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Batman and Justice: Symbolism over Substance?

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Thomas M. Miovas Jr.
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I don't like Superhero movies in general and Batman in particular. They all about a selfless service to society and total sacrifice. One of the movie's characters says to Batman : " Why you have to do all this? You already gave everything." " Not everything"-replies Batman and commits the ultimate sacrifice. This makes me sick.

The trilogy has made it clear that for Wayne, this isn't a sacrifice. We've seen what his city means to him on a personal level, from his childhood there and his parents' involvement in it, up to the present and his continuous battle for its citizens. Everything and everyone that he cares about is there. He's invested much of himself into Gotham and its people, and in fact the only reason he can gather the strength to rise from the pit is the desire to save it one last time. The actions he takes for Gotham aren't some impersonal sacrifice undertaken for duty's sake, they are a response to his deeply personal connection to his city. It's his city, and he's not going to see it destroyed, no matter what. If you want a strictly Objectivist comparison, it's reminiscent of Dagny's connection to her railroad, and all that she goes through to save it.

Edited by Dante
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All action movies are about fight of goods guys against bad guys. Only in other movies good guys also get a girl in the end. But not Superheros! Batman has not a shred of the personal, selfish motive in his fight. It is all about others. The city as such couldn't have a bigger value than his own life and happiness. Dagny gave up her railroad in the end . Even Batman's way of fighting is completely altruistic. " No guns, no killings"-he says even in the face of a mortal danger. As result he ends up severely beaten in the underground dungeon while a single bullet between the bad guy's eyes could save to him and to all others all the trouble. Batman has no personal life, all his great wealth is destroyed during his selfless service. Besides, he is completely irrational. Being a billionaire he could have organize and properly train a suitable law enforcement agency who would protect him and all other citizens of Gotham instead of the bunch of useless cops who went into the trap as a flock of sheep. But this is not Batman's goal. His goal is a sacrifice, he is fighting single handed. He is an ultimate altruist.

Edited by Leonid
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By the way, even though I think Nolan was aiming at egalitarianism (re the Rabble) and somewhat in Bane (throwing Batman into the pit, to the lowest level, and telling him he cannot rise above that), I do think the message was mixed egalitarianism and nihilism. I certainly would not say the movie was a great drama (though it could have been if we were let in on Bruce Wayne's struggle explicitly), but there was definitely a lot of good to it, just not enough to turn the tide of anti-man sentiments in our culture. I still think to do that one needs and explicit pro-man philosophy and an explicit rational morality. It was unclear to me what Batman's motivation was. We are not shown any scenes with Bruce or Batman looking out over the city and taking delight in the wonderful aspects of living in civilization; and he doesn't seem to have any ties to the city, not even regarding the operations of his business based there, by the time he decides to get back in the game. I'm glad he didn't give up,and yes, that was inspiring, but I was left longing for more ideology on Batman's side.

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All action movies are about fight of goods guys against bad guys. Only in other movies good guys also get a girl in the end. But not Superheros! Batman has not a shred of the personal, selfish motive in his fight. It is all about others.

Did you stay to watch the end of the movie? Batman succeeds in saving Gotham without sacrificing himself, he gives up the Batman and Bruce Wayne personas to reclaim a genuinely personal life, and he gets the girl. Happy endings all around.

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there was definitely a lot of good to it, just not enough to turn the tide of anti-man sentiments in our culture.

I sincerely doubt that was the goal of the filmmakers. Evaluate it for what it is.

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Did you stay to watch the end of the movie? Batman succeeds in saving Gotham without sacrificing himself, he gives up the Batman and Bruce Wayne personas to reclaim a genuinely personal life, and he gets the girl. Happy endings all around.

No, that I didn't see. That would mean he survived a blast of 4 megaton nuclear bomb. Even if he performed this incredible feat, his need for a girl would be greatly diminished due to effects of radiation. And the only girl he entertained in the movie was a nuclear physicist who in fact created all the trouble. I understood that another guy, a policeman inspired by Batman's example of the selfless service decided to take over from him.

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No, that I didn't see. That would mean he survived a blast of 4 megaton nuclear bomb. Even if he performed this incredible feat, his need for a girl would be greatly diminished due to effects of radiation. And the only girl he entertained in the movie was a nuclear physicist who in fact created all the trouble. I understood that another guy, a policeman inspired by Batman's example of the selfless service decided to take over from him.

