The Dark Knight and X-Files: I Want to Believe have something in common.
One is currently the third highest grossing film of all time ($441.6M); the other can only dream of such status. If you’ve seen both films the reason is clear. The Dark Knight’s underlying love story grips the bleeding hearts while smacking them silly with unpredictable action, whereas The X-Files: I Want to Believe, bleeds to death the underlying love story that fans still want to believe in, even after it fizzled on film along with a tiresome mystery.
The main characters in both films deal with the same human issue however: the desire to believe in others, and in something bigger than himself. Batman and Mulder both struggle to believe that they have a place in the world. Both characters have been soul-searching for years, and have goals that are well-known to fans. Yet even at the end of their current flicks, the soul-searching isn’t over.
Like Mulder, Batman loses hope because of the corruptible nature of human beings, but when push comes to shove, neither can shrug off his responsibilities to humankind, for though that thing they believe in may go underground, it never disappears completely.
We can empathize. Who in the audience doesn’t struggle with the invisible desires to experience more and better? Yet, lectures, or full philosophical debates of morality themes alone do not fill theatre seats with a wide cross-section of the population; so this is where camouflage helps, along with delightful action sequences and superior acting talent.
Artfully hidden, once inside the screening room, these moral dilemmas deck the unsuspecting audience. For example, why in Dark Knight would a “hardened criminal” prefer to trust the kindness of free citizens? Aren’t criminals the basest human beings and the biggest waste of life, as some of his hostages suggest? Furthermore, to what extent does love justify wrongdoing? Or to what extent does pain justify dashing morality?
Juxtaposing innocence with guilt unleashes hidden prejudices. Mulder and Scully learn this in dealing with the prophetic pedophile, and so do most characters in The Dark Knight, as the Joker orchestrates.
Your turn. What would you do if told that you will be allowed to survive certain death, but only if you kill numerous others? Would your conscience allow you to pull the trigger, or would your conscience even enter the picture? Don’t forget, judgement also comes with consequences.
The process is most effective in Dark Knight where, pondering these questions along with the on-screen hostages, the audience also suffers through the manic Joker’s punch line, waiting anxiously for a conclusion. All the while their unstated hope is that we have a collectively connected heart that seeks to value all human life as equally important. Not only do they intuit, they feel the gravity of the question deep in their guts.
This is because Heath Ledger’s Joker wiggles our strings like a master puppeteer. He wants us to think; but whether we’re more than just sticks held together with paper and glue, or nothing more than that, he’ll be thoroughly amused — an emotion the Batman does not share, given the number of lives being risked for a chuckle; but that is a criticism to which the Joker might say, some are already dead — dead men walking — and he’s just the man to finally set them, peacefully, to rest.
Yes,The Dark Knight and X-Files: I Want to Believe have something in common. Both movies, though rightly unequal at the box-office, have strong characters, flaws and all, pointing to a universal quest to believe that a man will not ultimately put his needs before others; that greed doesn’t overrule morality; and that, even in the depths of despair, some hope remains that goodness will prevail.