Portrayal Of Ethical Dilemmas In Batman Begins

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“A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat on a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.” – Christopher Nolan, director of ‘Batman Begins’. A film recognised for its thrilling narrative experience and dark, often harrowing themes, ‘Batman Begins’ is the first instalment in the Dark Knight Trilogy and follows the origin story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), as he becomes crimefighter Batman. Since its release in 2005, the film has been successful in its grim depiction of the beloved superhero, and its perspective on ethics and morals. I believe that ‘Batman Begins’ is an effective literary tool through which to study social, moral and ethical positions within a 21st century classroom, through its portrayal of ethical dilemmas, use of literary devices and representations of character identities. Not only do I believe ‘Batman Begins’ is suitable for students to study, but I encourage you to allow your children to experience this literary and cinematic masterpiece.

An integral component of ‘Batman Begins’ is its portrayal of ethical dilemmas. Confucius, an ancient Chinese philosopher, believed in the Golden Rule; “Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself.” Wayne embodies this belief by willingly sacrificing himself to protect the people of Gotham City. The Golden Rule is relevant in modern society as a fundamental principle of religions such as Christianity, where it features in the Ten Commandments. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” This principle almost exactly mirrors Wayne’s, “It is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Similarly, in ‘Batman Begins’, the antagonist, The League of Shadows, is hell-bent on purging the world and Gotham City of evil and corruption. Wayne refuses to be complicit, demanding compassion “There are still good people left in Gotham!” Wayne shares this belief with Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi said, “Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of water are dirty, the ocean itself does not become dirty.” These ethical concepts highlighted by ‘Batman Begins’ have proved to stand the test of time; relevant to philosophers who existed millions of years ago, and relevant even today.

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Secondly, Nolan’s use of literary devices proves that from an academic approach, there is much literary significance to ‘Batman Begins’. While there are numerous literary devices in the film, for the purpose of this speech I will use only two. Firstly, the film follows a non-linear structure. This device is much like a jigsaw puzzle, meaning the story, the big picture, is slowly revealed through flashbacks. Each flashback shown of Wayne’s childhood reveals the foundations of his beliefs, shaping his moral code and forming the basis of his adult decisions. For example, the origin of Wayne’s fear of bats is revealed through a flashback where young Bruce falls into a well and is engulfed by a colony of bats. Based on this childhood experience, adult Wayne chooses to conquer his fear by becoming Batman. The second literary device I will refer to is symbolism. Symbolism is effective because it adds dimension; allowing for visualisations of complex concepts aside from their literal meanings. Bats are symbolic of Wayne’s chiroptophobia and his decision to become Batman. Wayne says, “As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” Another symbol is the use of masks. Batman uses his mask to create an enigmatic persona, performing altruistic acts anonymously. Alternatively, sadistic psychiatrist Dr Crane (Cillian Murphy) uses his mask to incite fear, manipulating his patients for his personal advantage. Through the examples above, it becomes evident that there is much literary merit to ‘Batman Begins’.

Finally, it can be justifiably argued that ‘Batman Begins’ is an inapposite text to study within a 21st century classroom, through an analysis of character identity. It can be debated that the actions of the character portrayed as the ‘hero’ are immoral and ethically questionable. At the beginning of the film, Wayne attempts to avenge his parents’ death by shooting Joe Chill, their murderer. Yet, his belief system at its core is the refusal to commit murder. While attempting to save Gotham City from annihilation during the film’s climax, Batman’s lack of concern and obsessive interest in serving justice results in the destruction of Gotham City at his hands. While it is apparent that both Bruce Wayne and Batman make some morally questionable decisions, there is evidence to suggest this is part of the hero’s journey. In the beginning, Wayne is depicted as a shattered individual, a product of his childhood trauma. He is selfish and vengeful until he undergoes a journey where he is mentored by Ra’ Al Ghul and tempted by the power of The League of Shadows. Upon adopting the persona of Batman, he discovers his purpose, eventually proclaiming himself as defender against evil, telling Ra’s, “I’ll be standing where I belong. Between you and the people of Gotham.” Nolan intentionally forms a flawed, contentious character to create an impression that real heroes are not perfect, but rather overcome their faults for the greater good.

In conclusion, ‘Batman Begins’ is not just a suitable text to be studied in a 21st century English classroom, but rather a staple of modern cinema. Today, 15 years after its release, it is beloved by a wide demographic of audiences. So much so is its influence, that it was recently listed in “The Top 100 Greatest Movies of the 21st Century” by popular film magazine Empire. The beliefs Bruce Wayne reflects have been authenticated by ancient philosophers, proving ‘Batman Begins’ to be a film of timeless value. It’s use of literary devices and representations of character development further validates the film’s literary significance. After decades of seeing Batman portrayed in writing and on the small screen, this adaptation allows students to look beyond the common assumptions about superhero films and learn valuable life lessons; leaving no doubt in our minds that the caped crusader will bring justice to Gotham.


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