Thirteen: Batman Begins, Friends with Babies, and Helping the Helpers

Awhile ago (around the time I started this blog, which has been going on for way more than just a year– sorry, Gary) amidst the end of a very busy summer, two of my closest friends spent an evening with me; a stop on their way back home from their summer vacation. They’re a working married couple with a dog and, at the time, a baby on the way, so as you can imagine any time spent with them feels like a flukey blessing.

The odd thing about long-term friendship is, despite the forming of an uncanny, reassuring confidence in your relationship once you understand that you’ll never have to truly fear their absence from your life, one feels the need to absorb said friend’s presence like a sponge. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to feel hollowed out when I’m on my own, so when I’m around the familiar I ping back and forth between infantile joy and faint, what-I-assume-to-be Adult Concern that these happy feelings will vanish soon, and it will be back to the grind. Old friends make me feel like I have something GOOD in my life, and time with them is something I fiercely protect.

Note: This post is part of an ongoing project, the goal of which is to watch and contemplate every movie in which actor Gary Oldman has appeared (there are many, the man likes to work). Posts tend to contain reviews but are not excluded to that sort of framework– much like Gary’s career, I’m wildly unpredictable!

As with all MYWG entries, the following will probably contain spoilers!

  • Batman Begins’s ranking on the Oldometer: 9/10
  • Gary Oldman character quality: Jim Gordon is one of my very favorite Gary characters– in fact, at the moment I am wondering if he happens to be my VERY favorite. Gordon, like Batman, is only beginning his story here, and we don’t spend a huge amount of time with him, but he stands out amongst an outstanding cast of characters because of his “average” good guy traits, and is probably the closest thing that we, the audience, have for a stand-in. Gordon is a great guy, and not in a boring way. We root for you, Gordon!
  • Does Gary die in this one? No! He lives! Live, Gordon, live!

Maybe that’s just what it’s like for people such as myself who have done an awful lot of relocating, or maybe that’s just what a comfortable friendship is: feeling most like yourself– or, at least, the better version of yourself– when you have loved ones to refocus your attention. That’s not to say that I think it’s best to use friends or family as mirrors to define ourselves, on the contrary– it’s so much easier to know your place in the world when you have someone around that you like more than yourself. But more on that in a sec.

We spent most of their visit relaxing, sipping beer, stuffing ourselves with pizza, bemoaning American politics late into the night, and… watching a lot of Batman (do any of you remember Batman Returns, Tim Burton’s second and last contribution to the franchise, by the way? What a clump of pervy, artsy weirdness that one is).

Guys. Remember that time that gross guy was running for office, and no matter how disgusting he was he had a following who found him “refreshing”? That was Penguin. I’m talking about Penguin. No one else. But if the flipper fits…

It had been probably about seven years since I had seen any of Batman Begins, despite repeated viewings of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (posts on those to come, of course) but my conviction remains that Begins is most likely the best of the trilogy and the best Batman film thus far. NO, I can hear you saying, Dark Knight is the best everrrrr. Well, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Heath Ledger’s performance in that sequel is stunning, but, in my opinion, that movie pales overall in comparison to its predecessor, which opened the door for audiences to take superhero movies seriously.

Unless you don’t like Batman in the slightest (and if this is you, you should reevaluate– I know X-men and all the Marvel bros are cool, but Batman is 100% where it’s at), it’s hard to watch Begins and remain free of fangirling. At so many points in the movie my friends and I would turn to one another and mutter “SO GOOD” or just point at the screen rabidly. I have no desire to lay this on thick, because obviously this movie has its issues, but I think Batman Begins is nothing short of a modern classic. What’s more, it’s a modern classic for MY generation, created and released during a cinematically exciting era, which was not that long ago.

I, uh, volunteer as tribute.

Begins, if you need a refresher, is the rebooted, serious, and semi-realistic (heavy on the semi) depiction of Batman’s origin story. How did Bruce Wayne kick off his entirely invented mythology, and why? Begins delves into creating a Batman we hadn’t seen before, but also maintains the traditional source of Bruce’s pain: the murder of his parents. Begins emphasizes Bruce’s realization of and disillusionment in the reality that his city, a sort-of Sodom and Gomorrah, has fallen so far that only a handful of discernible “good guys” are left. The city is overrun by mobsters and villains, many of them in positions of power.

The Gotham City Planning Committee is in session.

In Batman’s battle for Gotham, he first must deal with Scarecrow, appropriately one of the most frightening villains in Arkham lore. Scarecrow (AKA Dr. Crane) is an unhinged psychiatrist with mob ties who has created a substance that causes those exposed to it to hallucinate their greatest fears. Naturally, this substance is abused and released upon the city (and Batman). While I feel that Crane’s “powers” are a mite underused in Batman Begins, they serve the narrative well by playing on Bruce Wayne’s greatest fear. As Batman, Bruce is literally forced to face his fear of Gotham’s destruction, and by fighting it he is really returning to the cause for his ingrained terror at Gotham’s fall: that his parent’s hard work and trust in the city will be eviscerated, and with it, all that remains of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne.

