Love it or hate it, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a cinematic phenomenon. Earning millions at the box office, winning awards left, right and centre, and even successfully annoying politicians, the most critically-acclaimed Batman film series has redefined the notion of a superhero film. There is no denying the fact that Bruce Wayne experiences a very unusual set of circumstances – he is orphaned at a young age, inherits extreme wealth, has Michael Caine as a butler, a relatively easy access to really advanced technology, and an iron will. Nonetheless, he is perhaps the most realistic and perpetually depressed A-list superhero in history. No glory, no spandex and no traditional happy ending, Batman is the perfect weapon for parents worldwide who want to discourage their children from having foolish dreams. And yet every single person I have ever met has a lot of respect for Batman, if not an innate desire to emulate him. Which naturally begs the question: why?
When Nolan set out to re-make the failing franchise, he wanted to create one crucial thing: a film that represents complex human psychology. Focussing on the themes of fear, chaos and pain in turn, his trilogy is extremely dark. But, despite this darkness – or perhaps because of it – his films resonate more strongly with audiences than the traditional superhero film. In addition to having these overarching themes, Nolan was able to parallel some major issues in the world today with each of his three films. In Batman Begins, the main antagonist is the leader of a terrorist cell intent on taking out a corrupt system in order to appease its radical ideology. Sounds eerily familiar post-2001, doesn’t it? The Dark Knight tackles the issue of anarchy and disillusionment with the status quo, its release coinciding with the subprime mortgage crisis and a major change in government in the USA. The Dark Knight Rises pushes it even further; where the issues in the first two were not explicit parallels with the real world, the anti-capitalist movement portrayed in the last film is a direct reference to the Occupy Movement. What is perhaps most striking about the films is the fact that while the threats are tackled and overcome by Batman, Gotham does not become a brighter, happier place and the hero never gets his much-deserved praise. He is emotionally drained, completely alone and at one point even hated by the very city he protects.
Does that mean Nolan is a cynic? Does that make me one, for that matter, considering how rabidly I seem to be eating up this interpretation? I don’t think so. Because, at the end of the day, it is not the depressing circumstances that audiences come away with. It is the fact that a single, ordinary man – albeit a very rich and highly-trained one – keeps tackling seemingly insurmountable odds. More importantly, he does so without the expectation of any type or reward, but with the hope that his efforts make a difference. Likewise, we want to work towards a better future and a better life regardless of what stands in our way. And that is what makes Batman the hero everyone wants to be, including me. He is endearingly human.