THE FATHER/SON DYNAMIC
IN BATMAN BEGINS
The father/son theme is strong in Batman Begins. There are five examples of it in this film which I will analyze, but first, what is missing:
THE MISSING MOTHER
In order to focus on the father theme, director Christopher Nolan chose to completely ignore the mother dynamic. Did Bruce even have a mother? This movie makes you wonder.
Martha Wayne’s name is never even spoken in this film. She is merely one of the ‘your parents’, the ‘wife’ of Thomas Wayne, or Bruce’s ‘mother’. She makes comforting noises when Thomas brings an injured Bruce in from his fall down the well, and has exactly one line of dialogue in the movie, asking her son, “What’s wrong, Bruce?” as they exit the opera house, minutes before she and Thomas are killed, and screams when her husband is shot. She is instantly killed, unlike Thomas, who stays alive long enough to tell his son, “Bruce. Don’t be afraid.”
Later on in the film we hear that “Your father would be ashamed of you”, that the Manor is “my father’s house” and Bruce shouldn’t dishonor Thomas Wayne’s name. No mention of Martha in any of this! I found it sad and not a little infuriating that Martha was so ignored.
The father figures were numerous, however: Thomas Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon and Henri Ducard. I’ll analyze each one in order of appearance in Bruce’s life:
Bruce’s biological father is an enormous presence in his life even after his death. Through Bruce’s memories, we see that his father’s calm, caring presence was paramount in young Bruce’s life. Thomas understood his fear of bats, and unfortunately that understanding led to the Waynes leaving the opera house early.
Thomas’ legacy of philanthropy and good works must be continued through Bruce, who finally takes control of the company by the film’s end. His father struggled to save Gotham in the midst of an economic depression, Thomas nearly bankrupting the company to do it. The monorail that Wayne Enterprises built would be a key element of the League of Shadows’ plot to destroy the city, and that probably added more motivation for Bruce to stop the scheme.
Even without his parents’ murders, Bruce would be hard-pressed not to try and live up to the Wayne legacy. The family had lived in the Manor outside the city for generations, one of the stops on the Underground Railroad during the 1850s.
He tried to save Gotham from the League of Shadows, to live up to the Wayne legacy, and at first it seemed as if he failed to do anything but get the Manor burned down. His wandering aimlessly for years before that, fueled by grief and rage, was a direct result of his parents’ murders.
Nearly every motivation Bruce has for becoming Batman and trying to bring Gotham back is because of his father and the Wayne heritage he carries.
Alfred is the second most important father figure in Bruce’s life. He was a strong presence before Thomas died, and was even a stronger one after the murder. He cared for a grief-stricken Bruce while in mourning himself, and then raised the child into adulthood.
He is Bruce’s closest confidante, Lucius a close second. Rachel knows but is not on board with this Bat-thing. ;)
Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father, able to chastise him as he does when Bruce threatens to tear the Manor down when he comes home from Princeton, and not letting Bruce get too full of himself as Batman or take the Wayne legacy too lightly. When Bruce threatens to send his birthday party guests home, uncaring of his ‘good name’, Alfred sharply contradicts him and says it isn’t just his name, but his father’s name as well.
When Bruce is trapped under a heavy beam when the Manor is burning, it’s Alfred who admonishes him, “What’s the use of doing all those push-ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?” and Bruce is egged on to get the strength to throw the beam off. I always chuckle at that despite the seriousness of the situation.
Alfred is caretaker of the Wayne legacy. You can see the pain in his eyes when the Manor is burning, but the most important part of the legacy to care for is Bruce, and he helps him immeasurably in his crusade and as emotional support. It’s Alfred who cleverly suggests the ‘Brucie’ persona to protect Bruce’s secret identity, and is in on the development of Batman from the beginning.
Earlier in the film, when Carmine Falcone threatens Alfred, you can see how frightened Bruce looks.
Alfred continues his role in The Dark Knight, burning the letter that Rachel left Bruce to spare his child the pain of knowing that Rachel had chosen Harvey after all.
Alfred is Bruce’s anchor, and he would be devastated to lose him.
Bruce may not have been well-acquainted with Lucius as a child, but it’s likely he saw him at some point, so I’ll put Lucius in here.
Of course, Lucius becomes a valuable ally and friend in Bruce’s later life, but he also has been a Wayne friend and employee for years. He knew Bruce’s parents and helped Thomas build the monorail, and was involved with many projects that Bruce ultimately uses as Batman.
One of the things I didn’t like about this film was the neglect of Bruce’s intellectual knowledge and training. As Batman, he should have known what Lucius was talking about when it came to Scarecrow’s toxin antidote, and he should be the one designing or consulting with Lucius about the Bat-inventions. The film did an excellent job showing us his physical training, but neglected his pursuit of intellectual knowledge. Lucius should be the invaluable contact within Wayne Enterprises, able to build and deliver the Bat-inventions.
In the movie, Lucius does just that. He’s also smart enough to figure out what Bruce is doing with his inventions, and pretends he doesn’t in a game that suits the both of them.
Lucius makes an excellent CEO as we see in The Dark Knight. He is that rarity among engineers: able to read people well, which is vital for a CEO.
