...are the ones that make the biggest difference



So I went and saw "Batman Begins" on Friday afternoon. The wife, not a huge action flick fan, much less an aficionado of the Dark Knight, chose to let me attend on my own. The movie as a movie was good; good pacing and character development, they did a good job of filling in Batman's back-story, good action without it being over the top and certainly not very much gore, which is a nice change. I left the theater, though, feeling very troubled by the film. It just didn't sit right. WARNING: Spoilers to follow. If you plan to see the movie, come back and read this after you are done.

We are, of course, reacquainted with another version of Bruce Wayne's tragic childhood; only child sees his parents gunned down outside a theater, grows up alone, etc. However, this does not follow the script we heard in the first Batman movie - no "you ever dance with the devil..." and the Waynes' killer ends up dead at the hand of a mob assassin some years later. I realize the makers of this Batman movie did not want to be tied to any of the others, but I found this variation a bit grating. Yes, the mugger's death is integral to Bruce Wayne becoming the Batman: he was planning on killing his parents murderer after he got out early from assisting the government on an organized crime investigation. After his plans are foiled, it starts Bruce on a chain of events that lead him to seek to understand the criminal mind and eventually takes him to his mentor who will train him in martial arts, the use of fear and the importance of justice. In the first movie, you'll remember it was a young Joker who murdered the Waynes and that act played a key part in its plot. This discontinuity soured the movie for me, at least for a little while. If we are to understand this movie as a prequel of sorts, then this change in the story trips things up. It would be like tampering with the original Star Wars movies in the prequels; Leah isn't really Luke's sister, or Jabba the Hutt is actually a good guy.

We are first forced to confront Bruce's unmitigated hatred for the man who killed his parents, and with him, a thirst for revenge he unthinkingly labels justice. He refuses to forgive, refuses to let go of the pain, refuses to do anything but live in the past, embracing the moment of his worst agony. In this, we see that Bruce/Batman is actually diametrically opposed to the Christian ideal. He hangs onto his hate and is ruled by fear. He feels no love, only bitterness over what was taken from him with absolutely no regard for anyone other than himself. He eventually moves past this brutal fixation on vengeance, but only by a matter of degree. His mentor, a master ninja and member of the centuries old League of Shadows, which has battled corruption and evil as far back as the Roman Empire (this character mentions the league's involvement in the fall of Rome, among other examples of powerful political entities that eventually became corrupt and were pulled down) orders Bruce, as a final test of his training, to kill a murderer. Bruce refuses, saying since his compassion is the only thing that separates him from the criminal, then he must hold onto it. But truly it is not compassion - Bruce thinks the man should be killed by the lawful authorities, not him. There is no hint of trying to understand why the man committed his crime and if there might be elements that mitigate the deserved punishment. It is only this trifle of respect for the rule of law that separates Bruce from the criminal; he has no qualms about the use of violence, does not hesitate to instill fear and, in fact, is trained to use fear as a weapon, and certainly has no overall respect for the law. It also becomes abundantly clear later in the movie that Bruce/Batman has little respect for human life in his quest for "justice" and the "good."

In one dramatic scene, his old friend and assistant DA Rachel (played by Katie Holmes) is gassed with a lethal dose of a mind-altering chemical agent. Bruce/Batman must rush her back to the Batcave where he has the antidote. But his drive back to the manor is actually a car chase involving dozens of cop cars - many of which crash in manners that are likely fatal to the occupants. Further, Batman drives over rooftops, knocking debris onto the ground below in a complete disregard for any possible pedestrians. These innocent deaths do not matter to him so long as he can save his old friend; another mark of the selfishness that permeates Batman's motivations. Bruce isn't fighting for some objective good or for the benefit of society - he is fighting because he is consumed by hatred and anger. In this, he is actually very much like the character of Anakin Skywalker, the primary difference being that Bruce Wayne is self-aware enough to realize that, in venting his hatred, there is little that separates him from the criminals he fights. Thus, he puts a veneer of good on it, by fighting for "justice", by opposing them and trying to hand them over to the authorities for prosecution. But at its root, his fight is fueled by hate and by Bruce's selfish desire to act on it.

Which is why I left the theater thinking "is Batman an antichrist?" And the answer, I think, is an unfortunate yes. Yes, Batman fights evil, but for the wrong reasons. He fights, not in order to save the criminal, or even to save the criminal's victims, but in order to inflict the punishment of his own hatred on those he sees as "evil."

1 comment:

basil said...

One point: The reframing of the famous murder which serves as a catalyst for the young Bruce --- in a way which offers such striking discontinuity with Burton's Batman --- is a clear sign that this film is not a "prequel." It is a restarting anew of a franchise that was nearly killed completely by Joel Schumacher in Batman and Robin and even beginning with Batman Forever.

I think it may also link the film to the graphic novel Batman: Year One, which rumor has it served as the basis for the screenplay. Not sure about that; I haven't looked at that particular graphic novel in a while, and I didn't read the whole thing.