Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 8:45 pm | Fair 56º


Cinema in Focus: ‘The Dark Knight’

Can even the best of us be corrupted? This solemn version of the Batman films provides a glimpse at the answer.

3 Stars — Challenging

The comic book story version of Batman is not easily found in this latest presentation of the good vs. evil story of Gotham City’s most famous crime fighter. A much darker version of earlier stories, The Dark Knight is told with little humor and with its central hero having neither a love interest nor a protégé (Robin) at his side.

His loneliness leads him to be a more solemn and reclusive character than we have known before. This latest of the Batman films asks the question: “Can even the best of us be corrupted?” In The Dark Knight, we have a glimpse at the answer.

The Dark Knight has two other characters besides Batman (Christian Bale) who take center stage. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is the new crime-fighting District Attorney who is handsome, committed, articulate and passionate about cleaning up the crime of Gotham City.

In many ways, he surpasses Batman as the symbol of virtue in a godless environment. This fact is not lost on Batman, or on his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, as he contemplates whether this is the time to hang up his wings. It is obvious that the richest loner in Gotham is feeling the emptiness of never being able to live and love openly with his beloved Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

The other character at center stage is the Joker (Heath Ledger), whose psychopathic evil surpasses earlier compelling versions portrayed by Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero.

Ledger brings a depth of evil to the sick humor of the Joker that is chilling. It is disturbing to contemplate the effect this consuming role had on Ledger, who died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills at the end of filming. The Joker’s psychological mind games and attacks on the souls of those responsible for the well-being of the community are genuinely evil.

Without giving away the plot, it is safe to say that the Joker nearly destroys the lives of everyone of good intent in the film. His primary target is the District Attorney, who has proven himself to be a man of character and commitment. If he can bring down the DA, he also can keep Batman on the scene as his greatest nemesis and challenge. Batman had been diminishing his activities in Gotham City as the District Attorney had risen in stature and success.

A central question in the film is whether all men are corruptible. Setting aside the comic book answer, history and religion tell us that the answer is yes. No one in history has ever shown themselves to be incorruptible except Jesus.

Even so, popular culture hopes and longs for the answer to be no. Viewers want the virtuous crime fighters to remain incorruptible. The answer lies not in expecting that good people will be God-like, but rather that good people who fall from grace are redeemable. It is most often in being broken and restored that character is developed, compassion and patience with self and others are gained, and people are changed for the better.

The Dark Knight takes us to this question but does not answer it. If anything, the value in this story is that it requires us to grapple with the question and seek answers elsewhere.


» Do you believe that all people can be corrupted? Why or why not?

» The lonely struggle of fighting evil has isolated Batman emotionally and relationally. Do you believe that the same thing happens to police officers and others who work to bring about good by confronting evil in a variety of situations? Why or why not?

» In psychology, there is an intervention known as “psycho-drama” in which a person tries on a new and better way of being in a relationship. Do you believe that an actor who is immersed in playing an evil part within a film experiences the opposite of the healing experienced by acting out a restored relationship in “psycho-drama”? Why or why not?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit

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