He is Bruce’s father figure in providing him with his ‘toys’, and helping him with important things like the toxin antidote.
I especially like Alfred calling in Lucius when Bruce gets worse after being dosed with the fear toxin. In The Batman cartoon, “The Joining” episode shows a close relationship between the two, and Lucius helped Alfred raise Bruce. Alfred had a tremendous responsibility, and he needed a friend and ally!
Wait, you say. Jim Gordon was more of a sidekick-type in this first film. How can he be a father figure?
Well, when Bruce first meets him, he’s just been traumatized by the murder of his parents. He may not remember Jim’s name or face, but he probably remembers the soothing voice that kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay” as little Bruce trembled in shock at the police station before Alfred arrived. Jim Gordon was extremely nurturing and caring, even taking Thomas’ coat and putting it around the little boy’s shoulders. Bruce was probably imprinted with the memory of that caring, and it could have subconsciously influenced his decision later to join forces with ‘honest cop’ Gordon.
Jim was an ally and confidante, though Batman said "I don't have the luxury of friends”, but we know that a friendship has already begun and will develop. We see Jim with more of an authority position The Dark Knight, and ultimately, earns the authority with which we are most familiar: Police Commissioner . That will allow him to eventually be a fatherly authority figure later down the road, the caretaker to Gotham in partnership with Batman.
When Bruce was wandering about aimlessly in rage and truly lost, Henri Ducard entered his life. Ducard offered Bruce a way to channel his rage and obtain the justice he was seeking. Bruce joins the League of Shadows with Ducard as his mentor, and he undergoes rigorous mental and physical training, until Ducard declares him to be ready and to be initiated by Ra’s Al-Ghul, head of the League of Shadows. When Bruce discovers the League’s plan to destroy Gotham, he turns on the League and burns down Ra’s house, saving Ducard in the process.
Later we learn that Ducard is really Ra’s, and comes to Gotham with his grand plan to destroy the city. He is disappointed that Bruce, his finest student, has chosen not to stand beside him but to oppose him in ‘cleansing’ the city to restore order.
Ultimately, Bruce defeats Ra’s and the older man is killed (though not by Bruce’s hand) and Bruce saves Gotham.
Ducard is a major influence in Bruce’s life. He helps him to understand his rage and gives him the training necessary to ultimately become the Batman. Part of his fury toward Bruce when he meets him again in the Manor is his bitter disappointment that Bruce did not choose to stay by his side.
And there are definitely undercurrents of Ducard's jealousy of Thomas Wayne: we see him deliberately tear down Thomas in the duel on the ice, telling Bruce that his parents’ death wasn’t his fault, but Thomas’ for failing to act; Thomas and Martha are the ones who stood in the League’s way when they originally tried to destroy Gotham through economics; and finally, Ducard takes a confidence of Bruce’s and taunts him with it.
When Ducard and Bruce fight on the train, Ducard mockingly paraphrases Thomas’ final words to Bruce about not being afraid (“Don’t be afraid, Bruce.”), the contempt obvious in his voice. He earlier chose to burn down the Manor, ostensibly as revenge for his own home being burned by Bruce, but you can’t help but wonder if it was an attempt to destroy Thomas’ hold over Bruce by destroying the family’s ancestral home. After all, Bruce chose the Wayne legacy of protecting and caring for Gotham over standing by Ducard’s side.
Did Thomas and Ducard clash in person years before? They could have, if Ducard had visited Gotham while the League was implementing its plan of economic destruction. That could add to the hostility that Ducard feels for Thomas Wayne as he trains his son with the idea that Bruce will stand by his side to fight injustice, League-style.
No Bat Is An Island
Despite the fanboy proclivity for declaring the Batman to be a loner (amusing as he has the biggest ‘family’ of all the major heroes in comicsverse), no man is an island. Bruce has enjoyed the luxury of five father figures of importance in his life.
Thomas gave him the Wayne legacy and the means to pursue justice, and was also the catalyst to creating the Batman when he and Martha were killed.
Alfred is the surrogate father, nurturing and symbolic of the Wayne legacy. He was the one Bruce could count on to return to after wandering the Earth for seven years, and supports Bruce in his crusade, but is not afraid to speak his mind and give Bruce a piece of his mind when necessary.
Lucius plays the same role, caretaking the ‘toys’ for years at Wayne Enterprises even when he was ‘in disgrace’. As CEO, he will be invaluable to continue helping Bruce in his crusade, and giving him advice. In The Dark Knight, we see that he is not afraid of speaking his mind to his young boss, either.
Jim nurtured and cared for Bruce in the most shocking time of his life, and later became a partner in the war against crime and saving Gotham. He continues that role in The Dark Knight, taking on more responsibility and continuing as an invaluable ally for the Batman.
Henri Ducard gives Bruce the means to become the Batman, giving him purpose when he was lost and training to start his own crusade. In the end, they were enemies, but Ducard’s influence will live on every time the Batman fights or swings over the rooftops.
All five men’s influences live on in Bruce, who needs their support and knowledge as he continues his career as the Batman.