In 2008, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight became the most commercially successful comic book adaptation to date. His film, which highlights the humanity and fallibility of Batman, builds on a long character history while also functioning as an individual work. Nolan's depiction of Batman, which follows a long progression towards postmodernism in graphic novel versions of the character, is just one of multiple filmic superhero representations in recent years to depict a darker side of the "superhero" mythos. These films highlight the humanity and fallibility of these heroic figures and place their actions under scrutiny. In Nolan's two Batman films, this approach allows the central character to reflect the moral complexity of postmodern society. As a result of his humanity, Batman must sometimes choose between two negative outcomes; as he does so, he places various moral systems under pressure and tests them. When Batman makes decisions, he must discard some values in favor of others, and in the process, he reveals his personal priorities. Through the decisions he makes in critical moments in the films, Nolan's Batman acts against "traditional" Batman archetypes which suggest that the hero's actions consistently adhere to one of the following principles: a lust for revenge, a desire to prevent future harm, or a vow not to kill. What eventually emerges as Batman's guiding principle in these latest films is not an ethical system per se, but rather a simple desire to thwart the goals of his enemies. Through this oppositional morality, Batman has the moral flexibility to avoid the dangerous ethical extremes of his enemies. This approach to crime also places the superhero's morality in the hands of his enemies, leading Batman to make troubling decisions as he attempts to stop the villains. Because Batman follows no single moral code consistently, the only way he ultimately differentiates himself from the villains of Gotham is through his belief in the city's potential for good, a belief which all of his enemies have abandoned.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Johnson, Vilja Olivia, ""It's What You Do That Defines You": Batman as Moral Philosopher" (2011). Theses and Dissertations. 2952.
Batman, Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight, moral philosophy