Why do we love Batman?

Submitted by AWL on 21 July, 2005 - 12:22

On one level Batman Begins is a simple story about a man who dresses up as a big rubber bat and fights crime. It’s just good old-fashioned summer movie kind of fun.

However there is another way to roughly summarise the film.

Humanity is essentially evil, and if left to their own devices any large group of people will drop into lawlessness and anarchy. The only thing that can stop this happening is one great man rising above all the rest and keeping order by dealing out harsh, impromptu, justice on those who get out of line. Occasionally evil people threaten society and we can’t afford to combat them with our conventional institutions. Normal justice, etc, must be put on hold while the great man sorts things out for us. At this point the story of Batman starts to sound slightly less silly. It seems the Batman myth shares many similarities with the fascist myth.

I’m not saying director Christopher Nolan or writer David Goyer are attempting make this film into a homage to fascism, but it’s interesting what you have to accept to buy into the Batman story. The idea that what we really need is an incorruptible leader to sort everything out is one that lurks behind a lot of superhero tales. What we need to think about is not whether the people who write the stories buy into the myth (which are essentially about a man who dresses up as a big rubber bat and fights crime) but why the superhero myth strikes a chord with us.

This is the kind of issue that the slightly more intelligent superhero films and comics have been analysing for some time. Unfortunately it is slightly sidestepped by Nolan, who chooses to analyse the mindset of Batman. His conclusion is that the only kind of person who would take the action Batman does is just a short step away from complete breakdown!

Christian Bale, continuing a successful career playing madmen, portrays the “mad” side of the character much more effectively than anyone before him. But it’s a focus that leaves the more worrying issues unanalysed and seeming accepted as plausible. This is exacerbated by the surprising realism of the film. It cannot be claimed that Batman is just a bit of fun while Batman is a very real person, and Gotham is a very real city.

It’s not all bad. Batman’s relationship with Jim Gordon, the future police commissioner of Gotham, played by Gary Oldman sets up a nice recurring theme. Gordon is the only honest policeman in Gotham but he can’t act on the incipient corruption around him as he thinks there is no one to help. Batman shows him he isn’t the only good person left, and through their joint action they start attacking the cities various entrenched villains.

And the villains aren’t the conventional cackling madmen you usually find in this kind of film.

It would be nice to see Nolan, who certainly has the talent to do so, tackle head on the political baggage that superhero films bring with them. He’s asked what kind of person Batman would be. Now it would be nice if he asked what kind of people we are that keeps us watching him.

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