Thursday, August 28, 2008

Batman Nolanverse: Some Later Thoughts

Chris Nolan's Batman Franchise
Ie - Batman as a blank space to be built upon.







* - (Don't you wish Blogger had an easy cut tag that was automated for all posts?)




* - (Do I even have to say SPOILER ALERT?)



I've seen it mentioned enough in reviews I've gone back to read since I finally saw the film that Batman in Nolan's Universe is a blank space; that he's boring, that all the interest is around him instead of within him and what the hell is Chris Nolan doing??!

Now a couple weeks later having sat on my thoughts I'm not going to claim I know what Chris Nolan is going, especially since I doubt Nolan's a secular womanist, or particularly invested in race equality. That is, the man's not me, I'm not him, I don't read minds.

What I am going to do, however, is discuss why I both agree and disagree with the description of Batman as a blank space. That is, I think it's entirely possible for the role to be interpreted that way (un-engaging, static shell) but I believe there's a reason for it and more-over, I've been enjoying it.

Batman Begins showed us a Bruce who was listless and unmotivated and basically one of the walking wounded from the time of his parents' death until he walks into the court house intent on murdering Joe Chill. Then Rachel slaps him (physically and metaphorically) and he goes on a journey to both find himself and to see the world he's been ignoring, as if it all stopped turning when his parents died.

This is not a Bruce, as in some canon arcs, who dabbled in a bit of everything with a mission in mind since childhood. This is not the Bruce who contemplated joining the FBI.

The way things are set up in the courthouse it doesn't even look as if Bruce gave any thought to getting away unseen or unscathed. He just wanted Chill dead. So he really had nothing to lose; since he'd been prepared to commit a type of suicide; when he goes traveling the world with nothing in his pockets. And when we next see him in the Chinese prison, he's a ferocious fighting dog. All his rage and pain and confusion is channeled into some very dirty fighting; impassioned fighting, such that catches his mentor's attention.

From there we go to a rigid training of body and mind and the discovery by Bruce of his own inner lines; things he will not do when his head is clear. Things he would and will train himself not to do even when his head is NOT clear. He's pulled himself out of a spiral of self-pity, seen his own strength and determination and realized that killing the criminals in summary execution is not the answer.

Thus is born, in Batman Begins, when he goes back to his city to try and save it - Bruce Wayne as an adult and Batman (the legend). BUT, things are bad in Gotham and Bruce needs to create a counter persona so his own personal growth, hard fought until this current plateau has to be put on hold. He has two jobs that take up all his time; Brucie and Batman.

There are three personas; Bruce Wayne, Brucie and Batman.

It's no surprise to me that there's all this movement happening around Batman but not coming from within him. It makes perfect sense. Bruce is still stalled on a plateau. He's still. In TDK, I realized that he's been holding on, over the past how many ever months, to this dream that with enough people inspired by him, the right people, he can hang up his cape and give Brucie a funeral and begin to discover who Bruce Wayne really is; what sort of man is he really? What does he want now?

But events in TDK reveal that Gotham's redemption will not be a simple path. It will take more than shining beacons of hope; beacons can be dimmed. Batman Begins explained to us that there was an organization set upon Gotham's destruction, encouraging it and feeding it the worse of human nature, letting it over-boil with corruption.

Gotham's an infection site, swelling with irritant fluids and turning things red and pus filled. Gotham's a Hellmouth (if you followed Buffy). Gotham's a place dictated the end spot of lines of corruption and darkness from all over the world; lines created by an ages old organization that's been working on this for YEARS (possibly something around 30-35 yrs). So Gotham's been this way for a generation.

The people currently alive in the city have always known it this way. Bruce himself was born into the city as it stood. And it'd been admitted to him that all his parents did, in their life and with their deaths was very partially stem the tide.

At the end of TDK I felt as if that is when 'the mission' is born. That's the moment when Bruce gives himself over to the City, to be Gotham's protector and avenger. To me that would be the moment he realizes that Bruce Wayne, that is Bruce Wayne the normal guy, the guy with trauma who's healing and moving forward is never going to happen. There is no magic bullet. There is no quick solution. The cure might have to take as long as the cause. That Bruce Wayne is a myth and waiting around for the right time for that myth to get the chance to show up - gets people killed, gets them hurt and injured, exposes them to too much.

I liked that Alfred burns Rachel's letter, because in Alfred's heart, he wants his young man, his almost son, to have that hope present - that it could have been fulfilled and one day still might be. He doesn't want to see Bruce become consumed by the mission. As much as a Bruce active and living means to him; the path down to obsessed is near and slippery.

