The Gospel According to the Dark Knight

In the wake what happened in Aurora, Colorado, many ask, “Why?” “How?” in confusion and pain. Like many people last night, I was watching the premier of the Dark Knight Rises. I had also gone to a marathon of the first two Chris Nolan movies right before. I’m sure many have noticed there is something eerie about the thematic elements of the movie and their connection to what happened in real life where, to our current knowledge, a man named James Holmes just wanted to “watch the world burn.” One of the reasons these movies touch so many people is because they strike a chord close to our hearts. A painful one that reveals our real nature. The solution is to admit it and seek redemption. But many will not. Many will insist this man was insane, an anomaly, an “aberration”. But was he?

The Dark Knight points out the evil in all of us. The main conflict Batman deals with in the wake of the Joker and Two Face is, what does it say about mankind when someone like Harvey Dent ends up pointing a gun at a mother and children. What does it say about us when a graduate student studying neuroscience in a Ph.D. program decides to kill as many people in a movie theater as he can in one night? Could this be why people are so quick to condemn this as an anomaly is a world of “good people”? Could it be that if a stand-up citizen in his right mind is capable of this, so am I? Jesus said whoever is even angry at his brother without cause is guilty of murder in his heart. Our actions define us. “…it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”

So what is the solution then? How then can we live? Can we be good? If so how? Just be good? The question we should really be asking is, “What do we need?” Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the writers of the Dark Knight movies gave a hint at the answer. Think about this first. The Devil or Satan: it’s not a name, it’s a title. In Hebrew it means ‘Accuser’. He accuses us of our sin. We stand in the courtroom of God and Satan is our prosecutor. He shows incontrovertible evidence of our guilt. We stand helpless before a holy God. What can we do? Who can defend us? Who will stand between us and the wrath of a patient God?

Now think about this: the villain essentially has the same motive in all three movies. He sees man as evil and believe we should be wiped out. But to do that, he sinks down to a hellish level of depravity himself. Ra’s, the Joker, and the villain of Rises prove corruption on every level of society.  Two-Face says, “You thought we could be decent men, in an indecent time! But you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased, unprejudiced… fair.” Justice, but no mercy. The people of Gotham need someone to save them. He accuses, but someone does stand between him and the people. “I’ll be standing where I belong. Between you and the people of Gotham” says Bruce to Ra’s al Ghul.

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” “Abraham called on the name of the LORD.” “Salvation belongs to the LORD” cries Jonah from the belly of the fish. And what is the name of the Lord? Jesus, or in Hebrew Y’shua, means God saves. No one else. We cannot save ourselves. Only God himself and step down and stand between us and condemnation. How? Because he took the blame on himself even to the point of death on a cross.

Picture the end of the second movie. Harvey Dent lies dead in his sins. But he is yet redeemed, at least in the eyes of the people. How?

“I killed those people. That’s what I can be.” says Batman.

“… a hero. Not the hero we deserved- the hero we needed. Nothing less than a knight. Shinning…” says Gordon.

Batman assures him, “You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me… because it’s what needs to happen.”

James looks at his father confused, “He didn’t do anything wrong! Why, dad? Why?!”

“… we’ll hunt him, because he can take it.”

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Paul).

In Rises (HOLY SPOILERS BATMAN!), Batman goes through his own sort of death and resurrection. He is spiritually dead, in a prisoner (though innocent) that is a clear metaphor for hell, being simply a giant pit. He emerges as the prisoner chant, “Rise. Rise. Rise. Rise.” returning to life. Why? To save the very city that turned its back on him as well as a woman (Catwoman) who betrayed him into the hands of his enemy. She seeks a “clean slate” to wipe her past away. Batman has it. He offers it to her unconditionally.

“Maybe it’s time we stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day.” – Alfred

Artist Statement

The way to convey reality through gesture, contour and model rendering is to “follow the story of the light” (something one of my life drawing teachers would always say). This is the essence of drawing reality: understanding the nature of light and dark, movement, and proportion. While this might sound like strict defense for realism, I am in fact using it to defend more. Cameras are machines that capture the light for you. But I believe that stylization, in its many forms, takes this many steps further. Capturing only the light that is visible to the eye only tells one story. But stylization is essential to telling a different story: a more engaging one. Stylization eliminates non-essential visuals to promote and enhance aspects of a story or character that cannot be conveyed simply through photographic imagery.
 

I can take a picture of someone smiling, but it certainly doesn’t capture all the moods and feelings of the moment. But I can draw a caricature of him that exaggerates his smile. A few simple lines and bam! I have successfully captured the moment more accurately than a camera.

This is why I want to work in animation. I have experience in painting and drawing, and if a picture tells a thousand words, a moving picture must tell a thousand per frame. Like stylization is to realism, animation is to live action film. I have experience in drawing for most of my life, and began oil painting in college. To me, the mediums were never powerful enough, as my inspiration always came from the motion and progression of story that is found in animation. Animation can convey moods, feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc. that are difficult, if not sometimes impossible to fully convey in live action. Stylization and stylized animation also convey a unique visual aesthetic that would otherwise never been seen in this present reality.


“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” — C.S. Lewis
The characters of Phineas and Ferb vs. their sister Candace are great examples of this. Who doesn’t wanna be like Phineas and Ferb? How awesome would it be to wake up every day and say, “I know what we’re gonna do today!” and then proceed to have the best day ever? 

The Truth is my ultimate standard for what I do. My work hinges on iconic imagery; the kind which the viewer always knows when he sees it. These archetypes are recognizable to those who are unfamiliar with it. While this sounds like an oxymoron, it is true that many have had the experience of seeing an image that makes them feel like they’ve known in their whole lives. This can be experienced in a painting, a movie, a book, television show, song, or anything that is art. Like Plato’s allegory of the caves, it is the reality behind the shadows. My ultimate goal is to bring out the Truth that is the story of the Light of Men.

Good Friday

This is an excellent animation on the crucifixion of Jesus. Many comments on the video have expressed people wanting to see more Biblical drama portrayed in professional animation that’s entertaining for adults, taking cues from anime. As an animation student, I agree. Stay tuned… 😉