Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night.
- Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, Detective Comics No. 33
THE ORIGINS OF THE DARK KNIGHT
He first appeared in 1939, a wraith silhouetted against the Gotham skyline. Mysterious and menacing, "The Bat-Man" surfaced as the self-appointed guardian of Gotham City, a winged gargoyle living in the shadows between hero and vigilante. In the six decades since, he has come to be known as the Dark Knight, a complex man who transformed himself through sheer force of will into a symbol of hope and justice for a city rotting with corruption and decay.
Created for DC Comics by artist Bob Kane, Batman made his debut in Detective Comics No 27 (May, 1939 issue). The superhero's 66-year history represents an unprecedented cultural phenomenon spanning radio serials, live action and animated television series, feature films, interactive games, and legions of comic books.
"Batman is one of the most psychologically interesting characters in our cultural history," says Paul Levitz, President and Publisher of DC Comics, the largest English-language publisher of comics in the world and home to such iconic characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Sandman. "Batman isn't a guy who finds himself endowed with superpowers and simply says I'll do good with them because I'm a good person. This is a man who watched his parents die and then had to decide how to respond. He's tortured by feelings of guilt and anger and his desire for vengeance, yet he sets out to become a transformative being, someone who can change the world."
"What's always been fascinating about Batman is that he is a hero driven by quite negative impulses," says Batman Begins director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan. "Batman is human, he's flawed. But he's someone who has taken these very powerful, self-destructive emotions and made something positive from them. To me, that makes Batman an extraordinarily relevant figure in today's world."
A superhero with no superpowers, Batman's ambitious quest to forge his mind and body into a living, breathing weapon against injustice inspires both fear and admiration.
"What distinguishes Batman from his counterparts is that he's a hero anyone can aspire to be," says co-screenwriter David Goyer, known for adapting the other-worldly realms of superheroes and fantastical characters into inventive, action-packed hit films such as the Blade series, Crow: City of Angels and Dark City. "You could never be Superman, you could never be The Incredible Hulk, but anybody could conceivably become Batman. If you trained hard enough, if you tried hard enough, maybe, just maybe, you could become Batman."
Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight's emergence as a force for good in Gotham. "What I wanted to do was tell the Batman story I'd never seen, the one that the fans have been wanting to see - the story of how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman," says Nolan, whose taut, provocative psychological thrillers Memento and Insomnia established him as a bold new talent with a keen sense of character and a remarkably assured directing style.
A character-driven adventure powered by large-scale action and layered with the complexities of the human condition, Batman Begins represents the first full telling of Bruce Wayne's quest to become Batman, detailing how and why he acquires the skills, tools and technology to create his intimidating alter-ego.
"There is no one definitive account of Batman's origins," says Nolan, "but throughout the interpretations of his character over the years, there are key events that make Batman who he is and make his story the great legend that it has come to be. There were also a lot of very interesting gaps in the mythology that we were able to interpret ourselves and bring in our own ideas of how Bruce Wayne and Batman would have evolved specifically."
In recounting Bruce Wayne's odyssey from his traumatic childhood to his emergence as Batman, Nolan wanted to present "a more realistic take on his story than we've seen in previous incarnations of the character. I wanted to treat it with a degree of gravity and with a sense of epic scope, but set in a world that is firmly grounded in reality."
"One of Chris' mantras when we were working on the script was It has to be real, it has to be real," recalls Goyer, whose points of reference while crafting the screenplay with Nolan included the classic action adventure films Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would Be King, Blade Runner and the James Bond epic On Her Majesty's Secret Service. "We applied that philosophy to every aspect of the story, even down to the most minute details - Why are the bat ears so tall? Why does the Batmobile look the way it does? We developed a logical explanation for everything that Bruce Wayne does and for every device he acquires in the film."
Nolan and Goyer took an unconventional approach to their collaboration. As they worked on the script at Nolan's home, production designer Nathan Crowley began creating conceptual designs of Gotham City and models of the re-imagined Batmobile in the garage.
