Who do you believe in?
The Dark Knight, one of the most stunning films ever produced, poignantly asks us the question: What kind of people are we?
Do we give in to our carnal and animal instincts of vengeance, survival, and petty jealousy? Are we corrupt men and women who can be easily swayed by charismatic leaders to do right or wrong? Or are we naturally good people by birth who really want to care for and treat others with love, respect, and compassion?
These are the central questions at the core of this movie. The Joker (Heath Ledger, in what may be his finest role) believes people are naturally evil that only need a little push to cave into their animal instincts. Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) believes that a misled populace needs a little inspiration to overcome their flaws. And Batman (Christian Bale) hopes that despite setbacks and misguided actions, people are naturally good and benevolent, and look to their leaders as the prime examples of the path they know they should follow.
It is their belief (or lack thereof) in the people of Gotham City that drive the actions of these three central characters of The Dark Knight.
The story here centers around a crime family thrown into the spotlight by Batman after the events of the previous film, Batman Begins (2005), and the emergence of a new kind of sadistic villain known as the Joker. The Joker has no regrets and seems to have no reservations about ensuring his own survival through violence. He begins a crime spree, killing just for the thrill of it, and enjoying watching other suffer by the work of his hands.
Harvey Dent, the city's district attorney, uses the law to bring the crime families to justice, and in so doing, becomes a civic hero. People put their greatest hopes and trust in him, and pray that he will be the real savior that Gotham needs to rid their streets of crime and evil. He is seen as Gotham City's "white knight" in shining armor (even Batman views him as such).
SPOILER ALERT: But this Gotham hero is not the perfect icon. During a tragic turn of events, Dent is horribly disfigured in an explosion, and on the same night, loses the life of his and Bruce Wayne's beloved Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal, taking over the role from Katie Holmes in the previous film). The hero crumbles as he falls into hopeless despair and insatiable anger. Dent becomes the villain, takes on the mantle of "Two-Face," and goes on his own killing spree.
The "white knight" of Gotham may have fallen from his horse, so it is left to a "dark knight" to once again carry on the hero's mantle.
Despite his own struggles, Bruce Wayne/Batman believes in the innate goodness of the people, and it is this belief that keeps him grounded. He does not believe men and women are naturally prone to carnal instincts, nor that they are misguided souls looking for a hero to take away their problems as both the Joker and Harvey Dent thought. Instead, he believes that his role is to inspire and guide people; that people would eventually step up, if only the bravest among them would go first into the night.
ANOTHER SPOILER: In a climatic boat ferry scene, the citizens of Gotham are given a chance to prove themselves. They are unfortunately stuck with a critical moral choice: either blow up another boat and save themselves, or sacrifice themselves and hope the other boat followed suit. The Joker staked his victory on the moral depravity of people; the Batman staked his victory on their selflessness and compassion for others. The Dark Knight's belief was rewarded.
If Batman, Joker, and Two-Face came to our city or town, who would be proven right? Do you believe in the genuine goodness of creation, or do you think that we will fall with pressure and weakness? In Genesis, it is said: "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." (Gen. 1:31). This includes men and women who are, according to this holy Scripture, good and decent at their core.
The New Testament says that, despite this goodness, human beings struggle and fall - and a savior is necessary to guide and show us the way towards our inner greatness. God sent Christ into our world to show us what we could become, what God created us to be.
As The Dark Knight closes, Commissioner Gorden (Gary Oldman) tells us of the heroism of Batman: "He is not the hero Gotham deserves, but he is the one we truly need. So we will hunt him because he can take it. He is more than a hero. He is our sacred guardian, our trusted sentinel, our dark knight."
A hero who follows Christian love and compassion will always make enemies and will always be opposed, just as Christ was. A hero who guards and protects us might very well be the one hunted down, just as Christ was. A hero with virtue and bravery can take it, but that indeed makes them more than just a hero, just as Christ was.
God created each of us good. God created each of us to become great, to be inspired by selfless guides, guardians, and heroes, and to become the hero ourselves. God sent Christ into the world as an example of perfect love and heroism, to show us the way, and as the model for all of us. Like Batman, Christ was scorned, rejected, and even hated by the very people he came to save. But he kept on saving us, no matter the obstacles.
This is our call. This is our way. If we follow Jesus, there is no other way. We must rise to become the dark knight for others, following the true white knight we call Christ.
In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent campaigned on the slogan, "I believe in Harvey Dent." However, God campaigns on another slogan, evidenced in the goodness he spoke of in Genesis: "I believe in my creation... I believe in you." Is that a campaign slogan you can believe in, too?