July 21, 2008

Long Dark Knight of the Soul

(According to the History Channel's web site, you have another chance to view the documentary in the wee small hours Tuesday morning. Set your TiVos accordingly)

With the recent release of The Dark Knight, there is (as always) the release of various related media, documentaries, and everything else to capitalize on the film's success. (It's also interesting that this is one of the first films that had great word-of-mouth before its formal release, when all the "sneak previews" were sold out).

As always, there's a great mixture of strong, thoughtful pieces and the usual "Holy (fill-in-the-blank), Batman!" or "Pow! Zap" cliche pieces that suggest that several people have never moved on from that television show. But perhaps, some more recent media pieces will help drive the nail in the coffin.

Batman has always been one of the more "realistic" superheroes, simply because he isn't - he has no super powers other than determination, intelligence, and physical discipline. As this recent article in Scientific American reveals, it would be possible to become just like Batman. Of course, it also has a physical and psychological toll...and that toll is the subject of the History Channel's Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight.

To be honest, I have always been a bit of a Batman fanboy, including dressing up as him for various Halloweens and Mardi Gras. (And yes, there is a picture of me on the Internet, complete with rubber cowl. No, I won't tell you where it is). But Batman is one of the few psychologically "real" characters - in fact, much of the reason why I went into psychology as a career was because of a fascination with an obviously traumatized character who turned his pain into a socially beneficial outlet without seeming incredibly codependent. (Well, he and Brian Wilson...but that's a blog post for another time.)

Unmasked does an extremely thorough job of examining Batman through various perspectives, and in so doing, gives us glimpses into various aspects of the character. At times, the documentary can be a little cliche, and often contradicts itself (like when Dan DiDio announces that Batman is the "true" identity, and then another expert states that Batman is another facet of Bruce Wayne's personality). However, there are some really interesting pieces of trivia - such as when Christopher Nolan was working on the first Batman film, he saw parallels between the character and Teddy Roosevelt. Both were men who dealt with early tragedy, who improved themselves physically and intellectually (Roosevelt allegedly read one book a day), and who stood for law and order.

In short, one the reason why I enjoy the character of Batman so much is that he is the most "human" of all heroes. Most superhero literature/movies focus on someone believing that greater ability means a greater obligation to do good. (Or, in Spider-Man terms, "with great power comes great responsibility"). As Bruce Wayne - son of a philanthrophist - Batman has plenty of power to do good. Providing educational funding, economic development, even creating foundations with a philosophy of transformative philanthropy - he would have much more of a direct impact on Gotham City. In essence, Bruce Wayne could be a morally superior version of Lex Luthor.

Then why does he spend his spare time fending off muggers and fighting guys in evil clown make-up?

The documentary touches on many aspects of Batman's personality, but in many ways, one of the fascinating aspects of Batman is that his mission is not out of some obligation, or necessary self-healing...but out of compassion. He is a hero whose refusal to use guns is not just out of his own trauma, but in many ways, he is the hero who could be all of us. None of us were rocketed from another planet, or are science geeks who are exceptionally clever...but with some training, expertise, and smart investments, we can be Batman. Batman is one of the most compassionate heroes, despite some of his grittier aspects, because he knows the pain of losing a loved one, of being a random victim of violence, and wants to make sure nobody else has to suffer from it. His nocturnal adventures are a way of reaching out to a broken, insane city - his adversaries (as the documentary indicates) are merely reflections of himself, of a man trying desperately to grow up and recover from deep childhood losses.

But if you can, check out Batman Unmasked either via cable, or through other legitimate means. At the very least, it will provide some food for thought.


Patrick Roberts said...

Dark Knight is a must see for sure, though it might be a better game plant to go after the crowds die down a bit... in any case, Christian Bale's work tends to be right on no matter what his role, Batman included

King Megatrip said...

thanks for the tip on Batman Unmasked... I taped it overnight last night...

RedheadFangirl said...

I'm gonna put this in the DVR tonight! Sounds great.