"I wanted to focus on the design of the new Batmobile during the script writing stage because I felt that everything we were trying to do that defines our approach to telling this story, our emphasis on grounding the characters and the film in reality, would be evident in the look and feel of that vehicle," the director notes.
"I think that from now on, any film that we make, we'll start in the garage," jokes producer Emma Thomas. "The synergy of having Chris, David and Nathan working simultaneously in the same creative space worked amazingly well and it advanced our development and production process considerably."
Portraying the full arc of Bruce Wayne's story in a realistic manner required Nolan and Goyer to explore the complex psychology of the man behind the myth. "For me, the most exciting aspect of telling this story is getting inside Bruce Wayne's head and going on that journey with him," says Nolan, "so that we experience the process of becoming Batman through his eyes."
In Nolan and Goyer's telling, Thomas Wayne instills in his young son a sense of philanthropy and a love for the city that has benefited greatly from the altruism of its wealthiest family, and lays a foundation for Bruce's ideals of justice and fairness. His belief system is all but shattered when his parents are gunned down before his eyes, victims of the fear and desperation spawned by Gotham's rampant crime and collapsing economy. To make matters worse, Bruce blames himself for their murders.
Consumed by guilt and anger, isolated by his status and pain, Bruce begins a lifelong struggle to reconcile his rage and thirst for vengeance with his need to honor his parents' philanthropic legacy.
"This boy has everything ripped away from him in an instant," Goyer muses. "As a result, he has to deal with intense guilt, anger, loneliness and confusion. He is so pained by what happened that he ultimately has to leave Gotham in search of answers."
"It's a journey that never ends," says Christian Bale, the versatile actor known for deftly segueing between acclaimed performances in provocative independent films such as Laurel Canyon, American Psycho and Velvet Goldmine, and starring roles in large-scale action adventures like Shaft and Reign of Fire. "He is in a constant battle with himself internally. He must continually assess his actions and control his demons, overcoming the pull toward self-destruction and the negative emotions that will destroy his life if he allows them to."
"Christian Bale was the ideal choice to play a young Bruce Wayne, particularly a Bruce Wayne still struggling very much with the demons that drive him to become Batman," says Nolan. "He is a very complex character who exists on the razor's edge between good and bad. Christian embodies that sense of danger and ambiguity that can be channeled into something very positive and very powerful. He has that kind of intensity, that fire burning inside. You look into his eyes and you believe that this man would go to those extremes."
"Bruce Wayne is an ordinary man who has made himself extraordinary, through sheer determination and self-discipline," producer Chuck Roven observes. "Christian exemplifies this kind of passion, dedication and commitment. He has a wonderful presence as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and brings an amazing power to his performance, both physically and emotionally."
Bale was intrigued by Nolan's vision for the film, both in his desire to explore the darker aspects of the Batman character and his goal to give audiences what the director deems "the cinematic equivalent of reading a great graphic novel."
"Graphic novels like Arkham Asylum presented a Batman that I had never seen before," says Bale, who discovered the Dark Knight several years ago at a comic book store in Santa Monica. "He was dark and dangerous and more interesting than any other comic book hero or villain."
One way in which Nolan and Goyer grounded Bruce Wayne's story in reality while marrying milestones in the mythology with their own interpretation of events is through the film's theme of fear. In the story, young Bruce's accidental discovery of the bat-filled caverns beneath Wayne Manor results in a harrowing encounter with the terrifying creatures, leaving him permanently haunted by the memory. Nolan and Goyer fused this seminal experience with Bruce's subsequent guilt over his parents' deaths, making his decision to remold himself in the image of a creature that wracks him with such fear and anxiety all the more remarkable and resonant.
"It's fascinating to me," Nolan remarks, "the idea of a person who would confront his innermost fear, and then attempt to become it."
"The bat is a very personal symbol to him," Bale explains. "It's one that induced fear in him as a child, and as an adult is a constant reminder of the night his parents were murdered and of his own feelings of guilt. When he returns to Gotham after honing his mental and physical skills, the bat persona becomes the clear answer to his need for a disguise. He uses it as a means to intimidate others and manipulate their fears, as well as master his own."