I like how much is implied if you know the myth/legend/canons of Batman. But that this brushes a near real world margin on the psychology of evil, strength, weakness and redemption. I also like that someone paying attention can tease apart the possibilities. I say nothing for those who're all 'Cool explosions! And OMG romance dead now!'. We're obviously enjoying things in different ways.

I also like where Jim Gordon stands in this universe. Jim knows that Batman had hoped to one day stand aside. He knows the truth about what happened to and with Harvey. He knows that Batman is capable of almost anything (up to certain strict lines) to save this city. Or rather, that when it comes to saving innocents, he'll side with the most vulnerable (ala the hostages in the hostages dressed up as bad guys vs cops).

Jim's more than just a companion in arms right now in the Nolan universe. He's a friend. I can visualize Jim going up to the rooftop by himself, no signal, just Jim and cup of coffee on a break, waiting to see if Batman will show up to talk - because there's something going on Batman should be/would be clued into. Though more realistically in this verse, it'd be back to the back of the house with Batman up in the rafters and Mrs. Gordon wondering about who her husband trusts and why and the kept secrets between them. Jim's wife knows how poisonous Gotham is. She saw what it did to Dent. The Gordon family situation has become, quite elegantly, a pressure cooker and an example of what Bruce wants to save, all in one.

And speaking of saving examples, and themes of strength, weakness, and redemption; Batman/Bruce lost one symbol of Gotham and glimmer of hope in Harvey Dent. It was beautiful and awful and horrifying and brutal. I can forgive a lot for the narrative I saw/got to pick apart as I watched.

Jim, Batman, Harvey as a Trinity and now things are crushed and lopsided is something I absolutely adored. The Three Fates of Gotham *makes kissy noises of enthusiasm*. The three conspirators; the three schemers for Gotham's future delicately balanced against the three men that would change Gotham forever; The White Knight, The Dark Knight and The Mad Knight.

Sweet mambajomba and precious Baby Moses!

Seeing things like this made Harvey's turn into Two-Face resonate right down to my toes; because when watching the movie I forgot the change was coming. Screw believing a man can fly. I believed that on a single man, hung the fate of a city. And even though I worried about Harvey's control issues, I was caught up in every tiny step he carved out towards a new and brighter Gotham.

Harvey made his stand as a man who makes his own destiny; he forges his own path, creates his own reality. This a powerful attribute in a leader; in anyone, in fact. Which means it is a just as powerful attribute when used on a destructive path. The thing that made the fall of Harvey Dent for me was the realization that the Joker had only to look at him to understand him. The Joker wasn't sure about The Bat; he was curious and intrigued and possibly just a little aroused and tittillated. But Harvey? The Joker knew how to turn the ability to make your own reality become noose and smoking gun.

While I felt that there should have been more in the hospital room between Dent and the Joker I still believed that Harvey Dent, wracked with pain and loss and shock and physical devastation decided to get up and FIX his reality; fix what went wrong where it went wrong - starting with the people who broke it; the ones who betrayed his trust and his dream of a better, brighter Gotham.

Going after the dirty cops was just basic, common, revenge sense. Besides they clawed and wounded Gotham and brought her down into the dirt. And he'd already been disgusted at the concept of dirty cops.

Going after Jim and Batman, however, his fellow comrades in arms; that had me mentally reviewing the confrontation with the Joker even as I watched.

Why? I asked myself. So I watched and I thought and...


Already spiraling in his own guilt and anger and shame. Harvey's notedly embracing the pain and the loss, lashing out at himself. And here comes the Joker who points out that Harvey wasn't alone in his plotting, planning and scheming. And it's always so much easier when one is in pain to blame others, especially when you're the sort who believes that when YOU have it all under control, nothing can go wrong.

That the Joker had Harvey's number from day is positively chilling to me. TDK showed how well the Joker understands the dark side of other people and how he manipulates it and how much fun he had pressing the dark buttons of Gotham's public at seeming random. But realizing he -knew- just which buttons to press for Harvey... The ease of it for him; like a hot knife through butter; is actually terrifying.

It took me a while to realize the reason it was so easy is because Harvey Dent didn't believe in hope. Batman hoped. Jim Gordon hoped. Hell, even Rachel Dawes hoped. But Harvey believed in Harvey; his plans, his ambitions, his created reality.

And the realization that he wasn't strong enough on his own to fix everything / save everything and that because of that, Rachel died? What a painful lesson to learn; an awful, painful, crushing lesson. It was almost religious. Without faith in Harvey Dent, who did Harvey have faith in?

