A Critique of The Dark Knight

Hello friends, how was your week? I have been up past my eye brows in school work, midterms, and the like. I thought as we both sink down into those oh-so-deliciously comfortable navy blue couches, we could reflect on this paper I wrote for my Aesthetics class. Aesthetics is the philosophical study of what is beautiful. Because the professor has a curious fascination with superheros, part of this class entailed watching, The Dark Knight, and writing a critique from a philosophical perspective. Basically, it’s thinking hard about an AWESOME movie! Prof for the WIN if you ask me. I thought I would share the paper with you, and you can let me know your thoughts 🙂

Happy reading and blessings. 

The Dark Knight

 A Critical View from an Aesthetic Perspective


Man is condemned to be free.” ~Jean-Paul Sartre

            This paper will give a critical review of the Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, referencing relevant readings and lectures through the lens of Tolkien’s Myth Theory then relate it to The Dark Knight. For Tolkien, a Christian Hero must have several of the following characteristics:

  1. They must be fighting for goodness, justice or agape
  2. They strive to enhance morality, not detract from it
  3. They aren’t born a hero; they must train for it
  4. Humble
  5. Lover of Justice and Righteousness
  6. Exhibits Great Sacrificial Love
  7. Has super abilities that a man wouldn’t naturally have

It must first be stated that the premise of The Dark Knight is a myth with a Tolkienian good hero. The audience must accept the scope of Christopher Nolen’s mythical character of Batman as portrayed by Christian Bale. The following universal, transferrable truths become evident and reflective of reality when the reader/audience can first accept the imagined realm that is Gotham City.

The consequences of failing to accept the suggested world, is that the audience reduces the myth to a story only; missing the illusions and applicable truths for their own life, but also what the myth says about the greater world around them. They see only Adam West’s Batman interpretation of a middle aged man prancing around in tights instead of universal truths for mass application.

With the reader accepting of the general premise of Batman, let us view him through the eyes of Tolkien.

1. Fighting for Goodness

As related to the class on September 18, 2014, Plato recognized many different forms of skill that he considered to be “art forms.” He called those “techne” or a craft. Someone who is skilled in a particular trade and executes it well, produces a work of art. As Plato looked at the world around him, he critiqued the poets and stated that because they do not have any real skill or “techne” of their own (they merely comment on the world around them), they must be divinely inspired. Plato says that poets can lie, but their work can be used to point towards something higher, and ultimately to God himself. In The Dark Knight, Lt. James Gordon says of Batman,

He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. (emphasis mine) Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A Dark Knight.

Bruce Wayne himself (and Batman) is not merely a hero in and of himself, but he points towards something higher. He symbolizes Good and something Greater.

Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred, What would you have me do?

Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice. (emphasis, mine)

Bruce Wayne: Well today I found out what Batman can’t do. He can’t endure this. Today you get to say, ‘I told you so.’

Alfred: Today, I don’t want to. But I did bloody tell you.”

At the end of Lecture 5, Joseph Campbell’s words ring true for Batman; “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Batman is a Christ-type, as Mother Theresa is a Christ type. He points towards the greater, sacrificial good.

2. Strive to Enhance Morality

When Bruce is struggling with how the Joker could pick such a good man like Harvey, it is postulated that it is because, “[the Joker] picked the best of us.” And further, there’s a misplaced sense of righteousness on the part of the Joker. The poeple of Gotham, “is a city full of people who want to believe in good.” This idea is a reflection of Plato’s theory of art: that the art is good, not only for its own sake, but also because it points us towards something higher. That higher thing, being Goodness itself.

3. Trained to be a Hero

It is not mentioned in The Dark Knight specifically, but Bruce Wayne goes on a seven year hiatus from Gotham City to be trained by Ra al Ghul in the League of Shadows.

4. Humble

Although Bruce flies around in helicopters and drives Lamborghinis, his greatest philanthropic work is done behind a mask. Even when people of Gotham are dying, he does not reveal his true identity. He does not want the glory or praise that comes along with the mask, which is the ultimate gesture of humility, in the writer’s opinion. He further allows himself to be purposefully shamed in order that Harvey Dent, the city’s most beloved prosecutor, and his honour would remain intact.

5. Lover of Justice and Righteousness

Batman’s entire quest in this movie is to assist Harvey Dent in ridding Gotham of organized crime. He disbands the mobsters. He captures The Joker. He delivers Lau, the Oriental business man, to the Gotham Police Department. He is, “whatever Gotham needs him to be.”

6. Exhibits Great Sacrificial Love

Great sacrificial love comes in two forms. Batman is tricked by Joker and gives up Rachel, who is his oldest friend, and when the Joker challenges Batman to reveal himself or the people of Gotham will suffer, Bruce is willing to up Batman’s identity to save innocent lives.

Another example of sacrificial love comes in the form of allowing Gotham to think that Batman is a villain in order to uphold Harvey Dent’s character. Dent says, “Either you die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

7. Putting the “Super” in Super Hero

Tolkien states that a Super Hero must have abilities that ordinary men don’t normally possess. We see this in his wealth of resources; Bruce Wayne is a Billionaire who donates a lot of his wealth to charity. In The Dark Knight it is said that he donates specifically to a home for boys. He also has at his disposal Lucius Fox and the “Research and Development” Department, which specializes in defense weapons. Combine the above average intelligence, endless monetary resources and weapons and you have a super Super Hero in Batman.

As the reader can see from the evidence submitted above, Batman is a true arch-type of Christian Hero, as perceived by Tolkien. But as Luke 12, Nietzsche and Spiderman all suggest,

With great power comes great responsibility.

It is as true for the common man and women  as it is for The Dark Knight.

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