Movies personify evil in the form of villains—people who must be opposed, defeated, killed, and/or destroyed.

This is a problem for us real folks living in the real world.

Movie villains are caricatures. Nuanced caricatures at times, sure—but caricatures. Not real people. Even Heath Ledger’s Joker was made of cardboard, though his haunting performance layered the cardboard thicker than we’re used to seeing it onscreen.

We’re on crumbling ground when we see the people in our lives as personifications of evil. It would be dangerous to think of my boss as my personal Bane or Joker. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” Paul says, but against invisible enemies “in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Opposing, defeating, killing and/or destroying a mere mortal rarely fixes the whole problem. The struggle isn’t located, personified or incarnated in a single human beings and their evil regimes. People can become unwitting puppets for malevolent demonic masters, but that’s different. Many times, the real struggle lies within ourselves as we struggle against our own sinful tendencies.

I appreciate Christopher Nolan’s villains (particularly in the last two Dark Knight films) because they aren’t meant to represent people, but forces. Ra’s al Ghul represented twisted ideology; Scarecrow was fear; Joker was chaos; Two-face, the good and evil in all of us; Bane, judgement. What we’re supposed to do is to catch the symbolism and reverse engineer the application in our own lives.

  • Do I ever give up on people and their ability to change and grow?
  • How do I face and master my own fears?
  • How do I respond to chaos in my life? Do I compromise and sell out, telling myself there is no other way to win, like Batman did?
  • Do I understand my own potential for good and evil, and how will I defeat the darkness within myself?
  • How do I respond to judgement and reckoning when I face my compromise and sins? Do I resist the inevitable, or let the consequence chips fall, maybe break the back of my pride so I can re-emerge in time as my truer, free self?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.