I just finished watching "Batman: The Dark Knight" for the second time and I can't believe how much of it I missed the first time around. If you haven't seen it, go see it. Also, stop reading, because I'm going to spoil the ending.
The movies that really stay with you, that really tell a story that seems to emanate from reality are the ones that avoid the caricatures of "good" and "evil." Shallow movies have a "hero" and a "villian" -- there are good people and there are bad people. The hero is the one who defeats the evil people. But movies that reflect reality show that this caricature actually doesn't take evil very seriously. The perniciousness of evil is that it seeps into our souls...it tinges our "goodness," and we are exposed to the dark fact, that in our darkest moments, when we are pushed to our extremes, when our own security is threatened, there is actually very little difference between the "good" people and the murderers, thieves and sinners.
Heath Ledger's character is the essence of evil -- he knows no logic or reason, he simply delights in destruction, and his mission is to show the world the evil that "good people" are capable of. He targets Harvey Dent, the "white knight" -- the supposed picture of heroic morality, and turns him into a murderer driven by vengeance. In a telling scene before his death, he tells Batman why he succeeded in his plan: "Madness is like gravity. All it needs is a little push."
Of course good movies also point to hope. A real hope. Hope doesn't come without pain or suffering. In a world where sin permeates us all -- and even the "good" cannot avoid it, there can only be one solution. Batman must take the punishment. In order to save the city, he must take the blame for Harvey Dent's fallenness. At the end of the movie, a little boy protests: "But he didn't do anything wrong!" Yet it is the only solution. So Batman must live, as a convicted, hated criminal, enduring the pain of humanity's evil so that humanity can live. So that hope can live.
Telling someone that they can be good if they just try hard enough never really inspires. Facing the depths of our own evil, our only hope is if somebody else can take the fall, take the brunt of our punishment, in our place. This story never fails to inspire.