This essay contains spoilers to the movie. Though this movie is well over seven years old, we would still hate to be “those guys” and ruin it for you before watching it. That said, you have been warned!
Earlier in the film, when Henry Ducard unveils to Bruce Wayne his plan of justice against Gotham he says, “Gotham’s time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we’ve performed for centuries. Gotham… must be destroyed.” This is a turning point for Wayne in making the distinction between justice and vigilantism.
Later on the film, when Henry Ducard proves that he too can have two identities, this time showing up as the Ra’s Al Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows, he comes to enact his plan of justice against Gotham. In a clever scene where Ra’s and his thugs show up at Wayne’s house for his birthday party, the two share a fascinating exchange.
Bruce Wayne: You’re gonna destroy millions of lives.
Ra’s al Ghul: Only a cynical man would call what these people have “lives,” Wayne. Crime, despair… this is not how man was supposed to live. The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years. We sacked Rome, loaded trade ships with plague rats, burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance.
James Harleman, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington makes a great point in his discussion on Batman Begins. (Podcast found here) Harleman asks the question of whether Ra’s Al Ghul is right in his assessment of Gotham. What comes to mind is Sodom and Gomorrah with Abraham pleading with God to look for righteous men that He may spare them. Gotham is a perfect portrayal of a city that is almost completely corrupt.
Surely, Bruce Wayne cannot make the argument that Gotham deserves to be saved. This brings up a great discussion about what people deserve. When we look at mankind, with all the evil created over the years, wars fought, greed, selfishness, we truly have a bleak picture. Then, even harder, when I look at myself, at my inner being, seeing all the evil that exists within, I come to the despairing reality that I am depraved and even on my best day of doing my best to do good, I am indeed not good. In light of a Holy God, I must ask not only what mankind deserves, but what I deserve. If I am honest, I know I deserve hell. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a)
Given the corruption and depravity that was partaken by Gotham leading to them being overtaken by that corruption and depravity, who could argue with Ra’s al Ghul’s assessment? Gotham deserves destruction. However, Batman sees the situation differently. He tells Ra’s al Ghul, “Gotham is not beyond saving.” Though Gotham did not deserve to be saved, and Batman was not obligated to do so, he made a reassessment of Gotham. It wasn’t beyond saving.
This is where Batman beautifully resembles Christ. Though we deserve hell and eternal damnation given our corruption and vanity, thanks be to God who made a different assessment of us. Only because of God’s great mercy and grace are we not beyond saving. The verses that come to mind are, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Batman Begins is a good story well told, but let us look to where this story points to the better story, the story of the better Hero, who truly saves us from eternal destruction. The second part of Romans 6:23 mentioned above is, “…but the gift of God is eternal life.” Salvation is a beautiful gift and all the more beautiful when we deserved anything but.