While superheroes typically face the challenge of living as both a public personality and a private force for change, Bruce Wayne grapples with the necessity of presenting two very different personas in public while carefully guarding his true identity.
"It's not just a duality between Batman and Bruce Wayne that I was interested in exploring," Nolan reveals. "To truly represent his journey, we needed to portray the three distinct facets of his character: Batman, the iconic masked warrior who is the channel of Bruce's inner rage; the private Bruce Wayne, a damaged man who dedicates his life to ridding Gotham City of the evil that took his parents' lives; and the third individual, the public face of Bruce Wayne - a spoiled playboy, the last person anyone in Gotham society would suspect of caring about the city's decline, let alone of being Batman. The public Bruce Wayne persona is as much a mask as the mask that Batman wears."
"Bruce Wayne doesn't want people to ever think that he's capable of idealism or compelled to help those in need," Roven elaborates, "so he presents himself as a very clichéd, womanizing, sports car-driving socialite. But it's all just a front. It's a game that he's playing. He reveals the genuine Bruce Wayne only to a very few people he knows he can trust."
While the circumstances that motivate Bruce Wayne to become Batman are extreme, everyone can relate to the pain of loss, outrage at injustice, and the need for an outlet through which to vent anger and turn negative emotions into positive actions. It's the fact that it's possible to be him - if you have the strength, stamina and selflessness to actually become him - that makes Batman so compelling and so enduring.
"He's unpredictable, his actions may be questionable, his motivations less than pure. Yet we know he is ultimately a force for good," Bale says. "This complexity makes Batman the coolest of superheroes."
THE WORLD OF BRUCE WAYNE
In casting Batman Begins, as with all other aspects of the production, director Christopher Nolan strived to create an epic feel that underscores the film's realism. "We looked back to the incredible cast of Richard Donner's 1978 film Superman," Nolan says. "He had Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty and so many other great actors in supporting roles. We cast our film in a similar fashion, with an ensemble of wonderful actors who bring a depth and complexity to the characters that make Bruce Wayne's world all the more real."
The most important figure in Bruce Wayne's life is Alfred Pennyworth, butler to the Wayne family, who assumes guardianship of young Bruce following the deaths of his parents. Despite Bruce's rage and self-destructive behavior, Alfred remains loyal to him, helping Bruce facilitate his quest to acquire and develop the tools he needs to transform himself into a living weapon against injustice.
"Alfred is a man given the responsibility to raise the most incredible child of a generation," says Nolan. "He helps him do incredibly important and frightening things that no parent would want their child to do."
"We needed an actor who could bring humor and heart to the role, as well as a measure of gravitas," producer Emma Thomas says. "There was only one man for the job."
"Alfred is the one constant in Bruce's life, the one person who never gives up on him," says renowned actor Michael Caine, who earned Academy Awards for his performances in The Cider House Rules and Hannah and Her Sisters, and another Oscar nomination in 2003 for his eponymous role in The Quiet American. "He's also Bruce Wayne's moral compass. Batman walks a very fine line between himself and the criminals he pursues, so he must maintain a higher moral code. Alfred isn't afraid to give his opinion, especially when he thinks Bruce may have taken things too far. You cannot make it personal; otherwise you're just a vigilante."
"I find their relationship very funny, as well as touching," Bale says. "They have such trust in each other; they have the ability of people who are close to argue and be painfully honest, knowing that they are still going be there for each other."
"Christian is wonderful and he makes a great Batman," says Caine, who was drawn to the project by Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer's screenplay and its emphasis on the humanity of the characters. "I liked their vision of showing Batman coming from a natural man. If he's bulletproof, where's the suspense? If you have a real man, you have jeopardy and you have suspense. That's what interested me."
