Is Batman Fulfilling His Vocation?
Warning: Spoilers about The Lego Batman Movie, including Batman’s real identity, contained in this review!
Warner Brothers’ recent production of The Lego Batman Movie has it all. Will Arnett brought back the comedy and charisma that we first saw in The Lego Movie. Superb animation, action, and adventure make it an enjoyable visual experience. And for the comic book nerds there’s plenty of Easter eggs throughout the film. Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is a well-told story full of imagination and wonder, featuring a good balance of humor and substance that makes for an entertaining movie. It’s the kind of movie that resonates with both parents and children because it draws on themes of family, relying on others, and adoption.
As the movie begins, the viewer quickly learns that Batman lives in a self-made fortress of solitude. Batman works alone. Lives alone (except for Alfred, his butler). Watches movies alone. He even eats lobster thermidor alone. When Alfred catches Batman staring longingly at a family portrait in Wayne Manor, Batman dismisses his sadness as rage. The problem is obvious to everyone except Batman. Through humor and some clever laugh-out-loud moments, the screen-writers unmask Batman’s isolation. It’s not good to be alone.
As the story progresses—and with the help of his crime-fighting friends Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl), Alfred, and Richard Grayson (aka Robin)—Batman learns the truth we often take for granted: every day we depend on people and people depend upon us.
In Christian terms, this is a perfect example of the doctrine of vocation, where God calls us to serve our neighbor. Martin Luther called vocation the Larvae Dei, or “the masks of God”. Christians in their daily vocation in the home, workplace, government, and church are superheroes of the ordinary, every-day tasks: changing diapers, grading papers, preparing meals, and so much more.
These everyday heroes don’t wear masks, unless of course they’re performing surgery or working in construction; and you won’t find them in capes and funny costumes, but you will see them wearing uniforms of their profession: blue, white, and clerical collars. Behind the masks of our daily callings, ordinary though they may seem to be, God is working through us to serve our neighbor, and God is hiding in the neighbor as we serve him.
Admittedly, this can be hard to see. Just as Batman failed to see any good come from his careless, flippant adoption of Richard Grayson. But through this relationship Batman begins to change. For like Bruce Wayne, Richard is an orphan, full of intelligence and wit. Unlike Bruce, however, Richard recognizes that it is not good to be alone. “All I want is to get adopted so I can finally stop being alone”, he says.
Batman certainly doesn’t start off as a role model for adopting parents. Though, when you follow the character arc to the end of the movie, Batman is changed. Through Richard’s persistence and undeserved kindness, as well as kicking some super-villain butt, Batman comes to realize his need to have a family to love and a family that will love him in return.
These themes of family, relying on others, and adoption aren’t just important in our daily vocation in the home and society, but also in the church. Holy Scripture uses the imagery of the body and the household to describe our Christian life together in Christ. Christians rightly understand that the themes of family relationships, dependence, and adoption drive us to the heart of the Gospel.
In Jesus’ incarnation God became our brother to make us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve children of the heavenly Father. And as Cyprian of Carthage once said, “He who would have God as father must have church as mother”. This is the language of Baptism, where we receive a new birth from above by water, Word, and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, God also adopts us into His family, places His name upon us, gives us His eternal inheritance in Jesus, and calls us His own dear children.
As Paul writes in Galatians 4:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
And just like earthly children are dependent upon their parents for daily life, so too, we are utterly dependent upon God’s grace in Christ for eternal life. God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and gave him Eve. So too, God saw that it was not good for us children of Adam to be alone in our sin, left do die on our own. So, he sent his only begotten Son to rescue us from sin, deliver us from death, and adopt us into His family.
And in Jesus we are never alone.