Monday, August 11, 2008
The Dark Knight: Bruce Wayne
I have to say I was very impressed by the, well, the sanity with which Bruce Wayne was written/portrayed in Dark Knight. I mean, really; if Batman's not sane, what's the point of pitting him against the Joker at all?
One of the most distressing Bat-trends in the last 20 years has been the revisionist Batman-is-crazy craze. The worst problem is that younger readers seem to be unaware that it's revisionist at all; they think it's just Batman 101: "He dresses up like a bat, of course he's crazy!" The idea that Batman is -- like the scores (hundreds?) of other costumed crime-fighters in the DCU -- not only perfectly sane but impressively so is utterly alien to many of them. I blame Marvel.
It's clear in both Dark Knight and its predecessor, Batman Begins, that Bruce Wayne is a highly rationale person, choosing his M.O. carefully and with a purpose in mind. Dark Knight also makes it clear he's ready-- anxious, even -- to abandon the Batman schtick if it appears that the regular instruments of justice can get and keep the city on an even keel. In fact, as mentioned in previous Dark Knight posts here, that seems to be what everyone in the film is hoping for. Well, everyone except the Joker.
Make no mistake; this is not the revisionist Bruce Wayne who has to be the Batman, and is merely Batman's tool. This is the original, the real Bruce Wayne, who's quite capable, even willing not to be Batman if there's no pressing need for him to be. The fact that this Bruce Wayne is quite willing to sacrifice Batman is made concretely clear at least twice in the film. First, it is not "Batman", but Bruce Wayne who winds up saving the life of Coleman Reese -- the man who could end Batman's career. Christopher Nolan doesn't do things like that by accident. Second, Bruce Wayne risks ending Batman's career by letting his alter ego take the murder rap for Two-Face, instead of favoring Batman's own ability to continue his crime-fighting with public approval.
But, as also mentioned in previous posts, Bruce Wayne's use of the Batman identity creates a moral dilemma for him. It does help get the regular crime situation under control; Dent & Co. almost have it licked and are ready to ermanently break the back of organized crime in Gotham. The dilemma is that the concept of the Batman -- the law-enforcer who colors outside the lines and breaks the rules to accomplish his goals -- also leads to the concept of the Joker -- the law-break who colors outside the lines and breaks the rules to accomplish his goals. Why, it's like something Two-Face would come up with, isn't it?
Batman does solve the ordinary problems, which starts to make him unnecessary; but he also generates extraordinary ones, which starts to make him necessary. Bruce Wayne is darned if he does and darned if he doesn't.
Batman confronts another irony in the Dark Knight: just as the Joker has confirmed for Batman his resolve not to kill, he chooses to take the rap for Two-Face, gaining a reputation as a killer. This is an even bitterer pill for the viewers than for the characters; we "know" Batman doesn't kill and the whole thing is just wrong. Gordon and Wayne's use of the Batman identity causes an escalation in the crime war (as personified by the Joker) that breaks Dent, promotes Gordon, and criminalizes Batman. It's not just an unfairness to the characters; if feels like an unfairness to us, and that's part of the emotional impact of the film.