Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Bruce Wayne = Batman

When I went in saw Batman Begins, I (like others) was a bit confused about the excuse Katie Holmes' character gave Bruce Wayne. She said that Bruce had discovered his true identity was that of the Batman and that maybe when he stopped embracing that, something could happen between them. First, that was just a dumb thing to say - did she mean she wanted to date a false version of someone? But what was more interesting was that she concluded, and Bruce admitted, that Batman is more the essence of who the man is than the billionaire Bruce Wayne is. Before the film, I had always though Batman was Bruce Wayne's alter ego. But after seeing the movie and reading Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, it seems that it's the other way around.

For example, on pages 25-26, as Wayne reflects on Gotham's descent into darkness and considers becoming Batman once more, he thinks to himself:

The time has come. You know it in your soul. For I am your soul...you cannot
escape me.You are puny, you are small. You are nothing - a hollow shell, a rusty
trap that cannot hold me. Smoldering, I burn you - burning you, I flare, hot and
bright and fierce and beautiful.You cannot stop me - not with wine or vows or
the weight of age. You cannot stop me but still you try - still you run...

This idea of Batman being Wayne's true identity raises a number of interesting (theoretical) questions: Was it always his destiny that his parents be killed so that their murder would spur him on toward this? What's his level of culpability for what he does as Batman if the burning need to be Batman is one he can't resist? What would his identity be if Gotham weren't the hellhole it is?

These are the questions, as we addressed in JPII's book, of memory and identity. It seems that not only has Wayne's memory shaped and informed his identity, but his memory has become his identity, which is not healthy, for the two things in his mind are the same. I think this, above any physical infliction he might bring upon others or his usurption of the justice system, is what makes Batman frightening.