Batman in Nolan’s Trilogy: hero or villain? | Part 1: Escalation begins

Aggiornamento: feb 25

by Pietro Somaini

«Finders keepers!»

Who finds the object – that is who sees it first – has the right to own it: it is a universal law. But Bruce could assert that he has found the object in Rachel’s hand. Then the game begins.

It is a sort of conflict, but is not violent, it is just a game, nothing dangerous… until Bruce, while he is running away, falls into the dry well and experiences a traumatic encounter with bats. Then the game finishes and the crisis begins.

The theme of the Underground is fundamental in The Dark Knight Trilogy (introduced, not without reason, during a dispute over the possession of an object). Batman in Nolan’s Trilogy ceases to be a Romantic (and Gothic) character and becomes a Dostoyevskian one.

The Underground is not only the physical place where Bruce Wayne falls, but also describes his psychological condition since that day. The film shows us two emblematic moments: the death of his parents and when he prepares to shoot their murderer. The second one is the moment in which he rocks the bottom of the Underground, but Rachel manages to make him looked beyond his pain.

She gives two lessons to Bruce: the Underground does not describe only his condition but also Gotham’s one (also in this case there are physical places to show it) and there is a fundamental difference between justice and revenge. The first lesson leads him right in the arms of the League of Shadows, but the second divides them. This is the point: Batman in Nolan’s Trilogy does not arise from the encounter with bats, nor from the death of Bruce’s parents (even though those are essential episodes, obviously), but out of the separation from Ra’s al Ghul.

Bruce becomes Batman, instead of a member of the League of Shadows, because he has learned that criminal and his executioner are identical, even though their opposition leads to believe they are different. Batman arises in order to give rise to a new difference, when the violence has erased anyone. This is the burden of a symbol.

Batman does not want to be a model for the citizens of Gotham, as he does not want them to all turn into masked vigilantes; rather he wants to be a symbol, the emblem of a new course in a corrupt city that would eventually inspire its citizen to pursue good and righteous values.

Gotham’s people must imitate his ideal of justice, they do not have to imitate his behavior. This is his plan to give rise to the new difference and save Gotham. But his behavior will cause other effects. Why?

He was a victim of fear: has he won its when he decides to turn it against people who instill it? He has understood the risk of becoming identical to the criminal he fights, how mimetic violence is, but he has not fully understood all the potential consequences of the fear, even though (or precisely because) Bruce himself proved it with his choice. Ultimately it is fear that leads to violence: it is just as mimetic. «Storm’s coming» says Batman to Gordon, but does he really know how terrible it will be?

The League of Shadows, by contrast, does not really understand the deeper meaning of violence and embodies the sacrificial logic, according to which Gotham (like all the great cities of the past) ought to be destroyed in order to save the world from corruption. On the other hand, however, they fully understand the terrible power of fear.

The Scarecrow turns the fear against Falcone like Batman, but unlike Wayne, dr. Crane is fully aware of the madness that he causes. Fear is the feeling with which the Underground shackles its prisoners.

An even more effective weapon is panic: it is a radically contagious and mortal disease. When Ra’s al Ghul begins to spread panic through microwave emitter, stolen from Wayne Enterprises, Gotham begins to self-destruct. The panic triggers uncontrolled violence of everyone against each other. At this point there is no difference anymore between the most dangerous criminal and a police officer; all the citizens of Gotham have turned into criminals: the violence erases any difference. It is the peak of the crisis.

What could possibly save Gotham now? Batman does not want Ra’s al Ghul to become a scapegoat. It is not the quest for vengeance that brings him to challenge the leader of the League of Shadows. Once again, he does not want to be an executioner: he still has to be the symbol of the new difference, without which Gotham would be lost. In fact, he understands that what has to be destroyed is not an enemy, but the mechanism that spreads the panic, embodied by the monorail and the microwave emitter.

As Ra’s has taken Bruce by surprise with his plan because his apprentice has not fully understood the disruptive power of fear, so Bruce takes his mentor by surprise because his enemy has failed to grasp the ambivalence of violence. Ra’s al Ghul, following his sacrificial logic, thinks that his rival plans to kill him, because this is what he would do. If Batman had actually tried to do that, Ra’s would have been victorious; Bruce destroys the mechanism instead, and wins.

However, Batman wins the first battle, but not the war. In fact the worst is yet to come. The escalation of violence caused by Ra’s al Ghul’s poison can be resolved by Fox’s antidote, but now the effects of another drug (maybe without antidote) are silently spreading. Once again, Batman does not understand it. It is him the drug in this case. Only Gordon fully understands the nature of the new escalation:

«“We start carrying semiautomatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds.” “And?” “And you’re wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops. Now, take this guy. Armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card”»

It is the escalation of violent mimesis: every time one reacts by embracing greater levels of violence so to match the power displayed by the rival. Is Batman really a hero or rather a villain? The antidote for Gotham’s corruption or just a more dangerous poison? Gordon cannot say his thanks to Batman, not yet.

Part 2: The Dark Truth

Part 3: The Dark Truth rises

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