The HOPE in the War Between Batman & Bruce Wayne in Matt Reeves' 'The Batman'
Batman isn’t a superhero
Look - hear me out. Batman isn’t a superhero. At his best, he’s a hero. At his worst, he’s a villain. Most of the time, he’s a vigilante. With the latest iteration of The Batman portrayed in Matt Reeves interpretation of the character, this point gets explored in some really fascinating storytelling.
While the movie itself earns an 8/10 from me, it’s an excellent story and has some amazing moments throughout. Bruce Wayne is a fascinating character, but he doesn’t actually get much screen time, with most of the film being focused on the titular Batman. But what if that’s actually the point of this movie? What if Matt Reeves is exploring the difference between Bruce and the Bat? And what can we learn from what Bruce discovers about himself? Let’s talk about it.
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Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
I hope that I don’t have to talk too much about who Batman is for this video. We all likely have some idea of who Batman is, right?
The latest Batman movie is from the mind of Matt Reeves who true OGs will know from Cloverfield but to be honest he’s a pretty small-time director when it comes to his backlog.
Nevertheless, the more that I’ve read about this guy and heard his interviews, I think we’d get along on our particular interpretation of Batman. Dude feels like an absolute nerd making a movie and, given this church plant, I clearly have a preference for nerds, geeks, and gamers behind the wheels of movies.
The truth is that Batman is my favorite character in DC and perhaps of all time. One of the best parts about him is the absolute plethora of ways that you can take the character.
At his core, the Batman story is pretty straightforward and familiar.
Bruce Wayne witness his parents murder right before his eyes and their death leads towards his formation as a masked vigilante seeking to balance the order of the city so that no one else has to lose someone like he did. Oh and he’s filthy stinking rich. Boom - Batman.
That’s the core, but there’s so much more that we can do. Not even considering his rogues gallery, Bruce Wayne is capable of so much nuance. Is he insane? Is he broken? Is he paternal? Who does he love? Why does he love them? Is he selfish? Is he the most generous person possible? Is he snarky? Is he humble? Is he a genius? Or does he barely know Spanish? Cough cough.
I think Matt Reeves understands this as well - what makes a Batman story shine isn’t the initial core story, but how that story has shaped Bruce Wayne into our character study.
This is especially clear when considering that Reeves cited Batman Ego as his main source for the story of The Batman.
Now maybe you’re familiar, maybe you’re not. I consider myself a super-fan of Batman and I had never read this particular short comic from Darwyn Cooke, the same author behind Minutemen.Oh and the animator the Batman Beyond intro - yeah I didn’t know this guy’s name, but I love pretty much everything he has ever touched.
Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the comic Batman Ego, it has nothing to do with the Riddler. Or Catwoman. Or Penguin. Or any of the characters that we get to meet in Reeves’ The Batman. So how on earth could he say that *this* comic is the source material he was pulling the most from?
Quick trigger warning for suicidal thoughts and actions, skip to this time code to bypass it.
Well, what this story is about is a conversation between Batman and Bruce Wayne. After locking up the Joker yet again, Batman chases down his informant Buster Snibbs who has fled. After saving him from a suicide attempt, Snibbs explains to Batman that, because Joker will simply escape again, he is doomed. Joker will do worse things to Snibbs that Batman ever could and it would affect his family. So, instead of allowing Joker the pleasure, Snibbs went ahead and murdered his wife and daughter. After explaining this to Batman, he then ends his own life in front of Batman’s eyes.
This obviously awful reality that led to Buster’s demise leads Batman back to the batcave for an emotional breakdown where he casts aside the batcowl and says he is done for good. He is wavering and questioning his impact and decides it isn’t worth it any longer.
This summons a grotesque and exaggerated Batman silhouette who begins to have a conversation with Bruce about what to do. Batman says that Bruce can’t quit and that he won’t let him.
He proposes another idea instead - he offers up a similar deal that Harvey Dent has with Two-Face. What if the Bat and Bruce separate when the cowl is worn? What if they are two separate entities in the same body that do what they must? Batman can kill and end Joker’s life for good in order to truly change the city while Bruce continues his philanthropic playboy life never the wiser.
Bruce refuses and explains that if Batman was left on his own accord that the consequences would be dire and he'd be no better than a villain.
Batman makes an ultimatum of his own and conjures up a dream-like gun that looks exactly like the one that ended the Waynes life so long ago. Batman says that if Bruce is going to quit, he might as well just kill the Bat. For any who have ever seen Fight Club, we know how that ends.
So Bruce decides to make a deal and continue to bear the responsibility of being the Batman and that Batman would agree to let Bruce guide the ship and keep the symbol of Batman as one of hope.
Then the comic ends with Joker escaping. Man, that’s a good story. And a quick read, I highly recommend it.
So what does this story have to do with Reeves' take on Batman? Well, a lot. But most importantly the movie itself is a telling of the conversation between the Bat and Bruce in Ego.
This movie focuses drastically more on Batman than on Bruce Wayne. We see much more of the cowl than we see angsty Robert Pattinson. And arguably, even when we do see Robert Pattinson, he’s not really Bruce because he’s still in ‘Batman’ mode.
