I saw the ‘Dark Knight’ last week, and ever since seeing Heath Ledger’s Joker performance, a few things have been in my mind. Ledger delivered one of the most chilling depictions of human depravity I have seen in a while.
The Christian doctrine of ‘depravity’ (The Greek word ‘porneria’, which can also be translated ‘corruption’) essentially speaks of humanities ‘active intent to corrupt or destroy’. This condition involves the concept of moral corruption and liability to judgment. (There is some debate among theologians over the proper quantitative word to be used in describing humanities depravity, ‘Are we totally depraved or radically depraved?’)
Either way this debate must take into account the fact that we were created in the image of God with the capacity for good, but every part of our being has been affected by sin (Rom. 7:18; Titus 1:15; Jer. 17:9; Eph. 4:18). Every person is sinful. It is this sinful nature that manifests itself differently in each individual person, yet all mankind is marked with the scars of sin.
Here is where ‘The Dark Knight’ comes into play, I was totally enthralled with Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. Ledger took the character to a whole new level, a totally depraved psychopathic villain. The Joker lived to create chaos, and seemed to be enslaved with a thirst for gratuitous evil. Ledger perfectly characterized ‘the heart of darkness’.
Not only was Ledger’s performance Oscar worthy, the Joker completely stole the show. So I began thinking, why is it that this evil villain seemed so believable? Why is it that Ledger’s performance resonated so deep, so memorable? If there was ever a time when an actor blurred the lines between art and reality, it is in this movie. Ledger managed to convince me (at least) that he really was ‘that evil’.
I think Christian Theology can speak to these questions. It is much easier for a fallen human being to depict evil than good. This is not a knock on Ledger’s performance, but an observation of reality. Besides the fact that Batman sounded like “the spawn of Clint Eastwood and a Grizzly Bear” (this is pretty funny), the character was unrealistic, ‘too good to be real’. The Batman represented an ideal, just like other ‘super-heros’ who reach beyond the regular abilities of humanity for some ‘greater good’. Being that good, or standing for good in the way batman does is much harder when your life is on the line. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “no man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good”.
The scary thing is that the Joker never did anything ‘non-realistic’ (I am speaking in terms of ‘the possible’). The possibility of sin and destruction are part of this created order. These realities are the horrible effect of the fall.
See, the reality of evil was not an ‘original thing’, (evil is not a ‘thing’ itself, but the depravity of ‘things’) but the possibility of evil entered created order when the first man and woman deliberately turned there backs on God. This is where the Joker hits home; he represents the darkness of the human heart in its most depraved form. If anything, this character illustrates our need of the Gospel, and sheds a whole new light on common grace. I am absolutely thankful that God has placed moral order in this world to guide our sinful hearts. But more than that, I am thankful that God has provided a way for righteousness through Christ His Son. This is the meaning of the Gospel, that all of us deserve death (from those who are as evil as the Joker, to those who ‘mess up’ every now and then…essentially we are the same), but Christ has provided a way to eternal life and reconciliation to God in the Gospel.
2 thoughts on “Heath Ledger, The Joker, and Christian Theology”
Matt, I found your blog a while back and have been keeping up with it. Nice post on Dark Knight.
I appreciate your review. I watched the movie and was struck by how much Pelagianism is the rule for the world. The Joker is not proven right (which he is) is saying that people are as bad as they feel they can be. Instead, people stand up and do good (on the ferry) after those same people tried to shoot the lawyer in cold blood. I think the movie ultimately rests on society’s unfounded view that people are inherently good. Augustine smashed that in the 4th century, but it is still the philosophy of the our time and too much of the Church.