by Skye Jethani
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, Batman!
I've been meaning to write a post about The Dark Knight for weeks, but between family vacations and working on the fall issue of Leadership, I've been swamped. I'm a big fan of superhero movies, and this summer I've seen a bunch - Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and the latest installment of Christopher Nolan's fantastic Batman series, The Dark Knight. My companion to most of these comic book movies is a psychiatrist from my church who has a penchant for professional wrestling and shares my follicle failings. (I highly recommend watching fantasy movies with a psychiatrist - it's more fun than applying Freudian dream analysis to nursery rhymes.)
I feel no need to add my accolades for The Dark Knight to those already swirling around the web. (Check out Todd Hertz's review at CTMovies.com.) Instead, I want to discuss an interesting storytelling element of the film that may help explain one of the more mysterious elements of the Bible - emphasis on the word may. (Let's not take a movie too seriously or read overly spiritual themes into it. That only spoils an otherwise good the film and risks diminishing our faith.)
Batman's nemesis in The Dark Knight is the Joker, played by the late great Heath Ledger. Unlike earlier film depictions of the Clown Prince of Crime, Ledger's Joker has no back-story, no origin, no narrative arc. In The Dark Knight, we never discover what would drive a man to dye his hair green, paint his face white, smear a ghastly smile across his cheeks and murder people for the sheer fun of it.
In Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, the Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, is a mob boss who falls into a vat of chemicals that bleaches his skin, gives him a permanent grin, and loosens a few screws in his head. Nicholson's Joker is the product of an accident. This knowledge humanizes the character, and despite his evil behavior the audience retains some degree of pity for the villain.
Not so in The Dark Knight. Director Christopher Nolan says he intentionally avoided giving the Joker any back-story in his movie. "He's got no story arc," says Nolan, "he's just a force of nature tearing through [the film]." Co-writer David Goyer says there is no need for an origin for the Joker because, "He just is. He's more interesting without it."
Nolan says a back-story for the Joker "would reduce the character. It's more frightening because, in a sense, there is no mystery there.... He is exactly what he presents himself to be; which is an anarchist." Nolan describes the Joker as a "mad dog" - a description carried into the film when the Joker describes himself as a dog chasing cars - he wouldn't know what to do if he caught one.
How does this relate to the Bible? Well, Scripture is largely silent regarding the origins of the enemy and evil - the blight of sin that marks our world. We know how humanity rebelled against God and fell into sin through the deception of the serpent in the garden - but where did the serpent come from? If God created a perfect creation and declared all things "good," how and when did evil appear on the scene?
Yes, I know Jesus says he saw Satan fall from heaven (Luke 10:18), but even he offers no real back-story, no explanation. I am also aware of the apocryphal writings that try to explain the evil one's narrative arc and the popularity of such ideas with pop-evangelical fiction. But none of that changes the fact that scripture largely ignores the question - where did evil come from? Instead, the thrust of the Bible is focused on what God has done about it.