Christopher Nolan takes from the comics the already complex questions that have been faced by the character for 70 years of history and presents them in a way that is both relevant and relatable to the viewer. In asking how Nolan puts his staple on the character in a way that no one else has one hast to look at not only what this film is about and is saying about the character but what is being said about the character over all the films that are here. Most of the critics are split on the film. Some state that the film is a critique of our current society and that it is motivated by an undercurrent of fear. Justice is also another huge theme. The film asks question on whether institutions created by man can ever truly create a system that can effect justice on its society. Then there is the constant theme of fatherhood and the meaning that a role model has on young Bruce’s life. In order to figure out what the film is truly saying about the character the relationship between the themes need to be examined.
The films shows us that one of the most powerful motivating emotions is one of fear. Its quite obvious that Bruce was afraid of the bats and feels that it was this weakness that led to the deaths of his parents. However fear is not just his weakness it is his strength. Batman is constantly reveled as the most fearsome of the superheroes. He utilizes fear against his opponents and without this fear he could not be the symbol that prevents crime from occurring. When Thomas Wayne tells young Bruce that all creatures feel fear, especially the scary ones he is not just talking about the bats but also of batman himself. Afraid of the act that took away his life and loved ones batman becomes completely driven toward ending those acts of injustice.
Later in the film when the District Attorney is trying to get Chill out on early parole he argues that Chill did not kill Bruce's parents out of greed but of desperation. Desperation is a fear of death. it was fear that took Bruce’s life away and created batman both externally and internally. It is interesting that Bruce’s quest is to turn fear against those that prey upon the fearful when those preying are in fact also fearful. Fear is used by the Scarecrow as a weapon and ends up being hired by the man that trains Bruce, Ras al Ghul, who uses fear to destroy a society so that a new one may grow. In this film fear is an emotional that is used by every character in order to accomplish their goals.
Nolan's dialogue is very clever, throughout the film he alludes to fears ability to completely distort someone’s mind. I believe that the over all message of Nolan's Batman films are making a statement on ideals and people who try to attain them. Fear is an important factor that creates ideals within our minds. "Ras Al Ghul rescued us from the darkest places of our minds", "if I hadn't you mind would now be lost", "feel fear cloud your mind", are all examples showing the emotions relationship to the architecture of the mind. "You must become more than just a man in the mind of your opponent". The "How" of becoming more than a man is through the use of this primordial emotion fear.
If fear is the how then, Justice is the why. Justice is not an emotion it is a virtue and something that men are not born with but do yearn for. The discussion on Justice begins with the scene in which Bruce is on the train with his parents and the father tells Bruce that the train and other things he has done to the city has been done in trying to make the city is a better place. Later, Ras states that Justice is balance and he is correct. The legal definition of Justice is to give one their due. Justice is an act that keeps society in a balance so that everyone may live together in harmony. Without this balance there would be chaos and in that chaos one cannot appreciate life, be happy, or attain catharsis.
Our being human allows us certain rights when someone violates those rights it creates a fault and injury. Laws are then set in place to right those wrongs and maintain that balance. In Begins, the discussion of what justice truly is fought on the terms of how to keep that balance in place. Ras believes that criminals must be eliminated from the system while Bruce argues that they have rights as well. Thus begins Bruce’s quest to take down injustice and at the same time not lose himself by overstepping his bounds. A respect for law and order from outside that same law. Batman then exists as a sort of paradox but exist he must.
Gordon, Rachel, and Bruce's parents are all good people who try to fix the system from within the system, however they are not able to do so and most of them die in the process. Bruce seeks to get immediate vengeance and is stopped by Rachel who tells him that there are bigger reasons that caused his parents deaths. With this lesson Bruce realizes the importance of law and code even if the system trying to establish it has become completely corrupted. It is important to note that in order to stop corruption you need to have something to replace it with. So this sends Bruce on a spiritual journey, in which he meets Ras and the League of Shadows.
Many criticize this part of the film as it has a secret society of ninjas. Whether it is possible for something like this to exist is not important. What is the fact that Bruce is attempting to fight and recreate an institution using another institution. The League is another example that no system is perfectly just. In order to make a better more perfect union in Gotham, Bruce has found another union completely devoted to his cause. And he ends up breaking that union over his one rule. It could be said that the League really is trying to attain the level of justice described in Rachel's speech. Though they allow vengeance they really to seek to keep balance and harmony as well. A moral pragmatist would argue that Gotham will eventually destroy itself, that all institutions will break down over time, and that limping on is only what happens when men try to fight what will inevitably happen even if they try to maintain that union. This is how Nolan brings up the biggest theme in his Batman films and probably all of the Batman lore. The constant battle between idealism and pragmatism.
