When one thinks of Kurt Cobain and the distinctive grunge metal style he crafted during his Nirvana years, “Something in the Way” is not typically the first song to come to mind. Although it appeared on the band’s most well-received album Nevermind, the song was overshadowed by hits such as “Come as you are”, “Lithium” and “Smells like Teen Spirit.” The song depicts a man who lives alone under a bridge, with cars above, leaking pipes, and in the midst of a city whose citizens frequently pass him by. The only friends he has are the animals that dwell underneath. The subject of the song is, therefore, like the song itself, passed by in the midst of other Nirvana hits and alone under a bridge.
But when Matt Reeves undertook the task of directing a new Batman movie, taking the franchise in a different direction than the failed Zach Snyder movies starring Ben Afflack, “Something in the way” caught his attention. Something about Bruce Wayne deserved to be explored that hadn’t yet been adequately explored by either Snyder or even by Christopher Nolan in his momentously successful Dark Knight trilogy. Reeves remarks, “I considered, ‘How do you do Bruce Wayne in a way that hasn’t been seen before?’ I started thinking, ‘What if some tragedy happened and this guy becomes so reclusive, we don’t know what he’s doing?”
Bruce Wayne the recluse, Bruce Wayne the tragic hero, Bruce Wayne the literal cave-dweller. This Bruce Wayne is one who hasn’t been developed yet, and it’s this Bruce Wayne who Reeves brings to the silver screen in his 2022 The Batman. If Nolan’s Bruce Wayne is Hugh Hefner-lite and if Snyder’s Bruce Wayne is Oedipus (“ Martha!”), then Reeve’s Bruce Wayne is Kurt Cobain, and probably more in line with the very idea of a bat anyway.
Indeed, this is a movie about loneliness and betrayal, about shattered facades and having to salvage what remains in the midst of a reality that tempts one to cynical thinking. The crux of the film lies in cynicism’s successful corruption of one broken person while in the other, something else happens. Something is in the way, and that something is hope.
As the film opens on Halloween during a heated election for the office of mayor, the incumbent Don Mitchelle is murdered. As Commissioner James Gordon, with the assistance of Batman, investigate, it quickly becomes clear that the murderer has only just begun and that his motives exceed his disdain for this mayor in particular. Calling himself “The Riddler”, he goads the commissioner and Batman into a cat and mouse game of clues, traps, and sick jokes. “What does a liar do when he is dead?” Riddler writes about the mangled mayor. “He lies still.”
Gordon and Batman go on, finding clues and intuiting who Riddler will or might kill next but just a bit too late. The main tension of the plot doesn’t emerge, however, until Riddler stages to have the District Attorney murdered in a conspicuously dramatic fashion at the funeral of Mayor Mitchelle. This is a crucial shift in the plot, where it ceases to be just a case for Batman and becomes quite personal instead. Through the twists and turns subsequent to the district attorney’s death, we learn that the Wayne family legacy is not what Batman once thought it was. Batman learns that his father, also mayor at one point, once paid off a major crime boss to keep embarrassing details about the Wayne family quiet during an election, resulting in the death of a journalist. All of these damning details come to light at the orchestration of the Riddler, who grew up, like Wayne, an orphan, one who often felt alone and was well acquainted with betrayal. Riddler connects to Wayne in his reclusive loneliness but has in mind to expose Wayne’s legacy as one of shame, which Bruce, up until now, had thought to be one of honor.
And so loneliness and betrayal. Both Riddler and Wayne share in this disillusionment and it tempts them both to cynical thinking. Cynicism already corrupted Riddler years ago until he became a murderous villain, feeding himself with confirmation bias in internet chat rooms. But instead of succumbing, Batman, on the other hand, reaches for hope. “People need hope,” Batman remarks as the credits start to roll.
Rather than proceed into a dark descent into himself, Batman reaches out into the city. In a scene that resembles the raising of the flag on Iwa Jima during WWII, both Batman and Mayor Real are in the dark depths of tumultuous flood waters, helping Gotham citizens together.
This outreach, in contrast to the Riddler’s prior withdrawal, is where the film hits its narrative peak as well as when it is at its most theologically substantive. The contrast is stark. The options presented are clear and the choices Batman and Riddler have made are seen along with their consequences. The scene provokes a similar binary made not by a director on a film set but by God in a desert. There, too, we see a contrast that is stark: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses” (Deut 30.19). This appeal made by God to His people, that they should choose life, is what Batman has chosen. Indeed, Batman has chosen life, not death; hope, not cynicism. This Batman goes into Gotham, and even nearly goes under Gotham during the flooding. So it is with Christ, who did not come to bring condemnation but instead, salvation (John 3.17), allowing the floodwaters of judgment to fall onto Himself instead of on his city, his love (1 Pet 3.21).
Co-authored by Myers McKinney and Lael Chapman