Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Dark Knight and Moral Ambiguity

When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was about to be released, I camped out with friends for a week on the Wynnsong 12 lawn in order to get first dibs on tickets. I also collected money from friends at school, and told them I would buy them tickets with their money. As it happened, I collected money for full price tickets and bought the friends matinee tickets; I didn't do this intentionally but realized the mistake when I ended up with about ten extra dollars after I'd bought all the tickets I needed.

With and online ticket purchasing now available, I doubt anyone will ever convince me to camp out again, but that won't diminish my anticipation for big movies.

Which brings me to my reason for posting: The Dark Knight. Reviews for this movie so far are hugely positive. Jocelyn and I already have our tickets, as do many family members seeing it with us. We have reserved seats so we don't have to get there two hours early. And I'm seeing it in IMAX. My eagerness to see this movie knows no bounds.

On the other hand, the more I learn about this movie, the more I fear that it will be too dark for some. Batman Begins had a somber feel about it, but it ended triumphantly. The Dark Knight is violent, scary, and morally jarring. For example, I have read that The Joker in this film places good people in situations that make it difficult to stick to a moral code. And nearly all of the major characters face dark "lesser-of-two evils" situations before rebounding; or rather, some characters are able to rebound and some aren't.

The classic dilemma is the train-switch problem. You are near the switch and know that if the train continues in the direction it is going, many people will die. If you switch the train to the other track, only one person will die. So you can be passive and save the life of one person, or you can be active and save the life of many people. Most people, I believe, would choose to be active. And you don't have to feel too bad about it either, because if you were the one guy whose life was in jeopardy, wouldn't you prefer to sacrifice yourself and save the others rather than save yourself and carry the guilt of knowing you could have prevented the bigger tragedy?

I think a belief in God helps with this dilemma, knowing that death is not the end. (And this scenario has also been used to analogize the need to sacrifice the Savior and thereby save mankind). Of course, the problem gets more difficult when you introduce additional factors. (What if the "one" was a young child and the other group was made up of a group of people who were going to die the next day?) And, of course, the decision is easier to make when it's just hypothetical.

While I believe there is value in being confronted with morally ambiguous questions at times, I recognize that not everyone will be comfortable watching characters on a screen tackling them.

Also, since Batman is based on comic books, people might be unprepared for the realistic and gritty feel of The Dark Knight.

Still, I am confident I will like the movie. And I think director Christopher Nolan and all of the actors and artists who worked on this film, including Heath Ledger, dedicated themselves to producing as polished a work as possible. I'll let you know after I see the movie on July 19 what my final feelings are on this particular issue and on the movie in general.

In the meantime, here's a less ambiguous question to chew on: When you end up with ten extra dollars after buying your friends tickets that cost less than you'd thought, do you pocket the difference and consider it payment for your efforts in buying the tickets in the first place? Or do you return the extra money?


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