Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
It hasn’t yet been a decade since the last film in Warner Bros. most recent Batman series was in theaters (Batman & Robin, with George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell, was released in 1997), so it’s somewhat surprising that they are already beginning a brand new Batman series. This new series, however, features a much younger Batman, played by Christian Bale (who has already signed on to do at least one sequel).
The original series featured a dark, disturbed Batman in the first two films (Batman, Batman Returns), but ended rather embarrassingly with a hokey-jokey Batman in the second two films (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin). In Batman Begins, directed by Chris Nolan (who also directed Memento and Insomnia), we return to not only a much darker Batman, but also a much more intriguing Batman than we saw in any of the earlier films.
If there’s one word to describe this new Batman, it is that this Batman is “believable.” Batman Begins takes place in a much more realistic world than the earlier films. Gone is the stylized, gothic architecture of Tim Burton’s Gotham. Gone is the neon and ultraviolet lighting of Joel Schumacher’s Gotham. This Gotham City looks like it could be any big city in the U.S.—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.
The believability also comes through in the transformation of Bruce Wayne into Batman. We see why Bruce Wayne has a phobia of bats. We see his parents being gunned down right in front of him for little more than his dad’s wallet and his mom’s pearls. We see the guilt and anger that follow him because of it. We see him begin to explore the criminal mind as he travels the world and gets involved in the criminal underworld. And then we see him being trained by a man named Ducard (Liam Neeson), preparing him to join the League of Shadows, an ancient vigilante group whose goal is to eliminate injustice by any means necessary.
All of this leads to Bruce’s first crisis of conscience. Bruce’s final test before becoming a full member of the League of Shadows involves beheading a man who was a murderer. Bruce is handed a sword, but hesitates. He then states, “I am no executioner.” When pressed on the issue, Bruce says that compassion must be involved in the quest for justice—because compassion is what separates “us” from “them”.
Since Bruce’s refusal to join the League of Shadows makes him their mortal enemy, he escapes from them and returns to Gotham. There, his new ambition is to clean up the city by eliminating any and all criminals. Bruce also connects and reconnects with the other key players in Gotham’s fate: Alfred, his butler (Michael Caine); Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s childhood friend and new love-interest (Katie Holmes); Lucius Fox, Wayne Enterprises’ trusted scientist-in-residence (Morgan Freeman); and kindly Lt. Jim Gordon, the future Commissioner Gordon (splendidly played by Gary Oldman—who isn’t playing the bad guy for a change!).
But how can Bruce accomplish his goal? Eliminating crime was also Bruce’s father’s ambition, who tried to accomplish this by striving to better the city’s collective conscience through his own good deeds. Sadly, he had only minimal success. Bruce will eliminate crime by instilling fear into the hearts and minds of Gotham’s criminals. And to do that he will take on the persona of the thing that he himself fears most—bats. “As a symbol,” he says, “I can be incorruptible; as a symbol, I can be everlasting.”
Thus, the birth of Batman.
As the story unfolds, we see several important themes developing. There is the question of revenge and justice. Are they the same thing, or are they different? How does compassion fit into justice? Is it our place to seek revenge? Is it our place to seek justice?
There is also the theme of fear. How does Bruce master his fears? He does so by diving into the criminal world. He does so by taking on the guise of that which he fear most, namely bats. He battles a character called the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), whose method is to chemically induce panic in his victims. Though Bruce never completely loses his fear, he learns to control his fear and to use it to give him strength.
Finally, there is the theme of works. How important are the things we do? Is what we do an accurate reflection of who we are on the inside? Or are we more than the sum of our actions?
Batman Begins is a great movie for a lot of reasons: great action, great special effects, great acting. But most of all, this is a great movie because Bruce Wayne/Batman is finally a character that the average person can relate to. He is a real person who is living a real life in a real place. He struggles with the same weaknesses we all struggle with and has learned to overcome those weaknesses to accomplish a greater good.
Questions for discussion:
1) What do you think of Bruce Wayne’s decision to travel the world as a vagabond in order to find out what it’s like to be a criminal? Though he lived in that world, he says that he himself never became a criminal? Would you agree? Was he living in that world, while not being of it?
2) Bruce states that compassion is what separates him from the criminals. Does he demonstrate compassion once he returns to Gotham? If so, how? If not, why not?
3) Does the film ever answer the question, “What’s the difference between revenge and justice?” Does it answer the question, “Are revenge and justice the same thing?” If so, what’s the answer? If not, which way does the film seem to lean?
4) One of Bruce’s primary goals is to eliminate his own fear. What kind of progress does he make in that regard and how does he accomplish it? How does the Bible teach us to handle fear? What would Jesus say to us about fear?
5) Do you agree with the film’s statement that if we want to know who we are we need to look at what we do? Why or why not? Look at James 2:14-26. What does this passage tell us about the relationship between what we believe and what we do? How might this be reflected in Batman Begins?
6) Both Bruce’s father and Alfred state, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Do you agree with this? Is this a lesson that we see in Scripture? If so, where? If not, what do the Scriptures teach?