Browsing the Mailbox: July 26

Here are a few notes from this week’s mailbox. (And by “mailbox,” I might mean blog comments, email, or other social networking sites.)

1.

In reference to this previous post, Tob writes:

I really want a Thom Yorke bobblehead … on the off-chance, did you ever find one????

I can’t say I’ve done much looking, but no… I haven’t found one.

Then again, Mr. Yorke is a living bobblehead, so maybe we only need one!

2.

Regarding Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Gaith noticed that I said “I think the second film — The Dark Knight — will be the only one I bother to revisit and keep in the collection.” He responds:

I may not see The Dark Knight Rises until it Netflixes, but as one of the few firm non-fans of Batman Begins, I’m intrigued by this comment. I wonder if you’ve reconsidered calling Batman ‘Christ-like’ in your recently re-posted review of that movie? You were quite right, I think, to critique Superman Returns over its fawning treatment of a perpetually dishonest guy zooming around in a cape, but at least his core message was one of uplift, whereas Batman is mostly (if not all) about spreading fear and vengeance.

I’m not a Christian myself, but to me, one of The Dark Knight’s biggest strengths was that it *didn’t* demand, and indeed *questioned* (likely to the furthest extent a tentpole comic-book blockbuster will ever go), whether he might even be doing more harm than good, inspirating lunatics to ever-greater depravities instead of focusing his immense wealth and potential on more positive social efforts. (A particularly sobering thought in light of the recent horror.)

Guess I’m just more of a Spidey guy myself. The new Peter Parker is far from perfect, but given that his powers are physical, not fiscal, he *does* seem to be striving to do the most good he can.

Short answer: Yes, Nolan’s Batman is certainly no “Christ figure” … except in the most basic sense of “someone who puts his life on the line for his friends.” (But no, even that is far too trite a description for what Jesus did.)

There’s a lot of “Christ imagery” in The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t think Nolan is ignorant of the implications of “Rises” in the title, and he puts Bruce Wayne through more than one metaphoric death, burial, descent into hell, and resurrection in this series.

But Bruce Wayne is, clearly, a confused individual who makes many ethical compromises and continues to rely on firepower and military might to become a savior. As my friend Dr. Keuss pointed out, Wayne is more aligned with Judas than Jesus when it comes to the type of savior he thinks the world needs. I’m afraid that even though the second film in the series made it a much richer, more interesting story, the third film diminishes the story as a whole by putting on almost three hours of violent spectacle only to conclude by give a nod of respect to people who reach out to each other with kindness. At least… that’s how it felt to me on a first viewing. (But my opinions can change on second and third viewings, I’ve learned time and time again.)

I’m intrigued by American’s culture’s continuing struggle to try and invent a savior who succeeds in redeeming us with wisdom, conscience, sacrifice, and violence. It’s like we just don’t have the courage to accept what Christ said and did, and we just keep looking for a replacement. Bruce Wayne’s lesson is to learn to fear death. The Gospel tells us that death’s power over us has been abolished, so we needn’t fear it. I prefer the latter lesson. It’s more liberating. And it rings true.

Thanks for writing!

3.

Travis writes;

Your reviews never fail to challenge me. I’ve been thinking about what Keuss said – we still believe Judas was right – and I get it. I found myself thinking about the book of Judges a lot, though, while watching the movie.

Gotham seems to follow the pattern – the people fall into corruption or under oppression, God raises a judge, and the judge restores peace for a while until the people turn their eyes away once more and the whole cycle starts all over again. In that context, the hero that causes the most fireworks doesn’t trouble me as much. And… SPOILER ALERT, in case a reader hasn’t seen the movie yet…

… I like how the film sets up another judge to take the Batman’s place at some point down the road. He’ll require training, of course. But I like how he’s someone who cares for orphans, who looks after the least of these. Maybe John Blake will find a better way. I’d almost like to see that story…

END SPOILERS. I did like, though, that for once, the police of Gotham are for once not the corrupt people from the previous films. Nolan actually gives them a bit of a courageous arc in the person of Matthew Modine’s character. I kind of wish that had been fleshed out a little more, but oh well.

