“The city streets are crowded for the holiday, even with the rain.”
Vengeance rains on a Halloween night as the symbol of fear lights the sky. Criminals dread the shadows because they know what awaits them: The Batman. However, another vigilante carries out what he believes to be the same mission in a different corner of the city. Two perspectives clash and Gotham’s terror lingers.
The point of view of one particular adversary, the Riddler, right from the opening—steady breathing under his mask, then creeping in the shadow—is only revealed when the TV light flickers brighter. In an instant, we are introduced to someone who embodies a darker reflection of Batman Robert Pattinson.
No More Lies
Picking out the total dishonesty of each public figure shines a light on all of the city’s lies: a failed promise embedded in Gotham’s underbelly of violence, as well as the tainted institutes that hold it together. They run rampant to persuade the citizens to fall in line, all to keep the corrupt cogs of society in motion. The city suffers cruel jabs of injustice every day. It is a world where villains and monsters have roots to the evil that emanates from nearly every institution in the city. “Underneath the bridge, (a) tarp has sprung a leak…”
Where It All Began
The first killing is what leads Batman and Lieutenant Jim Gordon to uncover the murdered Mayor’s nefarious, secret activities. By the end, the Riddler becomes even more radical, suggesting that all of Gotham is culpable for blindly accepting the lies fed to them by their politicians. By the Riddler’s estimation, the sins of the city’s leaders and, consequently, its people, are too heinous for Gotham to ever be redeemed.
Meanwhile, Batman’s vision of his father being the pinnacle of kindness is also revealed to be a noble lie; and with that revelation, revenge becomes yet another obstacle for Batman to overcome, lest it leads him down a dark path. Batman, Catwoman (Selina Kyle), and the Riddler (Edward Nashton) are all imposing their own versions of justice.
Something in the Way
Freedom is not a binary idea; it is an oversimplification of the real world that society is conditioned to believe. A person’s freedom is on a spectrum. The rich have exponentially more choices than the displaced persons of society. For the latter, making a bad decision enables one to survive. The freedom to choose the nobler option is merely an illusion.
The Riddler does something similar with the concept of an orphan, which is also found on a spectrum. It is not only the absence of parents that creates orphanhood and all the challenges that come with it. It is also the lack of a social safety net, as well as the impotence of the social institutions that are meant to help those in need.
Along the way, Batman realises that punishing people for making bad decisions does not prevent them from being put in compromising situations that breed even more bad decisions. He learns that, without his money, he would be no different from the criminals he beats up every night—or even the Riddler—being put in a situation that seeks to compromise his moral code.
A New Light
True rehabilitation of society should not be manifested through fear, but by systematic recovery. Even in the opening scene, there is an initiate among a gang of teens in clown makeup on the subway that has only half his face painted.
The lingering close-up shot on his face symbolises the duality of the hardships people like him face, as well as the corruption of the city that has left him with no other choice. He is yet another Bruce Wayne without money.
Throughout the film, the approach to making society a better place is called into question, not the least of which is when the Riddler tells Batman that he has been an essential player in his deranged plot, but when the validity of vengeance as a guiding moral compass is called into question—most explicitly when Batman faces off against the Riddler’s followers.
One of the followers, when asked his name, replies, “I’m Vengeance!”, thus mirroring Batman’s own image back at him. This forces Batman to adopt a different view, in a new light, as the movie ends with him holding a flare and he frames himself as a force for the collective good while assisting citizens out of the rubble and committing himself to be more oriented towards helping people.