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Posts Tagged ‘The Dark Knight’

If you’ve been reading this blog then you just had to know this post was coming. Here are my criteria:

  1. Rewatchability
  2. Gospel and redemption themes
  3. Quality of acting and characterization

Here there are, purely in alphabetical order, these are my personal top 9 films.

Chariots of Fire (1981)


This movie can feel slow at times but I don’t care, I love the contrast of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrams. Eric runs for God and finished his life as a missionary to China. Abrams runs almost purely for himself, to prove himself to all others. The movie is so well done though that you find yourself rooting for both of them. It’s also a rare movie that has a Christian figure so winsomely portrayed and speaking the Bible. Plus, you can’t forget about the classic opening and closing sequence with the Vangelis theme song. The movie has an 86% rating at Rotten Tomatoes

Cinderella Man (2005)


Cinderella Man is one of the most rewatchable movies we own. That may just be me, but I have watched this movie a bunch of times simply because I don’t get tired of it. I love the story of Jim Braddock, his relationship with his family and his wife. I love the set up and the final fight against Max Baer. Redemption, suffering, and good marriage themes are all in this one along with the boxing. It is at an 80% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

City by the Sea (2002)


City by the Sea is a relatively obscure movie; I rarely meet a person who has actually seen it. Rotten Tomatoes and critics likely didn’t help as it only has a 48% rating! But I love the father son dynamic and issues in this movie. I practically weep at the movie climax. The bitter sweetness of the ending is so good. A demonstration of our inability to outrun our sin just adds to it all.

The Dark Knight (2008)


You knew this would end up on my list after I wrote this. This is one of two Christopher Nolan flicks on my list and I’ll give you 0 guesses as to what the second is. The Dark Knight is a gut punch. I have no other way to describe what you will likely feel the first time you see it. It is dark. Evil is overwhelming. Can good win? Can a city overcome its dark side? Can a hero even survive without becoming a villain? Just watch it. It currently has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s only the second highest on my list! I highly recommend listening to the short message given by James Harleman (of Mars Hill) on this film.

Inception (2010)


I have already written 2 blog posts (“Must See Film” and “The Idea that Changes Everything”) on this movie and it’s not even on DVD yet. Inception is a great concept and story with piercing father/son themes, interesting characters, and is a movie with just so many figurative and literal levels. It is currently at an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Les miserables (1998)


Les miserables is based on the powerful and highly praised musical of the same name which is based on the book by Victor Hugo. This movie is all about 1 question: What is grace? From the priest to Valjean (Liam Neeson) to Javert (Geoffrey Rush), the question is what is more powerful and effective: grace or the law? When I first saw this movie, I was just stunned. My friend and I were literally speechless until halfway through our car ride home when finally he simply belted out “WOW! THAT IS GRACE!!!” I can still vividly remember that evening and moment as if it happened yesterday. This great film is at a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Natural (1984)


Part of why I appreciate this movie surrounds the memories I have of watching it many times with my dad. I still have faint memories of seeing it in the theater with him when it first came out. The redemption story of this movie grows on me every time I watch. I love how it ends (not merely on the famous home run scene!). The last time I watched it was probably my favorite. It’s also a classic baseball movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 81% rating.

Rocky II (1979)


This is another one that I have fond memories of watching with my dad. Honestly, Rocky II moves so painfully slow. But it all comes down to one moment. You see this one moment and you’re all in and you’re fired up. If you come across this movie on cable, you’ll wait or keep checking back just for this moment on forward. Yeah, it’s over the top but can you, men, say this scene (with Eye of the Tiger playing in the background) does nothing for you? It’s at a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Star Trek (2009)


This one probably surprised you. It surprised you unless you’ve seen it, that is. JJ Abrams did such a fantastic job with this movie. Sacrifice, fathers, friendship, and redemption are all mixed in to one great story to reboot this franchise. I love how Pike and Spock’s dad are pivotal for Kirk and Spock and how we get to see the growth of Spock and Kirk from boys to guys to men. The parallel characterization of these 2 men is super well done. It’s an extremely entertaining and rewatchable movie. It’s all about family with a mission. One more likely surprise: this is the highest rated film at Rotten Tomatoes on my list, now at 94%. James Harleman also discusses this movie here.

Honorable Mentions: Shutter Island (2010), Empire Strikes Back (1980), Hoosiers (1989), Glory (1989), Taken (2008), Shawshank Redemption (1994), Gattaca (1997).

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In my very first post, I gave some background on what my goals are whenever I engage with a movie or even with a TV show.  However, it was embedded within another review so I decided to repost this and expand upon it as a separate entity as my mini-manifesto on watching movies and TV.