Oh, I see you haven't seen the movie at all! Not sure why you're commenting, then.
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Why, I did see it. Couldn't gather that Batman survived in the epicenter of the nuclear blast and started over. No more selfless single-handed unarmed fist fights with the anarcho-socialist psychopaths.No more talks about not giving enough. Just happy life in Paris with the cat woman. Maybe he would even start to pay attention to his business. Good for him to came back to his senses. Hope that this is also applies to the movie-makers.

Edited by Leonid
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Batman is an epitome of self-abnegation. From the very beginning he deliberately and thoroughly destroys his life, his business and his love-all in the name of public good. He is so selfless that he cannot kill his enemies even as an act of sheer self-defense. He is lucky to be a fictional character-in the real life he would be quickly killed dead. Eventually he loses the only person dear to him-his old butler, and for good reason-no distinguished British gentleman can tolerate that much of selflessness. Cat woman from the other hand is a raged individualist whim-worshiper. Everything she does, she does only for her own pleasure, simply because she feels like to. Cannot see what could be in common between them.

Edited by Leonid
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Cat woman from the other hand is a raged individualist whim-worshiper. Everything she does, she does only for her own pleasure, simply because she feels like to. Cannot see what could be in common between them.

Wow, did you really just not watch the last 20 minutes of the movie?

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I do think Batman's relationship with Catwoman was rather disappointing; I, too, would have thought he would have had higher standards. While there is an admiration for Batman on Catwoman's part, I didn't see anything in her character that would make her redeemable in Batman's code of justice (given that I grew up with Batman in the comics). I can see where there might be an attraction to a beautiful, graceful, and athletic woman, but beyond that the movie did not show her changing her mind and becoming a woman of justice. The ending conflict with Bane, where Catwoman kills him to save Batman was out of character. And I was highly disappointed that neither Bruce Wayne nor Batman did not have any scolding words for her as she claimed she was only stealing to have something to eat. That is just another aspect of me being let down by the movie.

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Wow, did you really just not watch the last 20 minutes of the movie?

Wow, did you really just not watch the last 20 minutes of the movie?

I refer to the whole concept of Catwoman character, not just to the last 20 minutes of the last installment. Catwoman often confronted Batman and fought him before. She also occasionally fight criminals, but this doesn't count because she does it just for fun, not for the common good. In the trilogy she is in general a negative character, a bad girl. Here we are presented with a confrontation between an altruist and subjective egoist-the only alternative which our mainstream culture and dominant philosophy recognizes.

Edited by Leonid
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Catwoman didn't burglarize for fun, she did it because she saw no way out of a life of crime once her name was already dragged through the criminal record mud. Really, this was her entire story! She was trying to escape from a life of crime. In fact, I was surprised this was how the movie portrayed her, because in the comic books (if I remember), your description does fit. Once again, I get the impression you did not watch this movie.

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There was absolutely no evidence presented that Catwoman was seeking to get out of a life of crime....no depiction of her as herself trying to get a job or building her skills and not having any other choice aside from crime. I also saw no evidence that she would fall in love with a man like Bruce Wayne or Batman -- NONE. So, yes, I saw the same movie, but I didn't read things into her character that were not presented in the movie.

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There was absolutely no evidence presented that Catwoman was seeking to get out of a life of crime....no depiction of her as herself trying to get a job or building her skills and not having any other choice aside from crime. I also saw no evidence that she would fall in love with a man like Bruce Wayne or Batman -- NONE. So, yes, I saw the same movie, but I didn't read things into her character that were not presented in the movie.

Catwoman stole that computer mcguffin thing that allowed both her and Bruce Wayne to change their identities and get a new start.

You are omitting things that are presented in the movie.

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Yeah, well, I do think some businesses would operate better if they did have an applied philosophy department to keep their procedures rational in their long-term best interests.

Nonetheless, all we know about Catwoman is that she wanted to erase her past, we don't know why. She made no statements that she wanted to go legit. It was Batman who suggested to her to go legit. But, even by the end of the movie, we don't know if she did that or not,since no scenes were shown with her having a real job -- even as a private detective or a burglary proofing company (like some real criminals working with the police have done). She is not shown having any remorse for living a life of crime whatsoever.

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Sure, the ending implied that everything worked out for the best and that Batman and Catwoman would live happily ever after.

