"Batman Begins": Looking Back / Looking In
"Hidden things hinder wholeheartedness."
I was a DC Kid. My friend Robby was a Marvel Kid. I embraced the epic struggles of Good and Evil, especially as portrayed through the Batman. Robby discovered kinship in tortuous transformations wrought by a Science run amok: Spiderman, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four. He declared me a simpering simpleton, overly concerned with issues of justice. I accused him of being a prima-donna elitist with no sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden masses. Yeah, we were the best of buddies. Good times.
Years later, as my son approached his teens, he introduced me to Frank Miller’s graphic novel series, Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. He would copy the magazine covers in loving detail for days on end and I devoured the stories after lights out. Here was a fractured soul, rolling the Sisyphean rock of guilt and vengefulness up the slippery slope of vendetta, with every intention of doing what was capital “R” Right. I was in. I could relate.
This was no longer a kid’s story.
In Batman Begins (2005), director Christopher Nolan maintains the spirit and look of Miller’s gritty graphics and eschews the cultural camp that had become attached to the Batman franchise. Taking place in the deteriorating Gotham City, Nolan owes as much to Dickens and Bronte as Homer. In fact, the city itself becomes a character in the film: flatulent and lost and sinking into the abyss of a striated social hell. The nature of our hero, Bruce Wayne (who interestingly enough was named after Scottish patriot Robert Bruce by Batman’s original creator, Bob Kane) is carefully revealed through an interconnected series of flashbacks. The young Bruce tumbles into the depths of an abandoned well on the family’s estate. Bats burst forth from the gaping maw of an adjoining cave, engulfing the panicked boy and rendering him helpless. That same helplessness is later embellished with guilt, when his parents are shot down in front of him during a robbery. Here are the seeds of fear and guilt planted. Here is where the desire for revenge takes root. Here grows the verdant field of obsession.
Heartsick and in despair, the adult Bruce Wayne (played with severity by Christian Bale) sets out to lose himself. His choice is to metaphorically tear down his heritage “brick by brick”. He delves into his own underworld. He makes himself physically impoverished so as to reflect his inner deprivation. He lays himself bare to the very foundations of self. It is only in this abject emptiness that he is able to manifest a new format of being – a symbol of being. And though he views this actualized symbolism as “incorruptible” he remains divided and at odds with himself.
The only major female character is Bruce’s childhood friend, Rachel Dawes (a doe-eyed Katie Holms). She has matured into an authentically concerned DA, and is appalled when she discovers that Wayne is seeking revenge on his parent’s murderer, outside of the law. And though her role receives short shrift, it is significant nonetheless. She plays both Penelope and Ariadne in our hero’s quest. Penelope in her ultimate steadfastness to her perception of Wayne’s character. And Ariadne in providing the mantra, “it’s what you do that defines you.” This one phrase gives both Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, the thread of reason that may lead him through the maze of divisiveness, anger, and fear.
Batman Begins is an origin story as mythically archetypal as Moses in the bulrushes. Sure it’s dripping with testosterone-laden action (Hello? The parting of the Red Sea isn’t?). But we the viewers can tumble into the lush darkness of the film and ask where these characters and situations and struggles reside in our lives. How do we unite our fractured selves? What is the authentic self that we ‘present’ in our relationships and social interactions? And what, what is the mask that we wear to protect our secret identity?
And that’s not kid stuff.
Movie Night, 7:00 PM, April 15th at The Educational Center