It’s amazing how some movies or stories can express the struggles or driving themes of one’s life. Much of the power and popularity of the Batman tales springs from their examination of the universal themes of loneliness, alienation, and the struggle for good (and to be good) in the face of a world scarred by corruption, evil, and insanity.
Because of the most recent movie and my own circumstances, I’ve found myself musing particularly on the character of Harvey Dent (for those who haven’t seen it yet, or know Dent’s backstory, you may not want to read further, as I spoil some twists from the movie).
I can associate with Dent because of my own “hunger and thirst for rigtheousness”, a one-time desire to go into politics and clean things up from the inside, and because I’ve had friends over the years refer to me as the “white knight” (a title often given to Dent in the movie).
And yet Dent falls. He’s brought low, and comes to turn his back on the best of what he believed and represented. The handling of Dent’s character by Aaron Eckhart and Chris Nolan reflects a profoundly mature understanding of the power of symbols and ideals. Batman and Dent serve as foils for each other in that Dent’s transition to Two-Face–his assumption of the symbol of blind justice and use of the coin–dehumanizes him. Bruce Wayne’s assumption of the mantle of Batman does the opposite, it serves to refine the character and virtue of Wayne, even though he falls short of perfection.
So why did Harvey Dent, a very good man, ultimately break, while the Wayne did not? Listening to reviewers and fans, much has been made of Dent’s “really crappy day”. I don’t think it alone can explain why Dent breaks. The events that created Harvey Two-Face also struck Bruce deeply–both lost the woman they loved and thought was going to marry them. Ladies, there is much to be learned here about your power to uplift, heal, and inspire men. You do not know your own power. At president Reagan’s funeral, comments were made about his relationship with his wife, and how (in his own words) Reagan said, “Nancy came along and saved my soul.”
Before Reagan essentially saved the world from the Cold War and potential nuclear annihilation, a woman came along who healed him and helped build him up to be the person that could do that. We (the sexes) desperately need each other.
Dent falls because of the tragedy of Rachel’s death, but also because he tried to carry the burden of being “the best”. He falls because others expected superhuman strength, ability, and virtue from him. As a professor once said to me, “it’s hard to dance when you’ve been put on a pedestal”. The tragedy of Dent’s fall is influenced just as much by the unreal expectations others have of him, and the enormous pressures placed on his shoulders. He tries to live up to the hopes and ideals of Gotham, but they want a Messiah, and there is only one man who ever fit that bill (Jesus). Humility may be one key to Wayne’s successful coping and Harvey’s failure at the same.
For all Wayne’s “brag and swagger” as the billionaire playboy, he’s ultimately humble enough to know that Gotham won’t be saved by him alone, while Harvey chose (and may have pridefully believed) his campaign slogan, “I believe in Harvey Dent”.
I look at my own life right now, I examine my own faults and sins, and the situations which threaten my hopes and dreams (the desire for marriage and family life). I think of the lady I love, the only one I’ve ever wanted to marry. If I lose everything and the person I hold most dear, I find myself wondering if I will act like Harvey Dent, or Bruce Wayne.
God bless them, I have friends and family who think very highly of me. Too highly, in my opinion. They think I can do things I may not have the strength to do, or to endure. Things which could lead to me dying a single man, not having known the joy of being a husband and father. Things that could lead to my self-destruction.
Like Bruce Wayne, the price of being that good man may mean I am forever alone and alienated, and that I cannot have a normal life. And yet, for the life of me, how I want to live up to the ideals they seem to see. How desperately I want to be a good man, and not to fail them…