If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight, there are two things I want you to know: first, that it is an absolute masterpiece, and second, that it resonates very deeply with me. Much of what I write will deal with why I identify so much with the movie, but let me take a moment to summarize the film. Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. His parents, who built Wayne Enterprises, were intensely idealistic and spent their lives trying to improve Gotham City. Unfortunately, they were murdered in front of Bruce when he was very young, and in the first film in the Batman trilogy (directed by Christopher Nolan), we see the young Bruce go on a spiritual journey. That movie, titled Batman Begins, showed Bruce’s transformation from an angry and dejected young man, to his decision to become the Batman in order to continue his parent’s fight for justice.
In The Dark Knight, Batman’s attempts to do good are constantly foiled by The Joker, a sociopathic murderer played by Heath Ledger just before he died of a drug overdose; it is a haunting, brilliant, spine-tingling performance, perhaps the best I have ever seen in a movie. The Joker puts the Batman into situation after situation where the line between Good and Evil is blurry; for instance, Ledger’s character informs Gotham that if Batman does not remove his mask and reveal himself to the world, five people will die. The Batman does not want to reveal himself for reasons I will explore below, but he finally realizes, after people begin dying, that he cannot abide the suffering he is causing.
However, when Bruce Wayne attends the press conference called by the incorruptible District Attorney Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart) to arrest the Batman, Dent steps forward and proclaims that he is the Batman. He does this because he does not want the Batman to acquiesce to the demands of a demented murderer. I will not give away any more of the plot, but suffice it to say that every single aspect of the film is magnificent: the acting, the beautiful soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (embedded in the bottom of this post), the cinematography, and the plot that, unlike a traditional superhero movie, forces its protagonists to make hard moral choices that are never ideal and never crystal clear.
Okay, so what does this have to do with me? Well, let me highlight a few points about our hero, Bruce Wayne, and his alter ego, Batman. Mr. Wayne is profoundly alone; his wealth isolates him, but more importantly, it is his decision to be a force for good that prevents him from living a normal life. His only love, Rachel, refuses to be with him “for as long as Gotham needs” him, and it becomes quite clear throughout the film that that day will not come any time soon. Bruce is only able to surround himself with Alfred, his devoted butler who has known him his entire life, and Lucious Fox (played by Morgan Freeman), the mastermind behind Batman’s car, suit, and other technologies.
And how does Batman fight evil? Although he does a lot of martial arts, karate-chopping type stuff, at his core, he uses technology and ethics (for instance, despite several opportunities to do so, he refuses to kill The Joker). What’s more, Batman embraces isolation: he is the masked vigilante, at once reviled and required by the people of Gotham…and that’s why he can’t take off the mask. Finally, Batman is NOT a superhero, but rather a human being making a choice to do good in a certain way.
Like Bruce Wayne, I feel a profound sense of isolation resulting from my passions–primarily poetry and social justice. The weapons I wield are my attempts to adhere strictly to ethics, my use of technology for social good, and the fire that burns in my creative soul. In the movie, there is a scene where Bruce Wayne, bloodied and bruised from a night fighting crime, is stitching himself up when Alfred says to him, ‘Know your limits.’ In reply, Bruce says, ‘Batman has no limits.’ Alfred counters, ‘But you do, Sir,’ only to hear in reply, ‘Yes, but I can’t afford to know them.’ Unfortunately, that is how I feel about myself: that I can singlehandedly make a significant dent in poverty, that I can be a powerful force to justice in the world. However, this refusal to accept that I have limits leads me to leap farther than my muscles allow and, in turn, collapse in a puddle of pain and misery.
The question with which I have grappled for so many years is, how do I accept my limits given the extent to which the fire of passion that burns inside me pushes me to ask for more, expect more, and try to do more? On the one hand, if I accept my limits, I feel that I am stifling my energy; on the other, if I act as though I am without limits, I inevitably fall short of my expectations.
One of the most painful scenes in the Dark Knight comes when Bruce decides to reveal himself as Batman; trying to justify the decision, he says “People are dying, Alfred. What am I to do?” Alfred’s response? “Endure, Master Wayne, Endure.” So I struggle on, unsure of how to balance my life, of what is right and wrong, what is healthy or not. But irrespective of the jumble of contradictions that make up my heart, the one thing I know is that I will always, always endure.
Below is the stunning soundtrack to the movie. Enjoy.
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