The Man in Black and the Men in Blue

The Anthropology of Masculine Protection in 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Every good story has at its heart the story, Jesus Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection. In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, that story is more self-evident (even in the title) than in most. Christian reviews, such as Focus on the Family's Plugged In have noted it. (See Register review here.)

Most of the reviews that I've read, however, have failed to note the film's attention to the broad theme of masculine protection, which was also modeled by Christ and the Twelve.

The moral clarity in the film makes it clear that evil exists and that we do need heroes to confront evil. Sometimes those heroes wear black; other times they wear blue.

By sheer "Godincidence," for me, the opening of the film coincided with an invitation to accompany a police officer on a ride-along. All day last Friday, I accompanied a man in blue during his 10-hour shift as a patrol officer. It was an unforgettable and valuable experience that not only opened my eyes to the underbelly of city life, but also impressed upon me the singular service that our men in blue provide. We owe our police officers a tremendous amount of respect and thanks for what they do each day.

Our men in blue place themselves squarely in between the citizen and evil. That evil comes in forms small and large, but know that it is evil. Day in, day out, our police officers are defusing situations that could easily turn sour, and by so doing, they are protecting the rest of us.

As John Podhoretz writes in his excellent Weekly Standard review "Evil Undone," the key moment in this summer's earlier blockbuster The Avengers occurs when all six superheroes line up iconicly along New York's Park Avenue.

In The Dark Knight Rises, the goosebump moment comes late in the film as the 3,000 police officers who have been trapped underground rush the streets as a unified force, taking on the criminals Bane has let loose on Gotham. 

The most compelling heroes in the film are the characters of the man in black and of police officer John Blake. He is everything we expect a police officer to be: selfless, idealistic, ethical and heroic. Both men model sacrifice.

Just as our men in blue protect us from those who would do harm to our body, our real men in black protect us from those who would harm our souls. These are not jobs for the average lay man and woman; we are called to heroic virtue in other ways. Each and every day our men in blue rush headlong into situations that we have no business entering into: domestic disputes, burglaries, thefts and robberies, traffic accidents, drug deals and hundreds of other criminal acts.

"The Dark Knight Rises is very clear about where the wolves originate: hell," writes blogger Andrew Lynch at Orate Fratres. He's one of the few writers who grasps the larger picture. "Their attack comes not through Gotham's front door but from below," writes Lynch. "We also learn that there are some forces which ordinary men cannot hope to defeat without the help of 'superior air support' from above."

Scripture quite clearly tells us that some demons can be cast out only through prayer and fasting. The Church recognizes that some evil can only be cast out through an ecclesial act (known as exorcism) performed by a priest who has been set aside for this purpose. The priest stands between God and the layman. Both the man in blue and the man in black stand ready to take a literal or spiritual bullet for us.

We need both the men in black and those in blue.

Before police officers go on duty, they gather together with their leader for a briefing known as muster. Our men in black gather together spiritually praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Both uniformed groups are effective only to the degree to which they are united (in communion) in their service to something far larger than themselves.

"Taken as a whole, The Dark Knight Trilogy is a depiction of Christopher Nolan's robust anthropology of masculine protective duty," concludes Lynch. "For Nolan, Batman and Christ, a culture of life cannot exist without first establishing a culture of masculine protection."