Ok I know this is just a guy with a gross bag on his head but I promise he’s scary in the movie, ok?

Yes, I know, it’s circular, right? Mr. and Mrs. Wayne were the “good”, and if Batman can save the good that’s left in their city he can, in a sense, return to the helpless little boy who had to watch his parent’s murder and stop it. Even though they are already gone, he can protect a part of them and find peace in that (one hopes. as we all know, Batman is never peaceful, so).

It’s interesting, then, that Batman Begins‘s final showdown pairs him against the “god-like” Rah’s Al Guhl, the man (the force! the Neeson!) who trained him to be the fighting machine that he is. Guhl wants to wipe out Gotham entirely, and, seeing it as a blot on civilization, deeply resents its total corruption. He serves as judge and executioner, taking it upon himself and his henchmen to destroy a place that he sees as devoid of hope. Batman spars with Guhl– physically, of course, but also intellectually, challenging Guhl to spare his hometown. This draws a clear comparison to the Biblical figure of Abraham, who took God Himself to task for his plan to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah, home of perversion and disaster. In Genesis, Abraham asks God if he would consider sparing Sodom & G if, among its citizens, there might be found a “good man.” Eventually God concedes that yes, he would spare the place if one good man could be found.

When you realize that verbally abusing people on set lands you on the naughty list. Until like a billion other movie stars do way worse stuff. Then you’re OK.

But Batman isn’t this good man. He is flawed in comparison to the non-super citizens who fight the good fight. Batman does not fight darkness with light. He fights darkness with, well, darkness– he thrives on fear, frightening even the good folks he seeks to protect. He has a code, certainly, but despite all of his posturing, he’s just a man in a mask, like the rest of the criminals. He fights fire with fire, literally, possibly because he is himself a lost soul, but a lost soul who can stick up for those who are on the straight and narrow.

Those on that straight and narrow are the real “Good Men” (and women) of Gotham–  Alfred with his tireless support and vision, Lucius with his technological capabilities, Rachel with her righteous indignation and trailblazing law practice in the face of mob rule, and the guardian angel with his hands tied, Officer Gordon, the one incorruptible cop who comforted Bruce when he was just a traumatized little boy. Each of these characters show their mettle throughout the film by demonstrating moral backbone and making their individual contributions to the true betterment of Gotham, a city they all see as worth saving, even if it doesn’t love them back. Batman Begins works to highlight the “human” good guys, and Batman works to support them using methods that a moral perspective would not allow.

Bitch please.

I’m not sure if Batman even considers himself good. After a night of terror and defeating the bad guys, Mr. Cowl mutters his encouragement to Officer Gordon and his affirmation that he’ll be working alongside him in the future, but he speaks this pledge from the shadows, where he plans to stay. Rachel meets Bruce at his manor, which has been reduced to rubble, and the two of them talk about rebuilding, but Rachel vocalizes her concern about Bruce. He has changed. She’s grateful for him, but she knows that he cannot walk in the light with her.

I mean, Scientology’s not gonna be that much better, girl, but OK.

HEAVY STUFF. Or at least that’s what I said to the screen as my friends and I raised our glasses to the final credits.

At the end of this visit with my old friends, they asked me if I would accept the honor of being the godmother to their not-yet-born baby. Fittingly, this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. A few months later (and over a month ahead of schedule) my little goddaughter was born. Her name is Beatrice, and she wears glasses, and she’s really cute.

I don’t see myself having kids any time soon (if ever), I’m just not in that position. I also have wondered for a long time if I would even have the capability to care for a child. It takes so much to be a parent, all the physical work and emotional nurturing that are required just seem like a far cry from my limited reserve. Like Bruce Wayne, I don’t know if I would count myself in that short line-up of “good” and worthy people like my friends who deserve to thrive (not that parenthood is required to thrive, but let me have my metaphor).

I have been told that this is not how you carry a baby. Is that true? Asking for a friend.

However, if I were to follow that train of thought, I might be capable of making sure that those people ARE cared for, and thriving, and safe. I might be limited (and honestly, sometimes I feel bad at pretty much everything), but I can still use my abilities such as they are to help others flourish. I can make sure to be a staple in my little goddaughter’s life, I can make sure that she knows that she is always loved, I can offer her mom and dad support as they build their family. And I can do that for other people, too.

Help your Community.

Things seem bleak right now. It has been heart-wrenching this year to see the destruction and horror that has resulted from an exceptionally high number of school shootings, or to see children wrenched from their parents at the border. I don’t understand it, and I’m not one of those “good” people with the skill and expertise to fix any of it. But I am not powerless; none of us are. We all have the ability to do something, even if it seems small, to help the helpers. And, really, isn’t that what Batman does?

What, Katrina, are you saying that… you’re Batman? YES I AM. I’M BATMAN. And so are you.

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