The problem is that there are two different codes of justice represented in the movie: Bane versus Batman, or egalitarianism versus earning one's way. Bane's is made explicit, Batman's is not. While we are shown and told that no man can be permitted to rise above another in Bane, we are not shown nor told that a man can achieve what is best for him by earning his keep and enacting proper justice in Batman (except symbolically and via physical recovery). It would have been great to make that conflict much more explicit -- and to show that despite the fact that Bruce Wayne lost everything via Bane and Catwoman stealing his identity and making a bad investment call, that Bruce Wayne had the capacity to recover economically -- to rise again -- just as Batman did physically. Given this implicit conflict, Catwoman could have been shown as not sure which one she wanted to follow -- egalitarianism or rational justice. If Catwoman's motivations were made more clear (which would have required Bruce Wayne's and Batman's motivations to be made more clear), then we could have witnessed a great movie dealing with fundamentals. As it is presented, one is not sure why Catwoman chose Batman over Bane. Presumably, while they were dealing with the bomb, Catwoman fell in love with Batman (remember that kiss?), but it is not really made clear. She witnesses Bane beating up Batman and leaving him for dead in the pit, and she is possibly amazed that he recovered and came back to fight the good fight; but is that just falling in love with a man who won't give up? Is it just because he physically recuperated? Would she have been in love with him if he recouped his financial loses as well, or did she love him because he had nothing left and was still willing to save Gotham? And what did Gotham mean to her anyhow? Just a place she could steal from? All of this and more makes the ending unbelievable to me, because these issues were touched upon but not resolved.

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Sometimes, when it comes to modern movies, I cannot thoroughly enjoy them without re-writing them in my own mind, using the same presented elements, but stressing them better by making them more explicit. It's as if the original version was only a sketch (and maybe even a good one), but it lacks details I would need to consider it to be great art. Nolan's Batman series was like this for me, especially TDKR (Batman Rises).

There are two codes of justice at conflict in TDKR: Bane, who represents Marxist justice (wealth is stolen and the rich had to steal from the people, so justice is restoring the balance) versus Batman (the idea that wealth is created, is owned by the producer, and should be protected from criminals). In this context Catwoman is a transitionary figure, not quite having decided to go fully with Bane, but resisting Batman due to her not being able to be successful and concluding the only way to get ahead is to steal from the rich. The story is how these elements play out.

And I don't think it would have taken much to make the conflict much more intellectual versus physical warfare, thus making TDKR a great movie, rather than a good movie that was a sketch of a major conflict going on today in our culture. I'm glad Nolan sided with Batman, so the sketch is there; but filling in more details explicitly makes it possible for me to have a better grasp of what was achieved in only symbolism in TDKR.

One might say that I can only enjoy some movies if I imagine them as they might be and ought to be.

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I understand your sentiment, Thomas. But of course the next point to make is, aren't movies all about symbolism? What fun is a movie that explicitly conveys everything and doesn't leave room to let your brain fill in and think?

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Well, the thing is that art is much more than symbolism if done correctly. Art is about concretizing an abstraction -- not merely symbolizing the abstraction. Yes, Batman symbolizes justice and Bane symbolizes injustice, but in a fully developed concretization of those abstractions, each character would *be* the abstraction in a concrete form. In other words, their characters would be developed in the movie of being those abstractions as presented in a particular individual. This would require a fuller development of Bruce Wayne as an industrialist and his understanding that earning a living by offering his customers values is moral; whereas those who would seek to throttle him or to take what is his away from him is immoral, and that , perhaps, the police don't fully understand this and therefore there is a need for a super hero to take care of the major criminals, hence Batman. I'm not saying Batman as presented in Nolan's movies is not a man of justice, because he is, but the fuller understanding of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman are not developed enough to make it crystal clear qua character and qua concretization of production and self-defense.

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One thing the new Batman movie demonstrates is that the idea of competing governments cannot work in the same geographical area. A government enacts a specific code of justice, based upon certain standards, and two or more different codes of justice necessarily means that the police forces or the enforcers of those codes of justice will be seen as a threat to one another. In Batman Rises, Bane's code of justice contradicts the cities code of justice, so the first thing he does is to disable the police force of the city. And it couldn't happen any other way. So, it is a blow to anarcho-capitalism, the idea that competing governments could work things out peaceably. Not in a cat's eye they can't.

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