Perhaps the single most misunderstood element of telling stories about superheroes- be it in comics, video games, shows or movies- is the idea of ‘interpretation.’ Typically I find that the word is used negatively in discussions about superhero films, because rather than adopting the material straight out of comic, the director went and did his own interpretation.
The issue is that interpretation is inevitable. Every time you read a comic book, you’re reading one writer’s interpretation of the characters on the page. After all, no professional artist draws Batman exactly the same way as someone else. Certain key personality traits and established background go a long way, but inevitably a storyteller might come to a point in the story where they have to ask themselves- “How does Batman refer to himself?”
It’s a question that fans debate over quite often. A very popular take, likely born from an episode of Batman Beyond where Old Man Wayne tells Terry that he doesn’t think of himself as ‘Bruce,’ is that Bruce Wayne essentially “died” as a child with his parents and that the real person underneath it all is Batman. Christopher Nolan explored the concept over the course of his Dark Knight trilogy as his Bruce was rapidly consumed by the Batman persona over the course of the first two films and ultimately reached the point in his life where he could let it go and finally find peace as just Bruce in the final minutes of The Dark Knight Rises. Personally I think the answer is far more complicated and thankfully The Batman writer-director Matt Reeves seems to share my take on the issue.
When asked by IndieWire what he thought the real answer was to Bruce’s “true” identity, Reeves answered:
“Gosh, that’s a tough question. I think that it’s interesting, because one of the things that I’ve found interesting, just as we’re working on the story, is looking back at Jekyll and Hyde, and the idea of your shadow-self, and the idea of, we are all multiple things. It’s different aspects of who we are, and I think there are times when maybe the surface of Bruce is not really who he is, but that’s his disguise. There are times when Batman’s the disguise, but there are times when his true essence comes out, because by being veiled, a kind of instinctual side comes out that’s very pure…
… It’s not an easy question to answer, in that I think that we are all made up of so many different aspects of ourselves that make the whole. I don’t know if you could ever reduce anyone to one part of what they express. That’s what’s fun about his character, is that there’s a very bright light that shines on his shadow side. The idea of all of that is incredibly exciting. It’s part of what makes it fun for me to work on.”
While I think the comparison to Jekyll and Hyde is maybe a teensy bit off, I completely agree with Reeves on the overall idea. Bruce Wayne and Batman aren’t just two personas- they’re closer to being more of two opposite ends on the man’s mental and emotional spectrum. The Batman that criminals fear is just as much a front as the playboy image Bruce sometimes utilizes in the public. It’s that middle ground of identity between the two goalposts that makes up the true Bruce Wayne, always ebbing back and forth depending on whether or not he’s just about to finally marry Selina Kyle or if the Joker just killed Jason Todd.
I’ve been excited to see Reeves tackle The Batman ever since he was first named as a candidate after Ben Affleck left the film in early 2017. He might not be as immediately touted an auteur like Affleck was, but even before Reeves started saying all of the right things to get diehard Batman fans pumped for his film, the thing I’ve admired about him since I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes four years ago is his ability to sell audiences on the emotional stakes of his films. It didn’t matter that Caesar and Koba were both CGI apes speaking in broken English, their Shakespearian feud was legitimately compelling to audiences.
I can’t wait to see Reeves bring that same level of care to The Batman, no matter who ends up wearing the cape and cowl in the film.
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