“You’ve made some mistakes, Miss Kyle.” – John Blake
Last week, I explored how Bruce Wayne’s Hero’s Journey establishes him as a Christ-figure in The Dark Knight Rises. A further excellent parallel my friend Anthony Mako pointed out to me is that if Bruce is Jesus, the Selina clearly parallels the Scriptural presentation of the Church (which the Revelation images as the Bride of Christ).
I don’t mean to say that Nolan intentionally told the story of Selina as the Church. Rather, the kind of redemption she seeks is essential to the human condition. Indeed, one of the most important differences between Bruce and Jesus is that Bruce, too was in need of this sort of redemption.
So please indulge my fanboy-theological whimsy as I present to you The Redemption of Catwoman!
1. Selina can’t escape her dark past.
We first meet Selina as a thief, stealing Bruce’s fingerprints. We learn that she’s selling these to Dagget because he’s promised her the Clean Slate, a program that will erase every trace of a person from every database in the world.
Selina wants a fresh start. She wants a new life, free of the crimes of her old life.
Though initially we’re not sure why Selina wants the Clean Slate, we learn through her conversation with Bruce that she wants to escape her old life, to start over. As she explains:
“Once you’ve done what you have to, they’ll never let you do what you want to.”
— Selina Kyle
When she confronts Dagget, Selina learns that Clean Slate was an urban myth. It sounded too good to be true because it was. Salvation for Selina is out of the question.
Selina’s initial state parallels the innate human condition, what theologians call Original Sin.
Paul, writing in the voice of the fallen human, puts it like this:
I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? — Romans 7:22-25
The Scriptures teach that every person is complicit in bringing sin and death into the world. Each of us is dead, separated from God. The rescue we need is resurrection, new life that is impossible in the human realm. We are as hopeless as the Catwoman.
2. Batman offers impossible hope.
As Batman and Selina grow closer, he discerns that she is not wholly evil. All her current crimes, she commits to obtain the Clean Slate. Batman reveals that he possesses the Clean Slate, that he is responsible for removing it from the public sector so it could not be used by criminals.
Batman offers Selina the Clean Slate in exchange for her help. What was impossible for Selina suddenly lies within her reach.
Jesus offers humanity a similarly impossible rescue. In fact, Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was about proclaiming this new reality, which he called the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ gospel announcement signaled the end of earthly powers, the end of oppression.
Jesus’ promised new reality seemed too good to be true to many.
3. Selina betrays her savior.
Selina can’t believe Batman’s offer of a fresh start. She’s so trapped by her past choices that the only salvation she can imagine is limited to the deal-making that has already failed to save her.
Selina betrays Batman in hopes that Bane’s forces will let her escape.
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus – and the Sanhedrin’s collusion with Rome in his execution – are much the same. Jesus’ own people couldn’t imagine the kind of kingdom he was calling into existence, a kingdom that functions wholly unlike Rome’s coercive model.
Judas betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin, which then colludes with Pilate, because they can’t imagine anything better or more powerful than Rome. Christians today who try to “take America back for God” or insist “our way” be enforced through law largely fall into this same trap.
Rather than trust in Jesus’ better way of love, we give our allegiance to the guy with the biggest army.
4. Batman gives Selina new life.
As I sketched in Bruce Wayne’s Hero’s Journey, Bruce undergoes a death and resurrection at Bane’s hands. Having completed his journey, he can return to save Gotham.
Part of his strategy is to recruit allies, including Selina. Batman confronts Selina and gives her the Clean Slate.
The freedom Selina has been seeking is now hers, no strings attached.
She’s shocked that he’d trust her, and when she points out as much, Batman replies:
“I admit I was disappointed.
But I know there’s more in you than that.” — Batman
Though she doesn’t deserve it, and before she’s done anything to justify it, Batman places his faith in Selina. He gives her access to his toys (the BatPod) and sends her on a mission that’s vital to Gotham’s salvation.
Similarly, Jesus offers us rescue with no strings attached. Before we do anything to deserve his love, it’s ours. Jesus’ faith rescues us, empowers us through the Holy Spirit and invites us to join in his mission to redeem the world. All because he sees us not as we are – lowly cat burglars, but as we could be – divine sidekicks.
5. Selina places her faith in Batman.
Selina completes the mission Batman gives her, which opens up a critical choice: She can abandon Gotham and save herself, or return to near-certain death to join Batman.
The old Selina would’ve left without a moment’s hesitation. But this new Selina, rescued from her old life by the Batman’s death, resurrection and faith, is inspired to be more.
Selina chooses to return, to partner with Batman, and her aide is vital to his rescue of Gotham.
With only minutes left before the bomb detonates, Selina marvels at Batman’s idealism, his commitment to do whatever it takes to save Gotham. She’s perhaps even more surprised to find herself fighting at his side.
This is the picture of the recreated Christian: Jesus has rescued us from death and now we join him in his rescue mission. The redemption of the whole world seems impossible to most, and the most enduring saints – those like Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa or John Wesley – seem to be idealists whose belief in a better world borders on insane.
As the apostle Paul said,
“If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins… And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” — 1 Corinthians 15:17-19
Catwoman put it much more succinctly:
“You could’ve gone anywhere in the world and you came back here.” — Selina
“So did you.” – Bruce
“I guess we’re both suckers.” — Selina
I, for one, would much rather be a sucker, tilting at windmills, than live in despair.
6. Bruce marries Selina
Of course, we don’t know for sure that Bruce and Selina are married. We only know that they are together at Alfred’s café. The implication of the film (and really, the whole trilogy), is that since Bruce has completed his Hero’s Journey, he is now free of the world of Gotham. Since he’s rescued Selina, the two of them can create a new life together.
The film’s logic strongly suggests a marriage relationship between Bruce and Selina.
This is the same picture we get of the Church’s ultimate fate in the Revelation.
“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’
And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!'”
— Revelation 21:2-5