Holy Franchise! This movie is good. It has it all: action, psychology, toys, and toxic psychotropic drugs. This is not the campy TV Batman of Adam West or the absurd Joel Schumacher films. This movie, by Christopher Nolan, charts, in loving detail, the bizarre path that leads young Bruce to a solution for his psychic trauma: after he witnesses his parents’ murders he becomes Batman. We see the long term aftermath of trauma as it impacts Bruce: causing him numbness, flashbacks, fear, loss of trust, dissociation, rage and the compensatory mechanisms of revenge and mastery. At one point he says, “My anger buries the guilt.” Bruce Wayne emerges in this film as dark and complex, portrayed by an intense and appealing Gus Lewis as a child and an aristocratic Christian Bale as an adult. Liam Neeson again plays a mentor (see the Star Wars review) and harsh teacher. Michael Caine is terrific as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Batman’s Q (see James Bond review) is helpful, and Katie Holmes is the damsel in distress. Once Batman finishes “Beginning” the film speeds along as he almost flies through Gotham, beating up each villain so quickly that most of the mayhem is hard to follow.
The trauma of Bruce Wayne’s parents' deaths is filmed through the mind's eye of a child. It is this trauma and its impact that has appealed to TV, film, and cartoon audiences for generations. From a psychological perspective, there is guilt, fear of Bats, conflict over justice and revenge and Bruce Waynes’ constant comparisons to his father. What is most interesting is the evil “psychologist,” and his use of toxic psychotropics to induce fear into the people of Gotham. In my opinion, the “Black Box” warning issue has gone too far and is reflected here.
The screenplay uses the story of early D.C. comics but mostly the Batman of the 1980's where he becomes the Dark Knight. Gotham appears sinister, and mirrors a bitter, and hurting Batman.
Beyond psychologically compelling, the Batman of “Batman Begins” is a super-hero for all media and times, one whose external state examines our internal struggles. This film can serve as primer for what happens when children experience a trauma like parental death, divorce, sex abuse, or terrorist attack. As a model of inspiration, Batman is a true myth. From his isolation, to his metaphorical elements, which are both psychologically motivated, metaphysical and allow transcendence into the sublime, Batman sheds light on all of our stories. He is a source of comfort and helps us with our journey inward, confronting our traumas and their healing, and our seeking of identity.
The PG-13 rating is fine, but parents should remember that the film is dark. It has ugly, scary villains and features a child who witnesses his parents’ murders.
Review written by Michael Brody, M.D.
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The views expressed in the reviews are those of the member authors and do not reflect those of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.