This article contains spoilers for The Batman Any viewer who has not seen it yet and intends to should refrain from reading. You have been warned!
“I’m vengeance” is one of the last things a group of subway goons hear before each gets brutally beaten down. The ones that are able to physically stand up flee, leaving behind the man they had previously intended on hurting themselves.
An interesting cue any viewer can pick up on is the reaction of said victim. Of course, they are thankful they have been saved from a horrible fate. However, the man looks terrified.
Within seconds, Batman is gone. He is not only feared by criminals, but pretty much everyone including those he saves, too.
What nobody in Gotham City knows, is that the mind of this mysterious vigilante has gone through years of emotional turmoil. Bruce Wayne, with all the money and privilege he was born into, is profoundly mentally ill. This is obvious to even the most casual of DC Comics consumers, something previous movies have entirely glossed over this, The Batman, however, does it right and entirely refuses to shy away from any of it.
It runs in the family
Mental illness seemingly runs in the Wayne family.
In a profound revelation, the calculated and meticulous creep, Riddler, reveals to Batman that Bruce Wayne’s grandmother committed a murder-suicide, with Martha Wayne being the lone survivor. She grows up with an unmentioned mental disorder and eventually has to spend time in a psych ward.
An ambitious journalist uncovered this information only to be killed on behalf of Thomas Wayne, who wanted to keep his wife’s mental illness buried and forgotten.
These horrifying series of incidents shatters Bruce’s view of his father entirely and conveys that mental illness is often passed down generation to generation. The shades of Bruce Wayne’s struggle are blurred even further, stoking the claim that mental illness stems from both nurture and nature.
The creation of Batman as an unhealthy response to trauma and how it is overcome
Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman years after his parents are killed by a lone mugger. His perceived failure to stop the criminal fuels him to fight crime as an adult.
In the case of Bruce Wayne, a superhero is created from an incredibly damaged mind coping with a trauma no child should ever face.
Early on in the film, Batman is not a defender of the innocent, he is revenge incarnate. Every punch is one he wishes he could direct at the man who took his parents twenty years previously. His combat is often sloppy yet deliberate, intending to inflict as much damage as possible.
The first sequence of the movie depicts the incredibly unsettling murder of Gotham City’s mayor Don Mitchell by the Riddler on Halloween. Gotham City Police Department detective Jim Gordon allows Batman onto the crime scene to aid in investigative efforts, which results in a high risk but high reward payoff. Batman picks up on small details and even solves a riddle left specifically for him at the murder without skipping a beat.
However, the son of Mitchell is present in the next room having received the news of his father’s murder as he returned from trick or treating. Batman cannot help but notice the stoic child.
Mitchell’s son is a living representative of Bruce’s motivation.
Through this sequence, the viewer sees the early days of Batman, where he fights merely to validate the grief and anger of his inner child.
In fact, this extends to his regular persona as well. While making a rare public appearance at Mayor Mitchell’s funeral, Bruce Wayne is approached by Bella Real, Mitchell’s political opponent. She pulls no punches in asking him why he has not utilized his seemingly large family inheritance to help the crime-infested Gotham City. While he is helping the city in the most unorthodox manner, it is a valid question that he cannot find the words to answer.
It is clear that for most of the film, Batman is more preoccupied with helping validate his own trauma than actually helping the city. Even when the cryptic serial killer known as the Riddler begins a deadly game with the highest of stakes, he only goes after him because he feels he has to.
After stopping the near-full destruction of Gotham City, Batman helps an injured person onto a helicopter transport. The injured person holds Batman’s arm as comfort, a far cry from how Batman was previously viewed, as a wrathful yet apathetic vigilante.
He now knows his trauma, instead of being used to fuel anger, must be utilized to help others as a symbol of hope and protector of the innocent. In a way, he is able to grow past his own mental struggles to reframe them in a less destructive manner, something we all can and should learn to do.
Mentally, he is not so separated from the villains he fights against
Batman goes toe-to-toe with three villains in The Batman: Carmine Falcone, Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and most chiefly the Riddler, who presents the most difficult battle.
The Riddler, like most super villains, has a grand plan. Through codes, cyphers, puzzles, riddles, and a trail of dead Gotham elites, he intends to bring the whole city to its knees and expose every corrupt official in the process.
His grievances against the corrupt, like his nemesis, comes from childhood. Edward Nashton, who later becomes The Riddler, nursed a resentment for those considered bad from a parent-less childhood.
Sounds like someone familiar.
The difference, however, is privilege. Nashton spent his entire childhood in an orphanage, the conditions just as grimy as the rest of the city. His anger continued to grow and was directed mostly toward one person in particular: Bruce Wayne.
Just as Batman’s rage is motivated by an attempt to punish one man by proxy through fighting other criminals, Riddler is resentful of one rich man, directing his rage at other rich men. Both of them hold self-righteous anger rooted in traumatic events and neither see the bigger picture, at least initially.
While Batman is able to finally recognize that his role is much larger than he imagines, the Riddler crumples into a crying, upset mess once his plan has failed.
The resolution of the story speaks to how one processes trauma and approaches healing. The characters find that they need to find it in themselves to accept help and triumph or let it consume them.
The possible role of mental health in the future of The Batman franchise
From the most casual of viewer to dedicated fans of Batman media like myself, viewers of the new film are excited for what is to come from the likely upcoming series of films after seeing The Batman
However there is one pressing question to reflect on after this analysis: how will future films further delve into the mental health of Bruce Wayne?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question at the moment.
It is still apparent that like in this excellent movie, mental health will not be ignored. Not only is it a monumental victory for Batman media, it is also an understated achievement of another gray area depiction of mental health’s positive and negative ramifications.