Thanks for the chance to share.

I like your Book of Judges connection, Travis. If Bruce Wayne lived in a world that had never known Christ, his story would make more sense to me. But did you see the crosses on the tombstones of his parents? Bruce’s parents apparently knew another kind of hope, one Bruce fails to notice.

I’d like to see John Blake’s story too. Maybe he would learn from the previous Batman’s mistakes. I’m also encouraged to see an admirable police force in this film, although I find it very difficult to believe that any supervillain could succeed in baiting a city’s entire police force underground!

Thanks for writing, Travis.

4.

Anna writes:

I haven’t seen this and doubt I will, given my weak stomach for violence, but it sounds like the sort of artistic response to culture that Nolan’s film entails (or at least on some level aspires to) is almost as absent from the film as religion. Is that fair, from your viewing?

I’m not quite sure I understand your question. If you’re asking if I think that Nolan’s film contributes to our culture’s acceptance of, even celebration of, violence, then… I’m not sure. The story shows the violence of terrorists to be terrible and evil, and the violence of heroes to be questionable. But, lacking any further wisdom, it makes quite an entertaining show out of violence.

While he does rightfully declare that human kindness and charity bring hope into the world, Nolan also sends his hero off in a blaze of fistfights, cannon fire, and bombs, eliminating the enemy’s threat with desperate violence. There is no attempt to inspire us to look to any kind of higher power, to anyone who can overcome death. Indeed, his movie teaches its hero that the answer to evil is to develop a strong fear of death!

5.

Mr. P, responding to my post about other people’s Dark Knight Rises reviews, writes:

The skepticism and disdain you have exhibited for almost every popular film (even when it’s well-done) is not something I would expect from a critic who …

Wait, wait, let’s stop right there.

You can’t be talking about me. As my recent reviews clearly demonstrate, I really liked Brave, Cabin in the Woods, and (with some reservations) The Avengers. I even liked John Carter! And those are all “popular” commercial releases, just from the past few months! (Okay, John Carter wasn’t as popular as Disney had hoped, but still.) Last year, I included War Horse, The Muppets, Hugo, Winnie the Pooh, Attack the Block, and even Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in my Top 25 of 2011… all popular films. So no, I do not exhibit “skepticism and disdain” for “almost every popular film.”

Also, for what it’s worth… skepticism isn’t a bad thing. Critical thinking is important.

Let me scroll through your message to see if I can find something that applies to me.

But when people disagree with you and make no bones about it, Mr. Overstreet, you take it as aggression…

Strike two. I don’t take disagreement as aggression.

I do, however, take hostility as aggression. Hostility on the Internet is typically characterized by persistent put-downs, exaggerated complaints, and sneering sarcasm. I welcome, and even enjoy, civil disagreement with people all of the time. (See my back-and-forth with David Rither, for example, in response to Beasts of the Southern Wild.) My favorite critics, like Steven Greydanus, disagree with me on films frequently, but it never feels like aggression. I admire, even learn from, disagreement when it is carried out with respect and civility.

But you, in all of the messages you’ve sent me since the publication of my review of Of Gods and Men, have taken a hostile tone with me. (The editors of that site, upon seeing your comments, determined that they were way out of line, and deleted them. So it wasn’t just me.)

In more than a decade of blogging, I have only blocked or banned three people. Two of those were overbearingly and consistently negative and hostile. They wore on my patience until I began to fail in my own efforts to meet hostility with patience and kindness. Since they showed no interest in changing, and I don’t like endless and corrosive debate, I followed through on my warnings and blocked them. (The third one? He was determined to persuade me that David Lynch is the second coming of Jesus. Literally. That got old fast.)

Because I strive to welcome as many people as possible, I don’t like “blocking” anybody. So you are welcome to submit comments. But if you submit more demonstrably false accusations or another litany of past grievances, you will be Number Four. Please keep your comments on the topic of the blog post. I blog about movies in the hope of finding inspiring conversation and respectful debate… not rants and insults.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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