In my last post, I made the claim that we reach consensus about what is unjust much more easily than about how we should right injustices and establish justice. In Nolan’s Batman trilogy there are at least three different and incompatible views of justice set forth for the audience to consider. In this post, I will briefly survey these as they are portrayed in the story.
The League of Shadows View
Dark Knight Rises makes a number of important connections to Batman Begins, thematically and in the plot. We encounter the League of Shadows in the first film – a mysterious group of vigilantes who recruit and train Bruce Wayne in his essential fighting skills. At the end of his training, he is about to be commissioned to join their historical mission of bringing justice to the world by helping to destroy Gotham because of its corruption and injustice, when he revolts against them, unable to align himself with their murderous ambitions in the name of justice.
In this view, injustices must be made right through eradicating the offenders. Injustice is not a result of the actions of a few wicked people, but a plague that inflicts the entire society. For justice to be established, there must be a purging by a social and/or political revolution. This view is carried in the latest film by the villain Bane, who catalyzes a revolution against the ruling and privileged classes. The oppressed classes rise up and put to trial those who supposedly abused their power by exploiting the masses.
The League of Shadows’ view is aligned with an understanding of justice as vengeance. The difference between justice and vengeance is a major theme in Batman Begins. Rachel Dowes reminds Bruce Wayne, who was tempted to seek vengeance against those who killed his parents, “Justice is about harmony; vengeance is about making yourself feel better.”
The Super-hero View
In this view, what we need is a heroic leader with superhero qualities to save society by punishing the bad guys and rooting out corruption. This person must be from outside “the system,” a knight in shining armor who saves the day, but who is unlike any of us in his extraordinary powers and purity of character.
Ironically, Bruce Wayne/Batman himself rejects this view in the end, believing that in the long-term it was unhealthy for Gotham to rely on him for justice because it was unsustainable in the long-term and because he was inspiring a trend of dangerous vigilantism.
The Ordinary-hero View
This is why at the end of The Dark Knight Batman takes the rap for Harvey Dent’s death. Though Dent had become a psychotic criminal himself under the guise of “Two Face” Batman believed that Gotham needed an ordinary hero – a man just like everyone else whose courageous, sacrificial stand against injustice would inspire the whole city to greater justice. Batman wanted to work himself out of a job, so to speak, by enabling men like Harvey Dent to lead a more just state. The citizens of Gotham needed to take the mantle of justice upon themselves to save their society, following the leadership of ordinary heroes.
I hope that this is a fair representation of the different views of justice in the story. If you would add, correct, or extend either of these, please chime in. In my next post, I’ll evaluate these views by what the Bible teaches about the nature of true justice.