Lewis and The Dark Knight

Discernible shafts of light shone through the iron bars on the far wall.  The stone cold cell was empty but for a straw mat and the lone body laying upon it.  A knock at the door awakens the prisoner’s senses as the subsequent cold wind coming through the barred window further drags him into the waking world.  With a creak, the door opens and in steps a tall, lean, well kept, man in a suit.  He knows the prisoner’s real name – Wayne – and offers a path, an opportunity to fight injustice and combat the criminal mind.  This mysterious man doesn’t exit the cell before imparting a task, a quest to find the blue flower and ascend the mountain…

Late into the summer of 2005, I sat in a small theater in Traverse City, MI with a few friends as we eagerly watched a film that changed the comic book superhero landscape…forever.  The movie was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.  For the first time, I was seeing the Dark Knight in a live action film as I knew he should be, as my childhood mind – and Batman:  The Animated Series – hinted he could be on the silver screen (a image that the Batman films of the 90’s didn’t reflect).

The scene described above happens early on in the film, as a man named Ducard visits Bruce Wayne – jailed in a foreign country – and offers him a path, a purpose for his “aimless wanderings”.  As Bruce is released from his confinement, a desolate road lies before him.  As he begins to ascend the mountain – having found the blue flower – his journey becomes all the more laborious as he confronts both elevation and the elements…

In the summer of 2012, Christopher Nolan finished what had become known as the “Nolan Trilogy” of Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises (The Dark Knight, arguably the finest comic book movie ever made, released in 2008).  As Batman Begins started, so The Dark Knight Rises ended: with an homage to the blue flower in the form of a similarly shaded dress worn by a character in one of the final scenes.

Why references to a blue flower?  The idea comes from an unfinished novel written by Frederich Vin Hardenberg, a German Romantic writer.  In this unfinished novel, the protagonist becomes obsessed with the vision of a blue flower that comes to him via strange tales and dreams.  The character yearns (or longs) for this flower, yet no physical thing that he is able to touch or grasp is as desirable as the longing itself is.

In the Nolan films the blue flower serves as a symbol linked to various characters.  For Bruce Wayne it is an indicator of his longing for purpose, his desire to craft meaning from the loss of his parents and to turn his pain into a weapon to be used to fight injustice to ensure that what happened to him does not happen to anyone else.  It also symbolizes his yearning to belong in the midst of a world that he feels out of place within.  In The Dark Knight Rises, Alfred Pennyworth tells Bruce of a trip he took during the years that Bruce was missing and declared dead:  every year he would visit the same cafe in Florance Italy, order the same drink, and hope that he would catch a glimpse of Bruce alive and happy (maybe even with a family) living in anonymity.  This is what Alfred longs for his “son” – in  many ways – to have.  Another character the blue flower applies to is Selina Kyle, a genius thief who has allied herself with the wrong people and desperately wants a new life.  It is thought that she can only achieve this by erasing her old one via technology she isn’t even sure actually exists.  As her final scene in the film draws to a close, she is embracing this new life – which is also the fulfillment of what Bruce and Alfred desire – symbolized by the dress she wears of the same shade as the blue flower from Batman Begins.  This is Nolan’s way of saying that the longings wrestled with via Van Hardenberg’s writings can actually be realized.

So where does C.S. Lewis enter into this discussion?  In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes that even as a young boy art and Nature taught him Beauty, Joy and longing that they “made me, before I was six years old, a devotee of the Blue Flower”.  This theme of longing and yearning for Joy is a common theme in the works of Lewis, from The Chronicles of Narnia (Reepicheep’s quest for Aslan’s Country) and The Problem of Pain to The Weight of Glory and Till We Have Faces (via Psyche’s longing for beauty and embrace of it by marrying Cupid). 

While Batman is clearly a messianic figure in Nolan’s trilogy – the events of The Dark Knight Rises reflect this – Lewis purports the idea (mainly in The Weight of Glory) that these “Blue Flower” longings can only, ultimately, be fulfilled by the Messiah himself, not fully realized via another human being.  He talks of humanity being “far too easily pleased with making mud pies in the dirt when offered a holiday by the sea”.  Lewis might contend that the desires of Bruce, Alfred, and Selina – for purpose, justice, freedom in a new life, and happiness in the end – are too weak because of the source of the desire’s fulfillment.  Nevertheless, I would like to think that both Lewis and Tolkien would look at Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and inwardly smile; for within the scenes of this “modern myth” truth still manifests via imperfect pictures of the nature of evil, the price of redemption, and new life given (and accepted) regardless of a criminal past.  These timeless truths shine through to the audience in the darkened theater much like the lone light atop the Gotham City Police Department beckons Gotham’s guardian.

 

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Aaron

About Aaron

Author, Speaker, and Super Nerd. Aaron Welty speaks and writes regularly connecting the dots of life, faith, and science fiction. Originally from Michigan, he now lives and works in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.

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