Wise people say the worst pain for a parent is burying a child. Hard to disagree with that statement, but the opposite is no picnic either. A child losing a parent at an early age changes their psychology and emotional makeup. Bruce Wayne is perhaps pop culture’s best—and worst—example of the trauma of burying a mom or dad. Matt Reeves’ The Batman dives headfirst into that angle of Bruce’s world. Sure, it’s about Riddler terrorizing Gotham City’s corrupt hierarchy, but it also explores the psyche of a young man living in his own personal hell. While filled with scary movie imagery and homages to the genre, The Batman soars when it examines the horror of living with post-traumatic disorder (PTSD).
Calling Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne “emo” is reductive and misses the point. His Bruce spends most of his time as Batman, lives in the Batcave, and flinches at the mere sight of his parents because he’s in pain. Exploring grief and trauma is a recent trend in horror. And after the last several years on this blue ball, who can blame them? What puts The Batman on the same level as Hereditary, Halloween (2018), or Doctor Sleep is its commitment to allowing the main character to wallow. Bruce loses his parents when he’s in elementary school. Making matters worse, he partially blames himself for their deaths. Why would he want to wake up every day and be “the prince of the city”? At that point, being Bruce Wayne at all is hard enough, let alone being that specific version. We learn his parents died 20 years before the film’s events, but Bruce relives that moment he’s on patrol every night. His pain makes an early moment in the story one of its most poignant and touching.
On their way out of a crime scene, lieutenant Gordon tells Batman the mayor’s son found his father’s dead body wrapped in tape. Batman comes to a complete stop when he sees the boy in his room as cops pepper him with questions. This is a man who gets it. He knows what the kid is feeling and what the kid will feel. They’re a part of the same awful club, only there are no cool jackets or membership dues. Only a lot of anger and even more tears as a barrier to entry. At that moment, at least one other person in the room relates to that kid’s personal scary movie. Horror movies usually show us groups of people dealing with their own big bad wolves outside the door. Yes, there’s strength in numbers, but there are also perks to having a support system. However, The Batman illustrates how lonely it is recovering from the kind of trauma Bruce and the mayor’s son suffered.
Horror often deals with external forces dragging us into a ring of hades or creating a monster to manifest our internal anxieties. But what if we are the monster? Those on this side of the screen don’t have Michael Myers or a Babadook as approximations. For us, we are our worst enemies while grieving. And so is Bruce. The Batman tells us Bruce is a creature of the night nonstop because it channels his rage. “I’m vengeance” isn’t just a cute quote for t-shirts; they’re the words of a young man working through many issues. Carrying a burden that heavy for so long extracts a heavy psychological toll. One not measured in dollars or cents but drops of humanity. That’s why Bruce lashes out at Alfred at certain moments in the movie or seemingly cares very little for Selina Kyle’s situation or well-being. He scoffs at Alfred’s “parental” instincts and sees Selina as nothing more than a means to an end because tearing down his emotional walls makes him vulnerable to hurt.
It’s hard opening to any type of emotional pain after losing anyone, let alone parents. At that point, there are two horrors from which to choose: isolation or heartbreak. Neither is particularly pleasant, but at least the former is within one’s control. That compulsion Bruce has in The Batman to detect, investigate, and see all the angles? That’s not just the sign of someone aiming for the “World’s Greatest Detective” crown. Those are hallmarks of someone living through trauma and doing everything in their power to control every situation. Which, to most people, sounds crazy. How can anyone possibly have a handle on everything life throws their way? After suffering such a horrific loss, that type of logic bears no meaning. The goal is to ensure life never catches you off guard like that ever again.
Imagine waking up every day hoping the worst thing to ever happen to you is a nightmare. Imagine waking up every day realizing your dreams are often better than your reality. Eat your heart out, Alanis Morissette. Bruce never gives himself the time, or the permission, to get out of that space. He owns property in a state of mind where every reminder hurts, every memory cuts, and no one helps because they’re not allowed to even try.
As Batman, Bruce exposes that very raw nerve every night and channels it into rage or dogmatic dedication to his chosen crimefighting craft. But by the final credits, he realizes one horror begets another. Batman cannot make an actual difference in Gotham until Bruce Wayne allows his scars to heal. Or, at the least, applies ointment and a few bandages to help the healing process. Unlike most horror movies, The Batman states the protagonist cannot continue the cycle of violence while providing him an actual moment of clarity. Major trauma takes time to process, and while no one with two eyes and a brain can say Bruce is truly healed at the end of the movie, he is better. That’s a victory because the man who spends his nights fighting monsters has one less internal one to battle.