Fathers are all over the place throughout the story of Batman. This shouldn't be any surprise as it was the death of his father that triggered his existence. In order to existentially examine who batman is that becomes very important. many psychologist would say that batman is a man who is on a spiritual journey to reunite with his father. This journey can be examined through western thought as a journey to a catharsis that is Christian in nature, or it can be examined through eastern oriental thought. Children are always affected by their parents actions. The film chooses Fatherhood over motherhood for a couple of practical reasons. One is that Bruce is a boy and they typically look to their fathers as role models. Second is the stereo type that comes along with fatherhood as a authoritative role. Throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition, families have been called the building block of society, and although in our modern pragmatism we realize that things in family life are never ideal. It is still important that through the copulation between a man and a woman is how life is created and the society survived.
Fatherhood is in a way a representation of all forms of authority. Freud talked about this through his psycho analysis. Here authority is both good and bad. In begins, the fathers take all forms of authority; parent, family leader, teacher, governmental leader, and religious authority with a possible metaphor for God himself. All of these father figures have something that they give to Bruce, they all affect his psychology, even Falcone. Thomas Wayne’s plight for social justice and final words are immortalized in Bruce’s mind. In this way Thomas Wayne is the ideal authority in every way, a perfect father because he is dead. Within Bruce's mind the memory of Thomas is the ideal that Bruce uses in order to become incorruptible.
In his search for a perfect father he gets many representations that fill up the void. Alfred fills in as a father that protects the image of the true father. Critics attribute Alfred to a maternal type of authority, but none the less he still watches over Bruce like a father. It is Alfred who knows the truth before we do. The father lives on in Bruce and therefore Alfred fulfills his duties of look over the legacy of Thomas Wayne by protecting the son. This coincides with many new age religions that examine the father and son bloodline as some sort of mortal immortality. Rachel takes on a similar role in protecting Bruce by referring to the idealized image he was.
The other large father figure in the film was of course Ducard/Ras. He fits into a spiritual mentor and governmental leader as well. He isn't a completely corrupt father figure as Falcone might be considered. Falcone being a Don fits into a completely corrupt role. Ras on the other hand represents a different type of fatherhood. One of liberation from those that impair us from becoming who we are meant to be. Instead of protecting Bruce as a the sacred vessel of his fathers legacy. Ras gives Bruce a path that is both contradictive to the Judeo Christian tradition and in a strange way coincides with it. The great novelist Dostoevsky (who I think seriously has had an impact on Nolan's writing) wrote a book The Brothers Karamazov, which many consider as the first and possibly best existential novel. The book's plot is about the murder of a father who had three sons. Though none of the brothers did it and the father was a corrupt figure, they come to realize that in a way by rejecting his tradition and not respecting where they came from makes them responsible for their parent's deaths.
Ras takes a position opposite of this. In a way he tries to get Bruce to overcome the guilt and fear left by certain events in Bruce’s life, so that Bruce can finally let go of his father and become his own man. The Wayne legacy cannot continue if Bruce continues to live in the past. This is a position held by existentialist Fredriche Nietzsche who was inspired by Dostoevsky. Nietzsche believed that in order to attain godhood, one must destroy the things of the past in his life until he becomes a blank slate on which he can move forward. Progress toward a more perfect union. In order to become the ideal Bruce must destroy his father, then his father, and then his god. The film does follow this progression in which as Wayne manor is burning down(in a very similar to how his mentors dojo was burnt down), Bruce makes a stand against his former mentor.
Though there is a spiritual journey of death and rebirth at the end of the film when Bruce finds his fathers stethoscope, the audience can see that there is love for his father. A common instrument of a doctor it is a symbol of healing, brought on by the memory of his true father. This leads me to believe the film has a message stating that love is important in keeping his father alive. We can always remove the people of the past if we do not love them. Just as we can destroy society if we do not love the union it preserves.
The Good People Do Nothing
The message that the film finally puts out is one of action. Nolan finds the fact that people still like Batman as adults interesting. So he uses it to challenge us. In order to attain our ideals of Justice, peace and a fulfilling life one must overcome their fear. Batman Begins is a story that asks for introspection. As Bruce follows Campbell’s the hero's journey, he becomes a representation of the audience. The words and lesson he learns are meant for us. What we really fear is inside us, in our minds, and if we truly desire a better life then we have face ourselves. The film ends on a note of hope, one that states change is possible if you overcome your fear. In order to keep Hope alive we must act.