My wife and I love seeing a good movie in the theater or on DVD but how we do that in a manner in which God is glorified? Movies are definitely modern art along with music. Movies heavily reflect culture as it is and where it is going. They also influence culture. Think about movies overall from the past 2-3 years and compare them to 30 years ago. Look at “The Dark Knight” (2008) and compare it to “Superman”  (1978). “The Dark Knight” has significantly less hope, is much more in tune with human depravity, much less clear distinction between good and evil, and just look at how law enforcement officials are portrayed (heavy influence of 9/11).

Don’t be naive. You are being preached to whenever you watch a movie regardless of the movie. You are being pushed in a direction. Will we passively sit back and be manipulated by media? Or will we engage and glorify God in how and what we watch? Will we view with Gospel vision?

My Goals with Movies & TV

#1. When in doubt,  just pass on it.

When in doubt about the makeup of the movie, regarding explicit content that would have the potential to be a stumbling block, just avoid it. I’m not saying I’m perfect with regard to this goal but I usually do as much research as I can prior to watching a movie. I don’t even mind knowing the entire plot. Knowing the ending to a movie doesn’t usually take away from it for me as long as the meta narrative is strong.  There has been a progression in my life with this. There are movies that my wife and I viewed when we were first married (over 8 years ago) that there is no way I would choose to watch now or even take the chance with. This is an area where convictions need to be developed (see Romans 14 and Philippians 4) so that you can walk in faith with whatever media you take in. I definitely have failed with that many times but significantly less and less as my wife and I have grown in discernment. I’m a sinner and I’m in progress in learning discernment with regard to movies. I’ll try to help both you and myself in this area with this blog.

In “The Dark Knight,” the language is pretty clean, violence is high but not gory or glorified, and there is very minimal sexual innuendo.

#2.  Seek out the meta narrative(s).

By meta narrative I mean the overarching big picture storyline that the movie is drawing from. This meta narrative is usually why we like a certain movie or why a movie is so rewatchable and what brings us to tears or draws out other emotions. We cannot be passive when we approach media. I know we all want to just relax and “veg” but if we are passive, our viewing will not necessarily be refreshing in the right things. It does not take much more effort to learn to watch for the meta narrative and for truth about ourselves or God.

Some questions to ask as you watch: What is the slant on human depravity, are people viewed as generally good or generally evil? What is valued by the movie characters and thereby glorified? How are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers portrayed? What is the source of joy for the characters? What is the context (culture, time frame, event) of the film? What  is the main theme that you think the director & screenwriter are trying to get across?

In “The Dark Knight,” human depravity is a major thing that the characters themselves wrestle with. The Joker (Heath Ledger) is full of lies and deceit but his goal is merely to draw out the evil in people and to demonstrate that we are inherently depraved. Batman (Christian Bale) and Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Gordon (Gary Oldman) try to fight this idea but ultimately get bit by their own sin and struggles at some point in the film, especially Dent who becomes The Joker’s ultimate example. The film is very dark and disturbing because it is a world in which hope is very fleeting and victory is far from assured. Joy is only in relationship with others and even those relationships get attacked throughout the film. What do I think the point of the film is? Escalation will always seem to give evil the upper hand. Good comes through sacrifice, through laying down your life for others. It’s a great film from Christopher Nolan.

#3.  Run to The Gospel

Seek to glorify God in seeing how the meta narrative reflects a truth about him or his character or reveals the very Gospel itself. Can this movie help me to see God more clearly? Does it point out something about myself that I need to understand further? Is there a good example to follow? Why do people gravitate towards this film and what does it reveal about them? Does it give me another illustration of gospel to use in communicating the gospel? These are things I want to be thinking about.

In “The Dark Knight,” the Joker is a clear depiction of Satan. What is his power? Only his words. He barely uses much else and is very simple. His main threats are his lies and his key truth that people are depraved. You cannot even really hurt him as he is completely given over to the chaos, to evil. “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.” The Joker helps give the feel of the film such a hopelessness and the stomach punch that it feels like.

I think many believers feel this way in general. We don’t have a hope in the ultimate victory that Jesus promises and guarantees. We feel defeated in this world in our battles with sin and in our battles to help others know Jesus. We feel like Satan and evil have the upper hand in this American culture. So we resign to surviving and to numbness in our own Christian way. We don’t give our hearts. We don’t strive for intimacy with God. We live for comfort and innocent temporary pleasures that get us through the week. Is that right? Is this what Jesus calls us to? What am I actually hoping in? I confess I’m describing myself most of the time.

Then there’s Batman. Most of the film, he wrestles with his own humanity and limitations just as Dent and Gordon do. But then at the end, he comes through in an almost shocking, surprising way. By the end, Dent has turned to bitterness and defeat and run on the path of evil vengeance, killing multiple people. Gotham’s “White Knight” has tarnished everything Batman, Dent, and Gordon have fought for. But Batman steps in for the sake of Dent and Gotham. Batman literally takes on the sin of Dent at the end of the film. “Put it on me,” he says, “You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that’s what needs to happen.” Batman lays down his life, lays down his reputation and takes the consequences of Dent’s sin. Wow. That’s the Gospel! Jesus takes on much more suffering and much more sin but He does it just as willingly enduring for the joy set before him to redeem us.

