Unlike its immediate predecessor the final instalment in the Batman trilogy was particularly difficult to interpret on any symbolic or artistic level. The second film in the series, The Dark Knight, struck me as a commentary (among other things) on the fact that Batman made an ethical commitment not to kill people, and the Joker set out to make himself an exception to this rule as a sort of wildcard. As I watched The Dark Night Rises the only immediately interpretable aspect of the film seemed to be the theme of terrorism (a familiar and pertinent topic for our present day).
The near present public consciousness, when terrorism is mentioned, would likely turn to 9/11 (on a larger scale) and the recent Colerado shooting (on a smaller scale). The terrorist model, as it is presented in the media and in the film, seeks to cause the public to live in fear. Both of the aforementioned events have succeeded in a limited way in the pursuit of that goal: the former through our heightened state of alert in the west (real and metaphorical), and the latter through the fact that no one entering a screening of the newest Batman film will feel entirely at ease (myself included).
To contrast, the symbolic weight of Batman is found in his resistance to fear alongside his channelling of anger and rage in the pursuit of the good (public and private), and I see these qualities as strengths for our time. The superhero, as a cultural archetype, is very important not only for the secular public, but also for the Mennonite readership of this blog. In the same way that the last film complicated Batman’s commitment to not killing, those involved in the pacifist tradition should seek to complicate their understanding of the use of force in order to protect the weak. The Dark Knight rises should also cause us to think a little harder, not only about what a pacifist response to terrorism would look like, but also about how one might take action against an oppressive regime while retaining a pacifist commitment.
Where the movie is concerned, the so called ‘peace’ of Gotham City proves to be no peace at all given that the lie of Harvey Dent’s death has lead to the imprisonment of the mob. Commissioner James Gordon’s guilt regarding this fact only furthers the foreboding atmosphere of the beginning of the film.
The villain Bane, ‘born on hell on earth’, is the usual postmodern nihilistic yet intelligent villain. An agent of chaos with a menacing robotic voice, Bane gives the reclusive Batman a good reason to come out of his self-imposed exile. As Bruce Wayne takes up the mantle of Batman a final time, Alfred Pennyworth resigns in protest (a turn which only assists the disappearance of meaning and dark mood of the film).
Later in the film, after Bane has succeeded in holding the entirety of Gotham hostage to a nuclear weapon, Batman is forced to conquer his fear and save Gotham from lawless chaos. Being a symbol of order and law in chaos and confusion, Batman repeats the heartening maxim: anyone can be Batman.
So I would like to ask the question: is there a heroism without violence?
Does direct and forcible action against fear and oppression necessarily entail violence (i.e. the symbolic violation of a sacred boundary of identity or the physical violation of bodies). Given this definition of violence, is it possible to cross boundaries without violating them? Open questions, and yet questions to which I would like answers.
Last week I preached a sermon on the topic of violence, and the definition of violence not as destruction or war but as the crossing of a line without communication or assent. Having been inspired by the recent Batman film I feel as though I am left with little to do against injustice, especially because it seems that most violence is done in such a way that one could get away with it in the presence of a person professing to be a pacifist. Perhaps this is a dead debate, but I can’t help but feel that there must be an option (backed by good theology and theory) which is capable of subverting injustice. Maybe it is the strength of weakness or martyrdom, or maybe it is a measured dose of force that does not violate other human beings (symbolically or physically).
*If anyone has thoughts on this issue I would welcome them below (keeping in mind that I don’t check this space for comments as regularly as I should, so I can’t promise consistent prompt responses).