On this episode of Finding Christ In Cinema, we go down Christopher Nolan’s Batcave for the first time as we look for Christian themes in Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne embraces fear in order to stop the villains of Gotham. Does this symbolize Batman’s own “fear of the Lord?” All that and more in 3…2…1!
Batman Begins…with Fear
What is fear?
Just to construct a definition from Wikipedia, fear is the emotional state in response to an outside stimulus which is perceived as a risk to the self. It is agreed among psychologists that fear is one of the most basic emotional states (along with joy, sadness, anger, and such).
Speaking of results, fear induces either one of two responses on the self in fear: fight or flight; that is, let the self be affected either positively or negatively by confronting that which is feared, or simply running away.
Bruce Wayne truly experiences fear for the first time when he falls down the well and disturbs the bats from their slumber. A moment after he lands, a colony of bats swarms through the hole and out of the mouth of the well and attacking Bruce on their way out.
As if falling down a well wasn’t traumatizing enough, he later has nightmares about the bats. Bruce’s father Thomas tells him that the bats attacked him because they were afraid of him.
This plants an understanding of fear so deeply within Bruce that it sticks with him all the way up the mountain as he seeks the help of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows.
Bruce’s training revolves around evoking the enemy’s fear and then defeating that enemy through that fear, and Bruce excels in his training. In fact he’s almost completed it until he must “show his commitment to true justice” by executing a murderous criminal and then leading the League to Gotham City to destroy it.
Bruce, however, refuses to be stained with any of this blood, and unfortunately for the League of Shadows, he is able to escape their mountaintop compound alive.
It seems that the only reason that the League of Shadows wants to antagonize Gotham is because it is afraid of Gotham (in possibly the same way that the bats attacked Bruce out of their own fear). People have reason to fear Gotham, too, because it’s basically owned and operated by the Falcone crime ring and all the thugs and goons that stem from it.
This is why Bruce wants to return home: he wants to help his fellow Gothamites. Since he knows he can’t do it within his mortal coil, he chooses a symbol that has scared him ever since the fateful day at the bottom of the well.
The Fear of the Lord and the Salvation It Brings
The “fear of the Lord” is a phrase Solomon uses in his Proverbs. Yes, this is the kind of “fear” that I described earlier – an emotional response to an outside stimulus that is perceived as a risk to the self – because we should fear our Lord. He is greater than us in every way, and to not be threatened by that power is to be foolish.
Furthermore, Solomon advocates that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” in Proverbs 9:10.
It isn’t surprising that Solomon knows this term because his father David wrote it in his Psalms; however, David didn’t link the fear of the Lord to wisdom; instead, he links it to friendship:
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14).
Therefore, to be the Lord’s friend is to fear him first. We fear because we love.
This “fear” is echoed in the New Testament as well in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (and here’s our key text for the episode):
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Now, this is NOT saying that we attain our salvation by any works we can do; rather, it is saying that we “work out,” actively manifest into effect, realize into practice, and bring out as a result.
It is with this “fear” with we begin to activate the salvation God has offered us.
Bruce Wayne has found his way to “work out” Gotham’s salvation “with fear and trembling”: by being the risk and the danger to anyone who would antagonize his city.
Thankfully, Batman’s story doesn’t end here, and we’ll continue to draw out Christian themes like this as we continue the trilogy.
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Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.
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