Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Batman on Justice
"My parents deserved justice."

"You're not talking about justice. You're talking about revenge."

"Sometimes they're the same."

"No, they're not the same, Bruce. Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about making yourself feel better."

As I re-watched Batman Begins last week in preparation for seeing The Dark Knight, I was surprised to hear this exchange about the nature of justice. I've written here before about how true justice is not merely, or even primarily, retributive (i.e. revenge), but rather that justice, at its root, is about restoring broken relationships (i.e. harmony).

Of course the Batman legend, both in the comics and in the movies, has always sparked reflection about the nature of justice, though usually the conversation is about vigilante justice versus the (often corrupt) rule of law. However, as this quote illustrates, Batman Begins turns out to actually be about these competing conceptions of justice - is it primarily retributive (i.e. punishing evil doers) or restorative (healing and redeeming broken people, whether victims or perpetrators). For instance, the main conflict in the movie is between Bruce Wayne, who desires to save Gotham City from its evil ways, and his mentor, Ra's al Ghul, who believes Gotham is too far gone and ought to be destroyed. Similarly, Batman almost never kills his enemies, instead turning them over to the police for arrest or institutionalization (and presumably rehabilitation) in an insane asylum (after all, superheroes tend to attract a lot of crazies). This aversion to doling out final punishment reflects a belief that no one is beyond hope and that even criminals can be reformed and restored (a perspective that Ra's al Ghul explicitly denies at another point in the movie).

This kind of philosophical depth is why I enjoyed Batman Begins so much, and why I greatly enjoyed The Dark Knight as well. (Though of course the philosophical dilemma is different in that movie - more about the tension between chaos and order, and whether good has to become like evil in order to defeat it.) People who think that comic book heroes are nothing but kid stuff (several of my elementary school teachers come to mind) clearly haven't been paying attention.


posted by Mike Clawson at 6:07 PM | Permalink |


At 8/07/2008 07:21:00 PM, Blogger J. R. Miller

Hi, I came to your site because of our shared interest in being a Friend of Missional. I am glad to make your acquaintance and visit your blog. God bless!


At 8/08/2008 11:07:00 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Brink

Mike, very nice post. This question to me is one of the central questions of what it means to follow Jesus. My hope is that we seek the harmony approach.


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