Note: This post may seem like it has nothing to do with transhumanism. It might be a bit self-indulgent, but I assure you, it will be proven thematically appropriate.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is one of those rare pop culture phenomenons that is a joy at every level – from visceral pleasure to intellectual challenge. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are, on their own, both great movies – plot holes be damned. Great atmosphere, lots of explosions, expertly wrought villains, and generally well acted, there is very little to not like. More impressive, however, is Nolan’s development of Batman himself. By looking carefully at the first two films, I think I can make a reasonable guess as to what the third movie will be about.
Nolan is interested in Symbols. Twice in Batman Begins, Nolan has his characters state it explicitly:
- Ducard: If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, then you become something else entirely.
- Bruce Wayne: Which is?
- Ducard: A legend, Mister Wayne.
- Bruce Wayne: People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy, and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol … as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.
For Nolan, symbols are a way of manipulating very powerful, elemental ideas. In Batman Begins the elemental idea is that of fear. Bruce Wayne is afraid of bats, Thomas Wayne’s last words are “don’t be afraid,” Bruce Wayne seeks ” … the means to fight injustice. To turn fear against those who prey on the fearful,” and Scarecrow and Ducard try to destroy the city with fear toxins in the water. Astonishingly, despite the fact that it is Ducard who teaches Wayne to appreciate the power of legend, it is Wayne who actually masters the concept. Both Wayne and Ducard (and Falcone and Crane) are attempting to manipulate fear, but it is Wayne who distills, atomizes, and perfects it in the form of Batman, who is able to use it best. The most powerful symbol, the bat, is able to leverage the power of fear to achieve its wielder’s goals: salvation for Gotham.
In the second film, The Dark Knight Nolan shifts the focus from multiple symbols wrestling over a single idea to two perfect symbols, Batman and the Joker, living out the clash between the ideas of which they are avatars: Order and Chaos. The Joker seems to come from no where and his back story is as confused as those trying to guess his next move. Even better, Nolan personifies the duality of the two symbols within a single individual: Harvey Dent as Two-Face. Dent as Two-Face is also indicative of what Wayne must be – split in half between Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire, and Batman, the dark knight. Like Dent, Batman is forced to test his commitment to not just order but the rule of law. By not killing Joker, and by trying to turn things over to Dent, he chooses law over vengeance. The Dark Knight is about Batman’s embodiment of Law and Order.
The first film deals with Fear, the second Law and Order vs Chaos. The enemies and other characters represent pieces or counter-points to Batman. Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon are the by-the-books answer to his vigilante while Alfred and Lucius are the smiling wisdom to his grimacing ideology. Ducard/Scarecrow used fear for destruction and control, the Joker embraced and created chaos; they opposed Batman directly, both times nearly destroying him. So what let Batman prevail? Why could he overcome? I believe the third film will answer that question through Catwoman.
The rumors are that the next film will feature Selena Kyle – that is, Catwoman – heavily. Catwoman is one of those characters that is almost always underdeveloped and misunderstood. Like the Joker, I suspect Nolan will not draw from any specific storyline, but will instead build the plot around a perfect distillation of Catwoman. Allow me to attempt a brief summary of what that might look like.
Selena Kyle/Catwoman is another perfect counter-symbol to Batman. The similarities are overwhelming: successful, powerful secret identities; supreme intelligence; ninja stealth; love of night and darkness; physical prowess; affinity for technology; strong codes of self-governance (neither kills); even their names are similar and their costumes look nearly identical. Batman stands for the greater good, law and order, and clarity of purpose. Catwoman stands for herself, ethics within context, loopholes and spontaneity, and a gray morality. They are the ying-and-yang of what is good in Gotham.
With that in mind, here is how I see the plot. Early on, a small heist occurs, Batman meets Catwoman and her acting in cahoots with some other villain. Villain is captured, she escapes. Soon there after, Bruce Wayne meets Selena Kyle, both unaware of their double lives, and they fall for one another. Batman will get wind of information about one of the other villains (perhaps many of them) planning an epic heist. As Batman gets closer to uncovering the plans, he falls more and more for Selena, making him want to be Bruce Wayne more. At the mid-point of the film the heist occurs, and some sort of insane plot twist reveals Catwoman has been playing Batman, the police, and the villain cabal for fools, and completes the heist. In the process, Batman discovers Catwoman is Selena.
The test for Batman will come for our hero not just in choosing Gotham over his personal desire for Selena, but in committing to Batman over Bruce Wayne. The fundamental split between the two personalities is something I think Nolan was already hinting at with Dent/Two-Face. Bruce Wayne has been evolving, but Nolan has always kept him visibly fake. The most real Wayne we saw was his speech about Harvey Dent. I believe Nolan is ready to force Wayne into being more than a facade through his love of Selena Kyle. And by forcing Wayne to live as Wayne, particularly in a world hostile to Batman, he will be confronted with the ultimate crisis of self.
The reason Batman succeeded in the first two films was his commitment to the symbol and to Gotham. What happens to that commitment when it is made nearly impossible? Torn between loving Selena Kyle and getting Catwoman, being Bruce Wayne and Batman, himself and Gotham, the final Batman film will be about the test of living with a dual identity. Rachael Dawes and Harvey Dent were both left in the wreckage of Batman’s wake, the question Nolan will ask is: will Bruce Wayne, will Batman’s humanity itself, suffer the same fate?
I cannot wait to find out. Also: explosions and batarangs.
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