The Hero and The Wilderness

I was struck by the power of the following image in Batman Begins:

The lone hero, trekking off into the wilderness.

What you see there is the young Bruce Wayne, walking out into the frozen tundra of the Himalayas (or some other remote part of the world). Bruce, a disillusioned heir to the Wayne empire, has reached his emotional limit and has set out on a journey. His search is not for material treasures or personal accomplishments. He’s in search of himself. He is embarking on a mission, a test, to find out if he has what it takes to be the son of Thomas Wayne. You’ll notice also the barren land that he is entering. That location is not by chance either. A hero’s journey is a solitary one into uncharted territory.

In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge makes the case that the above image is one of many cultural icons for the male rite of passage. Batman Begins depicts a perfect archetype of the quest into manhood. At some point, a boy must test himself. Ideally, this testing is done along side a father. But in Bruce’s case — as in many of ours — his father’s death (if not physical, then emotional or relational) left him a lonely path.

After Bruce sees his parents gunned down, his father’s last words to him, eyes locked intently on his boy, were:

Don’t be afraid, son.

But Bruce was afraid. Fear ruled him and he blamed his dad for not saving himself. And hence Bruce’s troubled journey began.

That these indelible images are burned into our collective consciousness, and their universal themes resonate in our own lives, should not surprise us. They are present in many other stories, tales, and legends. They have become a part of our mythology in that they reflect a core truth.

Look at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Indy, staring into the void.

To save his dying father, Indy must embark on a path into the heart of darkness deep inside the lost chamber of the Knights Templar. The path is strewn with dangerous traps, the final of which is a veritable leap of faith: a chasm 20 feet across. The inscription in his father’s Holy Grail manuscript reads:

He will leap from the lion’s head and he will prove his worth.

…to which Indy declares: “Impossible! Nobody can jump this.” And yet, Indy proves his worth to his father by believing, truly believing, that the Grail legend was true.

Indy, steeling himself for a leap of faith.

Again, in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aragorn, the lost heir of the Gondorian throne, must prove his steel in a cave of spirits.

Aragorn, staring into the void.

The descent into the Dimholt Mountain is certain death, as no one has ever lived to tell about its inner caverns. Yet Aragorn rises to the occasion.

Finally, there is Jesus Christ in his wilderness trial. The temptations He encountered there tested his messiahship.

Christ in his wilderness trial.

I have this fantasy of embarking on a lonely trek like Bruce Wayne’s. Though I have no aspirations of becoming a caped crime-fighting super hero, I deeply want to take such an inward quest. If not literally, then figuratively I want to discover who it is I am meant to be. And if I am to be this person, will I have what it takes to fully become that man?

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  1. Reminds me of a great sermon my pastor taught last year.. called “Be who you were born to be!” He used movie clips from LOTR. It was extremely inspiring!

  2. Hey, Michele told me to tell you to get off your ass and start posting again already. As if blog switching and movie are *that* time consuming! Geez!

  3. As I said somewhere I believe in the comments on my blog lately regarding this subject, I’ve known a few people who took time off to just go away alone and do some introspection and they were much the better for taking the time. I would encourage you to do this if you’re really feeling the urge strongly. If you can take off work for awhile and do it what do you have to lose?

    I noticed in Barnes&Noble last night, while we were waiting for Batman Begins, begin, the writers of WAH wrote a book called Captivating which is supposed to be a WAH for women.

  4. I worry about my adopted girls going through an idenity crisis. I was talking with Elizabeth about my fears. She said not to worry that everyone goes through periods of searching for their identity whether they’re adopted or not. It’s a normal part of life.

    I think she’s right.

    I think a sabbatical sounds like a great idea!

  5. That’s really cool, Angela! I really love it when pastors get out of the box like that.

    I once saw a sermon with clips of the Matrix. That was so cool. 🙂

  6. Hi, Rob. New to your blog here and it looks like you’re in the process of transferring over to a new one. Found you by way of Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, which I of course found by way of (whispers) Michele. [One ‘l’.]

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post and your comparisons. Reminded me of something my own husband might write based on his being a Batman fan (and lover of all the other movies you mentioned here) as well as having a bit of a turbulent relationship with his father at times, and now being a father himself. Inward quests are big.

    Take care,

  7. “Just” happened to find this post of yours today. I got a lot out of Batmen Begins, which you know by reading my last post. Glad you posted this. Some things are different due to genders, but then again…not so different, ya know?! 😀

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