The two most prominent themes throughout the film are fear and justice. In fact, when the film was in production, the title, “Batman: The Frightening” was considered.Many of the characters say to Wayne, “Don’t be afraid, Bruce.” One of the villains is literally called, the Scarecrow, and the fear used by the criminals to keep the citizens of Gotham oppressed is used against them by Batman.
Of course, like most superhero movies, the film is all about justice. Gotham is under the tyranny of criminals and the corruption of the cops, which leads to Bruce Wayne’s father and mother being killed. When vengeance is taking away from Bruce he commits himself to learning how to fight injustice. This is what eventually leads him to the League of Shadows, where he receives his training from Ra’s Al Ghul.
What is important in the film, is the tension between vengeance and justice. Batman has a line he is not willing to cross, because he understands that this distinction keeps him from becoming like the criminals he is fighting. Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows are more utilitarian in their understanding of morality. The ends justifies the means. Therefore, it is okay to destroy a whole civilization that is corrupt. It is okay to do whatever is necessary as long as the most good will come about.
As a follower of Christ how do I discern justice as portrayed in this film? Should there be some moral code that governs how people wage war? The ends do not justify the means, but rather the means should be in line with the ends. It is interesting to note that Bruce Wayne is not given the satisfaction of the avenging his parents’ death. Christopher Nolan breaks from the traditional understanding of what drives Batman. By taking away this crucial element in Bruce Wayne’s history, we now have a Batman that is not motivated by hate and vengeance, but rather a Batman who is portrayed as altruistic in his fight for justice.
As a believer, I am thankful for this slight different rendering of the Batman character, though, it could be discussed whether he truly fulfills this idealistic goal. Throughout this film, and even more so throughout the trilogy, Batman wrestles with being just in how he exacts justice or breaking the law in order to catch criminals, and thus corrupting himself along the way. At least there is a tension with which he wrestles.
With all the superhero movies, and not to mention all the criminal investigation shows on television, our culture is fascinated with justice. But the very idea of justice assumes that there is a right and wrong. How does one discern this? This becomes increasingly difficult in a postmodern society where morality is found in the individual. Everyone assumes that Batman is the good guy in the film, but can we be certain if we hold to the postmodern belief that all views are equally valid?
To truly understand justice, what is right and wrong, we need to have an Authoritative Voice, One who has spoken and still speaks today. By God’s grace, we have His Word, which not only makes one wise for salvation, but also shows us what is right and wrong, and how to live our lives to the glory of God. Movies like Batman Begins reveal this longing in us for justice in the world. A great topic of conversation with unbelievers is discussing where does this longing for justice come from? And how can it ultimately be fulfilled?