Summary

As you can tell, I loved the movie, “The Dark Knight,” and so did most of us who have seen it. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, there are some powerful reasons why so many loved it or were haunted by it. Many movies are more complex or more dark or much simpler, just don’t be passive when watching! You don’t have to be super analytical or some film critic to extract the main points and worldview of the film, just ask some of the questions I’ve proposed above. Discuss it with your spouse or friends or coworkers. I’m not advocating you watch movies every night of the week or that you disregard good reading habits. I’m definitely not advocating that you work to desensitize yourself to the violence or sex of many movies. Just trust God to use our modern art, movies, to reveal Himself as you walk in faith to see them.

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Last night, my wife and I saw “Inception,” another brilliant film with depth and strong meta narrative themes by Christopher Nolan, director also of “The Dark Knight” and “Memento,” as well as “The Prestige,” all excellent films. Inception was an unbelievable movie and completely lived up to my expectations. If anything, it went deeper than I thought it would. I don’t want to act as a spoiler but I simply wanted to give it a shout out and lay out some basic themes to look for. This movie, just as The Dark Knight, can feel really dark to viewers, on top of the mental engagement needed to keep up with what is happening in this mind-blowing imaginative masterpiece, so I think having some themes to keep an eye out for may be helpful.

Themes to Watch For


1. A man as a husband and father

To fail as a husband or as a father is extremely crushing and humbling to a man. Watch for this in Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dom. You can hide this hurt or harden your conscience or disengage as a man, but you know this statement is true. Our identity is impacted by these failures. The hardest part is that there is no avoiding it. I am a sinful father and husband. Will I wallow in it and let guilt and my failure control me or will I trust Jesus in The Gospel as my much needed Savior? Will I accept my sin and see my darkness as it is and walk in humility to let Jesus change me and The Holy Spirit fill me? This might be the most difficult thing you face as a man.

2. How your father impacts so much of who you are

This is an obvious theme that the characters even discuss regarding Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer Jr. (the mark of the inception). Who you see your father as is huge in your life. Time and time again I see this in myself and in my wife and in my friends. It can be so frustrating at times especially if you were exceptionally wounded by your father because you can feel like you cannot change it. But ultimately we all have to go through a process of replacing the perceptions of our earthly father with who are Father God is for us. We all have to let God be our perfect, loving, primary Father. This is no simple process.

3. Let The Gospel be that “idea”

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.” – Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

What is that idea for you? It’s simple really. What idea dominates you? What is it for Robert Fischer Jr.? What is it for Dom Cobb?

4. Do we actually believe that we are entirely physically beings?

The depth of our minds displayed in this movie is insane and feels true. Can we really believe we are all matter and just brain? Do we really think that our ability to generate a reality in our minds actually evolved over millions of years? It’s laughable. The ability to think and create is the most powerful “physical” evidence for me that evolution is a crock and con.

There is so much you could discuss with this movie. One last thing that I appreciate about this movie along with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, is that the basic concept of this movie would be enough to make a movie out of and a cool movie at that. But Nolan is not content with that. Nolan seems to want to push you to think about our depravity and who we are, to think about the fathers and family, and to wrestle with what it means to care for others and sacrifice for them. I don’t know where he stands with Jesus but, wow, does he seem to grasp some powerful meta narratives that stir us because of how God wired us and what He desires for us.

Movies are Modern Art

We, as a culture, watch a ton of movies. Music and movies are the mainstream art of today. We hardly read but are significantly visual. Don’t just sit back and passively watch movies, especially a movie like Inception, to check out and vegetate. Honestly, it won’t be refreshing in a right direction. Engage with why the movie stirs you, with why movies like Inception haunt you, and engage with The Gospel. If you go see Inception, let God use it to edify you. Then draw out these spiritual themes for those of us struggling with or who have never grasped The Gospel.

Thank you, Christopher Nolan, for this creative, original movie of depth, for giving us helpful imagery and pushing us to think and not simply escape for 2 hours.

Thank you, Father God, for creating us in Your own image, with the ability to think, with the mental capacity to generate imaginative realities that help us understand who You are and to give a tiny glimpse of Your infinite capacity. You created the universe with merely a Word, with merely a Thought. I was a thought in your perfect mind that became reality and You loved me before I even existed in physical reality. You had a thought and plan in Your perfect mind to send Your only Son to suffer a horrendous death for me long before I even moved a muscle.

For my further analysis with spoilers, check out this post: Inception: The Idea that Changes Everything

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