Batman Begins (2005) Director: Christopher Nolan
“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
As the first part of a new Batman series by Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins, perhaps more than any other film, helped spawned the renaissance of super hero movies, a legacy which has continued into the present-day. The first installment in a trilogy, Batman Begins offers a darker return to the shadowy hero of the DC comic books. This was the first Batman movie since the campy Batman & Robin movie released in 1997 and it offers a welcome renaissance of the series in ways that only Christopher Nolan can.
The simple concept behind Batman Begins is rebirth –“why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” This film brings wealthy heir Bruce Wayne down to the depths of despair. His parents are murdered, their legacy lies in other people’s hands, and his life is a mess. Bruce travels the world until he stumbles upon a mountain sanctuary run by a mysterious group known as the League of Shadows. It is the dwelling of Ra’s al Ghul (first played by Ken Watanabe and then by Liam Neeson). Here, while honing his Kung Fu skills, Bruce learns how to become “more than just a man,” in order to become an “ideal” or a “symbol.” In this way, Christopher Nolan explores the conceptual origination of a hero. What does it mean to become a symbol? A symbol of what? On his quest to answer this question, Bruce Wayne decides to look within. His life embodies a tragic downfall (not unlike the state of Batman franchise itself at the time) and yet he continues to rise again. He remembers when he was a child and fell down an old well filled with bats –even as an adult he fears bats. He therefore covers himself in the form of a bat, a terrifying, elemental identity who will guard the city and threaten brutality against the enemies of civiization. His heroism lies in his darkness, he realizes that injustice is best fought not by police nor politicians, but rather by the symbolic example of fear. This is the lesson of the League of Shadows. It is what maintains order and justice in Gotham.
Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham where he poses publicly as a playboy, but privately he becomes the Batman, a gritty hero who fights corruption and rot from the depths and the shadows. Hence why his downfall is such an important theme in the film and he is reborn anew. Bruce tests his new Batman alter-ego by battling a criminal ring led by corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) who is perhaps loosely based on the scarecrow and pumpkin characters in the Batman comics. Dr. Crane poisons the city’s water which sows widespread unrest, but when cornered, he claims to be acting on behalf of Ra’s al Ghul. The League of Shadows believes Gotham is beyond redemption, it has fallen too far into the depths. Thus Ra’s intends to bring about the collapse of Gotham. We are treated to a great train chase scene through the city rife with nods to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Ra’s al Ghul intends to permanently infect the city with pandemonium, but Batman realizes that his teacher must be stopped. And when he destroys Ra’s al Ghul, Bruce Wayne completes his final rebirth in the long and arduous ascent toward the beginning of Batman.