims. But like Bruce Wayne’s example, it is important to resist the temptation to personally execute judgment. Yes, as individuals we are called to resist evil, but never to presume upon God’s retrobutive turf. We all need to remember that the next time we want to set something right. There is a proper biblical way to do it, and also a wrong way, a way that usurps what is not ours, something we have to avoid at all costs.

May God bless your day and if you go to Batman Begins, do relax and enjoy the show.

Update: I have developed other thoughts relating to themes explored in this movie in my posting Defined By What We Do. You are invited to explore that insight also.

  4 comments for “Batman Begins, Additional Thoughts

  1. June 20, 2005 at 10:57 am

    Now that the guys are going to the movies on their own, we don’t have to rush out opening day! I guess my husband and I will go eventually. We rented Man on Fire, Denzel Washington, last night. It is the other kind of revenge movie. Actually, I saw him as a Christ type. I really liked it. Your point is understood though. We are not given the right to take life on our own, I agree. This movie mentions God’s judgment and forgiveness. I recommend it.

  2. June 20, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    Sweetie and I saw this movie yesterday, and we both really liked it. Batman’s methods of dealing with the guilty are definitely a sort of “God’s will be done” situation – he sets things up, brings them to justice, but Batman doesn’t deliver the final blow. He allows the proper authorities or, as you said, fate to deal with them.

    There was actually one mention of God in the film, and I’m still not sure what to think about it (and I don’t mean this at all negatively): A duplicitious criminal is in Batman’s clutches (so to speak!), and ends a confession with ‘I swear to God!’ Batman doesn’t take this very well, growling, “No. Swear to *me*!”

    I tended to like that part, honestly – let’s face it, most folks don’t consider God at all, do they? Batman – during the movie, which showcases a pretty hopeless, Godless city – is the most frightening thing these bad guys had to deal with. He was far more threatening than God Himself – not necessarily a good thing, but in the context of the film, it certainly makes sense.

  3. June 21, 2005 at 12:27 am

    I saw Man On Fire and the movie mirrors the man (the character). One side of him a one man vindetta (blowing up the corrupt police chief) and on the other side a sacrificial lamb (offering his life for the girl’s). Powerful story.

    Miss O’Hara, one thing interesting about Batman, what evil comes to fear regular people embrace for the hero is only fearsome to the evil doers. In a way that is a reflection of God, father to the redeemed and The Destroyer to evil and its fellow travelers. No wonder people like Spong don’t like the God they see in the Old Testament. He scares the s**t out of them.

    Glad you enjoyed the film.

  4. gaith battikhi
    July 30, 2005 at 5:45 am

    is batman really the sign of the devil ?? here is what i got from this movie .. that god (ras al ghoul) took batman into his hands and made him his greatest student but when it came to putting and doing god’s well to bring balance back to life just like they did in rome and london .. he sent plague on rats, the devildidnt agree and wanted to do good on his own .. as he went to know the lives of criminals but never became one of them .. u see that when he makes ppl steal cuz they are hungry . when u see that everything in the movie makes sense .. how batman or the devil lives underground .. everything is black .. and when he flies over the civilians he looks like the devil himself .. not forgetting that he wanted to become a symbol of fear .. and ppl fear what they cant see .. he wanted to manuplate the fears of others too .. ras alghol asked him if he thought he was supernatural but it was only a matter of deception .. to me all the movie resembles the fight between god and devil but this movie takes the side of the devil showing that ppl should see what devil wants is to help not to destroy .. he didnt want to kill humans like god wanted to .. so the hidden meaning is really clear .. well thats all .. i would love to get ur comment

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