Dark Knight Ethics: Is Evil Necessary?

The Dark Knight Rises is one of the strangest films to hit mainstream consciousness this year. One critic called it an “evil masterpiece,” which seems about right to me. Sitting there in the dark IMAX theater, watching the film’s epic images and listening to its violent sounds, with the ghosts James and the departed, I kept wondering: What is the message of this movie? What morals does The Dark Knight Rises impart to us viewers?


The Dark Knight Rises begins with Gotham at peace. Violent crime is at a record low, it seems. Yet, what has the “eradication” actually accomplished besides a false sense of security? The mob was put behind bars, but at what cost? The film quickly tells us the answer. The government officials and police, in their attempt to secure Gotham against terror, have driven it underground — literally and figuratively. What is more: as the strength of the government and police grew, it forced the criminals to become even stronger. Enter Bane and his subterranean network of criminals whose malevolence and demonic aspirations make Gotham’s past criminals (even the Joker) look pale in comparison. The ethical lesson here seems to be: fighting back fuels the fire. The more we attempt to secure the world, the more it drapes us in terror.


“Innocent is a strong word to throw around Gotham,” says Miranda Tate to Batman. And who is innocent in this city? Isn’t everyone part of this interconnected network of greatness and atrocity? Bane begins his assault on Gotham just as Batman reemerges on the scene. Coincidence? Or are Batman and Bane part and parcel? Are the wealthy evil for not sharing their wealth? Or are the poor evil for resorting to violence and crime? Are the middle class, like the policeman who wants to capture Batman instead of Bane, evil for being so complacent and ignorant? What about the philanthropist who wants to save the world, but inadvertently creates the most powerful nuclear bomb on Earth? Is she innocent? Of course not, no one is innocent.


In The Dark Knight Rises, the viewer seems to be asked: What is the final aim of technology? Will technology unlock a better world or a much worse world? Again, think about the natural energy project. This venture begins as an attempt to save the world but as the film progresses it becomes the tool to end the world. The moral here seems to be that everything we do in the name of progress can also just be as easily be used for destruction, particularly technology. Technology is both good and evil.


Perhaps the most horrifying moment of the Dark Knight Rises is when the businessman Roland Daggett tells Bane he is “pure evil” and Bane, before snapping his neck, simply responds “I’m necessary evil.” Is all the evil in Gotham (or even our real world) necessary? Just as technology engenders a saving power and a destructive power, does the good also engender the evil? Is the existence of Bane predicated on the existence of Batman and vice versa? Does good to exist need evil, like black needs white? Like the dark needs light? This seems to be the suggestion of the film. Evil is as inescapable as the law of gravity.


One of Batman’s most famous lines is: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Have you ever stopped to consider what was implied here? In what kind of world are heros and villains just different sides of the same coin? It’s a world where what opposes helps; no one is innocent, evil is necessary, and the saving power is also the the destructive power — and the difference between the hero and the villain is simply a matter of luck, a matter of chance. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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