We've already seen Bruce in this place and we got to see how he found a way to not just believe in himself, but to honor his parents and believe in Gotham. Batman exists on hope. Heck, he was hoping to be an inspiration and hoping that such an inspiration would be enough to set Gotham back towards the right. He'd moved on from hopelessness when he walked away from Gotham and found himself. We've seen Jim Gordon believe in the people of Gotham; no matter the trips and stumbles and second and third chances. If circumstances changed; if people were given an opportunity to do right - Jim Gordon would give them that chance. Rachel Dawes? She believed in the system, that it could self correct and heal and be about Justice again; no matter how many times she saw it fail.

To me the Joker won the moment Harvey decided to use the coin that first time in the hospital. The coin represented Harvey consistently making his own luck, creating his own destiny; creating change through belief in himself. The coin was Harvey demanding/insisting in control. To use the coin when it had become proof he couldn't control everything; it had become proof of his failure - that to me was a gut punch.

Even if the Joker had ended up with his brains decorating the hospital walls; he'd have won. Harvey was lost and set in motion to publicly display himself as lost to Gotham. Chaos had won one and the failure sent Harvey screaming into denial. And he was screaming so hard that he couldn't see the Joker gently tipping him onto a path the Joker chose for him.

Anyone can snap and kill someone (several someone's) responsible for the death of a loved one. But flipping the damaged coin was Harvey saying that if Chaos could win once, then it was better off being an agent of Chaos. He stopped believing in himself and there was no one else to look to. Maybe that was the true loss in Rachel Dawes that she'd been trusted support without being a co-conspirator in fate manipulation. So in moments before when it looked like Harvey wouldn't win, he could see her faith. Then again, maybe she contributed to his belief that he could do anything and come up roses.

Going back to the concept of a Trinity I realized that Jim Gordon and Batman believed in more than themselves when it came to saving Gotham. And they had the life experiences of disappointments; learning from them, picking themselves up and starting over. Gordon and Batman know how not to lose faith. But Harvey had no hope, only certainty in his own ability to fix everything.

While I don't much believe in the words of Jim Gordon's speech in the end, (a touch melodramatic with some channeling of Frank Miller) I do believe in the sentiment. That Batman has hope and he doesn't let it die and he's willing to bear the pain and the difficulties that come with hoping in Gotham. I guess part of hoping for Gotham was giving them someone to rally against; giving them a focus for cohesion. And he's had the lesson proved to him that without realizing that one can come back from a loss and disappointment it's far too easy to fall down the slippery slope to despair and chaos and blank acceptance. And Harvey's death? No doubt the city as an entity was wondering what they could possibly do without him.

Still, I think between Barbara Gordon (Sr.); Jim Jr; The Joker's flapping lips; and all those other variables there's really no way what Harvey did can be completely kept under wraps for long. But hopefully Gotham will be more mentally prepared to deal with it. And in the meantime, Batman with an acknowledged on screen inner life should, I hope, begin, because there's no point in living life on hold anymore.


  1. I'm so glad you made this post... you addressed a lot of things that have been floating around my brain since I saw the movie, and a whole lot more that my brain never even got near. You quantified things that I've really liked about the film without being able to articulate why - like the full power and meaning of what happens to Harvey being tied to the fact that he has no greater ideal than himself to live up to, for instance.

  2. Wow, what an absolutely fantastic breakdown.. I know it's old at this point, but I just had to comment.. I've seen the movie probably 8 times (I'm trying to limit views and watch it rarely, so it continues to be great in the future, instead of getting tired of it), thought about it, thought I had a pretty good grasp on it, and you've brought up some very interesting stuff I never even thought of.. and as bad as it is to say, I've yet to meet a woman who could really get it as well as you. Gotham is definitely a boy's world; it's mostly all about relationships between men, fathers and sons (Bruce, Gordon and his son)..

    I mean, Bruce's mother had one line of dialogue in Batman Begins.. she existed merely to be shot and have her pearl necklace broken, that movie was completely about him and his father.. at the end of the Dark Knight, you don't even SEE the daughter's face, the one Gordon reacts to when Two Face is pointing a gun at his family is his son, which Two Face then chooses. The relationship with Rachel, the romance angle wasn't even really put on too much.. it almost seems like their relationship was based more on just having been close childhood friends, but Bruce is pretty devastated what (seems) to be romantically, so I could be just viewing it skewed. Even little things, like during the Batpod sequence, where the 2 little boys are sitting in the car pretending to shoot with their fingers, and cars start exploding.. something every man can identify with. Along with the cop that the Joker makes the video with before he kills him, it strikes us men as when we were little boys, wishing we could be Batman, and was really brutal to watch.

    Besides that, fantastic movie, tiny little touches I still notice when I watch it.. even just the tiniest little things that kind of show the character of the Joker, like when the police escort with Harvey, they drive past a firetruck.. on fire. Thank you so much for your view, I can't wait to see it AGAIN and see how your perceptions played out.