When Bruce Wayne vanishes from Gotham, searching the world for the means to become a force powerful enough to rid Gotham City of crime, he immerses himself in the criminal underworld, a risky and brutal experiment that toughens him - but ultimately lands him in a Bhutanese jail.
It is there, at the end of the world, that Bruce finds a path to his destiny. He is approached by a man called Ducard, an ally and envoy of Ra's al Ghul, the enigmatic leader of a powerful vigilante group called The League of Shadows.
"Ra's al Ghul is a very mysterious, complicated character," says Ken Watanabe, nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 for his performance in the acclaimed drama The Last Samurai. "He's very calm and quiet, but he's also extremely powerful. I think of him as a silent volcano."
Like Ra's al Ghul, Ducard is committed to an ideal of natural justice, in which "justice is balance" - and The League of Shadows will go to any means to strike what it sees as a necessary balance. The harsh disciplinarian becomes Bruce's mentor, training him in an array of physical and mental disciplines, as well as the importance of theatricality and deception.
"Ducard has committed himself to an ideal of how he would love to see the world and he sees Bruce Wayne as someone who could make these ambitions tangible and real," says Liam Neeson, the renowned actor who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in the Steven Spielberg Holocaust drama Schindler's List and starred in such films as Kingdom of Heaven, Kinsey and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. "Ducard reminds me of Ignatius of Loyola in the 15th Century, who formed the Jesuit Society. Ignatius was a very famous playboy and drunkard before he became an incredibly disciplined man and a saint. He's someone I have a lot of admiration for - an extraordinary disciplinarian on a quest to find a true, natural justice in this world that will help mankind."
Key in Bruce's training is Ducard's emphasis on the mastery of one's anger and mental focus by confronting one's greatest fear. "Ducard understands Bruce Wayne's pain because he lost someone in his life who was very dear to him, which led to his quest for a deeper sense of his destiny and spirituality," Neeson says. "He believes you have to go into yourself to discover your dark side as well as your good side, and marry those forces in order to be able to achieve your full potential as a human being."
"Liam brings an incredible authority to the role," producer Charles Roven says. "He's able to invest the character with this extraordinary degree of trust, and you buy into his way of looking at the world. When Ducard tells Bruce he must have 'the will to act,' you know he's a man who has the will to act. Ducard isn't telling Bruce to do anything that he wouldn't do himself."
Like Caine, Neeson was drawn to the script's realistic character and story dynamics, as well as the opportunity to work with Nolan. "He's quite laconic, which belies years of hard work and dedication - kinda like Ducard!" he says.
While Ducard and Ra's al Ghul represent a pathway to Bruce Wayne's future, his touchstone to the past is Rachel Dawes, the daughter of the Wayne family housekeeper and his closest childhood friend. During Bruce's travels abroad, Rachel becomes an Assistant District Attorney in Gotham to fight the crime that is devouring the city, an increasingly difficult and frustrating endeavor due to the rampant corruption that is corroding Gotham's police force, judiciary and political infrastructure.
Though they drifted apart in the wake of his parents' deaths, in a moment of crisis when Bruce's obsession with avenging their murders threatens to destroy his life, it is Rachel who helps him make a crucial distinction between vengeance and justice. "Justice is about harmony," she cautions. "Vengeance is about making yourself feel better."
"Rachel reminds Bruce of his father's legacy, his duty to carry on his family's philanthropic tradition, and she encourages him to do something meaningful with his life," Thomas says.
"One of the things about Rachel that I find so appealing is that she's so idealistic," says Katie Holmes, the popular actress who first came to national attention as a star of the hit television drama Dawson's Creek and has since established a successful career in feature films including Wonder Boys, Phone Booth, Pieces of April and The Ice Storm. "At one point she says to Bruce, 'It's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.' That line defines who she is. She's the type of person that wants to make the world a better place. She wants to help people, she wants to save her city and she doesn't have time for excuses." Read more about the cast and the characters
THE BATMOBILE THE BATSUIT & GADGETRY FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
FILMING BATMAN BEGINS
THE ART OF ADAPTATION
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