Until we reach a pretty pivotal (maybe even rushed) moment in this way too long film that I want to highlight on.
See - at the start of the film, there is this exceptional bit of visual storytelling with the first appearance of Batman. We don’t actually see him, instead we hear him. He shoes and belts specifically. We hear this clank clank clank that is way nostalgic of the sound of a sheriff’s spurs in a cowboy picture.
This is a brilliant piece of storytelling that reveals how Bruce sees Batman at the beginning of the movie. He is separate, he is hidden, he is intimidating, he is policing. The slow methodical chunking of his boots is all at once lonely and authoritative. He tackles a group of baddies after his entrance and terrifies the victim whom he rescues.
Then we go through two and half hours of character growth. Bruce learns a lot about himself during this process. He also learns about the Bat during this time. And I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, so I’m going to just leave it at - growth happens.
And then we get the best scene in the film (imho) at the very end. Things have gone awry and we have a group of people who are stuck in the darkness and in water. The new post-growth Bruce Wayne wearing the cowl is faced with the choice to continue his demeanor as the Sheriff or to literally descend into the murky waters of the city of Gotham and literally be a light by holding a flare and guiding the trapped victims forward out of the darkness.
You know what you can’t hear underwater? Clanking boots. A jangling belt.
You know what you can’t do if you’re busy beating up baddies? You can’t inspire people to move forward. It’s not subtle. And it’s very powerful.
From the beginning of the film to the end, we see a Batman who goes from throwing away Bruce Wayne entirely to allowing Bruce Wayne to be a part of the Batman persona.
So there you go, it’s the same conversation as Batman Ego, but reversed. In this story, Batman abandons Bruce for the sake of The Bat. By the end of the film, the choice becomes to either let Bruce be a part of the equation and let the Batman be a symbol of hope or to give in entirely to the Bat and be no better than the villains in the film.
So what on earth could this have to do with our scripture? It should be pretty obvious here.
In this passage, Jesus is talking about how we are called to be hope in the world. How are we called to live out a life like Christ?
Jesus explains we are the light of the world.
This isn’t the only light of the world has been used. Jesus has referred to himself as the light of the world.The gospel writer John just calls Jesus the light. Isaiah calls the covenant made between God and humankind as the light.
So by calling us to be the light of the world, Jesus is calling to be like Christ. This is pretty fundamental stuff here - it’s literally in our name Christian - leel Christ.
So what does it mean to be the light of the world? Well a light must be seen. It shouldn’t be hidden or kept away. Instead it needs to be held up proudly for others to see and learn from and eventually do as well. Inevitably it should be shared so that others can follow and offer up their light.
With this in mind, let’s think back to the very beginning of this video. I said Batman is not a superhero. He has no powers. In this iteration, at least, he’s hardly even the World’s Greatest Detective.
But like I said, that’s what makes Bruce Wayne so interesting. He can be whatever the writer wants him to be. The inciting incident of his parent’s death can do a lot of different things.
What ultimately decides whether Batman will be a hero, a vigilante, or a villain depends on the writer and the story that they want to tell. The incident remains the same, the impact changes.
Quite literally, that is the psychological concept of the Ego. It is that part of our consciousness that we are aware of. The whole point of Batman Ego and Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the journey that Bruce Wayne takes to determine what becomes his ego.
Will it be the primal id of The Bat or will it be the moral Superego of Bruce Wayne? Or will it be a happy meeting of the two in the form of The Batman? That’s the story we’re telling.
With that, I would argue that the only true ending of a Batman story is whenever these two aspects of the consciousness are met in harmony in the center to create The Batman of hope.
And that’s where we end up at the end of The Batman. There’s no telling if Reeves’ trilogy will happen or what progress or detriment Bruce Wayne will make over the course of it, but as far as I’m concerned - the perfect portrayal of hope in The Batman was shown when he literally went down into the waters and became the literal light for the people to follow to safety. I just can’t think of a clearer example of the light of Christ. It transcends metaphor and becomes the most on-the-nose Jesus metaphor.
Hope is the light that paves the way out of the mess. Hope is the one who gets down with us in the mess and walks through it with is. Hope is the one that chooses to go beyond vigilantism and self-pity and instead pursues rescuing the victims instead. Hope instills inspiration, not fear. Hope is The Batman.
So with all this in mind, what does this mean for us today?
Well, maybe on your second, fifth, or fifteenth viewing of The Batman, consider what message Reeves’ might be sharing for you in the form of this classic symbol of Bruce Wayne and the Bat.
If you’re wrestling with the right thing, the wrong thing, and then you, it might be a good time to consider what it looks like to ask yourself some hard questions about who you want to be for the sake of others.
If you find that your current of morals are helping yourself but not helping others, ask yourself how you might be able to get down in those murky waters and guide others.
If you’re in those murky waters right now, know that the greatest hope has already come in the form of Jesus Christ and that you don’t have to wait for some hope-filled vigilante to guide you through the darkness. We’re here. We’ve lit the flare. You can follow us out of this mess.
And that’s because whether you’re a hero, vigilante, or villain, you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
But maybe leave your saran wrap at home for this one, okay?
Question: Who is your Batman? I’ll always be partial to Bale.
God loves you.
We love you.