One Hundred Monkeys in Texas

July 19, 2008

Some men just don’t want to watch the world burn

Filed under: Movies — alancochrum @ 8:20 pm
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So what did The Dark Knight remind me of? Would you believe … a Japanese novel referenced by an American evangelical writer?

At the end of the recently released movie — this probably isn’t too much of a spoiler — Batman (Christian Bale) decides to take the blame for several murders in order to protect another person’s reputation. When the newly minted Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) protests in pain and horror, Batman declares that the city needs a hero, and he isn’t one — his role is to be whatever Gotham City needs him to be. The knight takes on the mantle of the dragon.

In the 2001 book Soul Survivor, author Philip Yancey discusses the work of Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo. In Endo’s book Silence, the shoguns are attempting — with considerable success — to wipe out the church of their era. One of their methods involved the fumie, a metal plaque portraying Jesus or the Madonna and child. Those who stepped on the fumie were declared apostates and released; those who did not were condemned to death.

In Endo’s tale, a devout Portuguese cleric is told that if he steps on the fumie, other Christians will be freed; upon his refusal, they are killed. Faced with this horrific situation, Yancey says, “in the end the priest Rodrigues forfeits his own faith for the love of others.”

The American writer quotes Endo’s climactic scene: “And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘Trample! Trample! … It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’ ”

Yancey’s description of the scene gnaws at the heart  — it is not surprising that, as he relates, many Japanese Catholics were outraged by what they saw as the romanticization of apostates like the fictional Rodrigues. And Batman’s decision to allow himself to be cast as a murderer is also disturbing; after all, in the end, the image he is protecting is an illusion.

But there is also this: In various senses, Batman, Rodrigues and Jesus “became” what they were not because others were in need of rescue. Of course, Christ did it so much better. It helps if, unlike the Dark Knight, you really are more than human.

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