When Christopher Nolan first approached “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, he decided it needed to be rooted in reality. The character of Bruce Wayne transforming himself into a masked vigilante, donning a leather and kevlar suit made to resemble a bat capping it with a cape, needed balance. This story needed a plausible purpose to warrant the creation of such a costume. People generally don’t go about their regular daily routines dressed as random mammalia.
Examining how Christian Bale settles in on the decision to design his suit like a bat is important to understand not just the story elements tying perhaps the most pivotal decision in the entire trilogy, apart from the code of ethics Batman adopts, to several key story elements in not just the first film but also the second and third films, but it also raises ideological notions associated with making such a decision. Essentially the question being asked here is if one had to design a suit to conceal one’s superhero identity, how could this decision benefit them in their attempt to realize a just society, and secondly what does the existence of this decision mean as a message unto itself.
In “Batman Begins”, Nolan uses the Batman character in the story as a shadowy figure, lurking in the night ready to fight crime. Dressing up as a bat may not initially incite fear, rather quite opposite emotions like humour and confusion. Nolan’s Batman instead uses the fear of an absurd man prowling the streets as a human bat with the audacity to strike a gang of hoodlums with automatic weapons as a tool in his quest for justice on the streets of Gotham. Batman brings with him enough gusto and indifference to fear which causes those he is after to fear him. Bruce’s character declares prior to returning to the city that Gotham needs a symbol, terrifying and elemental, to him it was a bat, but really, the symbol is the foolhardy vigilante driven to serve his city by obsession, wearing a costume designed to accentuate a brooding nature of a bat, living its life in darkness, in a world on its end.
In nature, this is modelled by the fact that in the event one encounters an animal that generally could kill an ordinary human being, the first suggestion to remember is to remain calm. Secondly in a situation where it seems animals are about to attack, recommendations include making lots of noise and generally making yourself as threatening as possible to dissuade the attack. Fear is a natural tool to both protect oneself as well as a tool one can use to enable certain decisions.
It isn’t a coincidence the main story arch of the film deals with fear as a way to corrupt and debilitate the city Bruce calls home and his mission is to prevent this from happening. Interestingly enough, in the process of him delivering the city of Gotham from the hands of the antagonists of the film, he utilizes fear once again to subvert an opponent.
Fear as a theme in “Batman Begins” is quite appropriate. The canon set-up by Nolan’s trilogy shows a young Bruce falling into a cave where he first develops his fear of bats around the same time as his parents die as the tale of Batman’s origins often go. The orphaned child comes to associate the bat with pain and darkness, and as he overcomes his fear of the bat replacing it with hate first followed by duty, he internalizes this fear, and by living with it, be can exude it as well.
Here, Batman begins his first lifelong relationship, with the physical embodiment of fear in the form of a bat, a symbol that becomes a saviour to not just the city of Gotham, but also to himself.