Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy
(PG-13, 140 min.)
"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates
Its fourth time around, subject material patently familiar with yet another actor behind the bat mask, we’d hardly think that this would be the one. But it is. (And I thought third time was a charm.)
With apologies to my Star Wars friends, Batman Begins does in one solid film what George Lucas has been trying to capture in his three prequels. It has just the right amount of Buddhist vision backed by bone-crunching martial arts, purposeful probing into character and motivation, as well as discipline and restraint over the special effects trap. Lucas’ latest, although certainly much better than his two earlier attempts, pales by comparison.
Christian Bales’s Bruce Wayne is a tortured man at film’s opening, a brutal and brutalized inmate of a particularly harsh prison somewhere in Asia. (In fact, the opening sequence was so contrary to typical Batman fare that my husband thought we had entered the wrong theatre.) A fellow prisoner goads Wayne into a fight, knowing he has backup of at least six others. After disposing of the thugs rather efficiently, our prospective hero is removed from the scene for protection - not his own, that of the other inmates.
Directed into a squalid room, he expects some punishment to ensue, but instead meets enigmatic Henri Ducard (Liam Neesom) who makes him an offer he can’t refuse. He picks the requisite rare blue flower Ducard describes and journeys with it to kind of temple perched aloft a barren mountain.
There Ducard and his followers fine-tune his martial arts training while offering up psychoanalysis on the side. We learn in vivid flashbacks the reason for Wayne’s bat phobia and how it indirectly led to the murder of his parents. Ducard, at this point, has all of Yoda’s wisdom and is good looking to boot. He tells Bruce that the guilt he sears himself with over his parents’ deaths is a poison and offers a constructive way to avenge their deaths. When he is offered a place in their League of the Shadows, however, Bruce refuses to perform their initiation requirement and flees after setting the temple on the hill ablaze. He pauses only long enough to rescue Ducard.
Having partially exorcised his demons, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham to save it from itself. He rappels into the well he fell into as a child to face the resident bats that still haunt his dreams. There in its murky depths, Wayne embraces his fears, becomes one with them, and the Caped Crusader is born. But the vision is a long way from the reality.
He gets some help along the way from Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), guardian of the discontinued scientific breakthroughs of Wayne Enterprises. Instead of taking the helm of the company he rightfully owns, Bruce assigns himself to this basement warehouse where he finds some intriguing possibilities for military breakthroughs that were not cost effective. The $300,000 body armor didn’t tempt the pennywise Pentagon, but the prototype fits Bruce like a glove. He also finds some interesting uses for mysterious memory cloth and a dune buggy on steroids.
Back home at the mansion, ever faithful Alfred, played with just the right touch of avuncular affection and righteous aloofness by Michael Caine, helps coordinate such little details as procuring the bat mask, hidden in an order of ten thousand so as not to attract attention. He also mothers Bruce through the mishaps of his first alter ego outings and suggests he get a social life, for appearance purposes, at least. On his first occasion to try on the self-indulgent playboy persona, Bruce meets now grown childhood best friend, Rachel Dawes, now a very earnest assistant D.A. She doesn’t know that he has been monitoring her every move and in his Batman role and has saved her life on at least one occasion. He tries to explain away the two very inebriated bimbos on his arm, but she is not impressed. And they both have other things weighing on their minds.
The city is run by thug Carmine Falcone, who has everyone from corrupt cops to judges in his pocket, not to mention the services of especially creepy psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane, who is the administrator of a local asylum that makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look like Club Med by comparison. The excellent but underused Gary Oldman plays the single trustworthy policemen in Gotham. He runs interference for Batman, who has to fight not only thugs intent on tainting the city’s water supply and pumping the lovely Rachel with a lethal dose of hallucinatory drugs, but an ineffective police department that wants him arrested. Surrounded by S.W.A.T. teams, it seems Batman is about to have his wings clipped for sure, but his “backup” arrives just in time to give us one of the best choreographed daredevil escapes in gothic cinema history.
Batman uses surprise, psychology, and a very useful set of pulleys to achieve his iconic status, separating himself from the other comic book heroes whose genesis stems from scientific aberrations vaulting them into superhuman status. Add to that the subordination of high tech gimmickry to the human soul and you have all that sets this summer blockbuster above its pretenders.
Batman makes Bruce is late to his own birthday party, a lavish affair at the Wayne mansion. A few trifles like rescuing Rachel Dawes from a tortured death, battling the skin crawling psychiatrist Jonathan Crane in the bowels of his asylum, and then escaping the net of the S.W.A.T team out to clip his batwings have delayed him.
With plenty of Champaign and delightful canapés, faithful servant and Caped Crusader confidante Alfred keeps the various hangers-on content as best he can until the tardy arrival. Your different drummer has located the perfect canapé to nibble before or after your Batman Begins cinema experience.
There is even a secret ingredient whose powers are known only to a select few. While most of us will have to content ourselves with a simple blue pansy as our edible flower embellishment, we can at least pretend that this is the rare bloom Bruce plucked across the world and then crushed to his bosom as he trekked to the lofty mountain temple.
You will be initiated to its true powers only after you see the film, so for now you’d better content yourself with our sweet domestic petal, the pansy, which is just an English way of saying the French word, ”pensee,” which means thought –something Bruce Wayne has been doing a lot of lately.
The pansy was also thought to be a love potion, so be careful with whom you sip your cocktail as you savor this detectable delicacy.
Flowery Canapés with Cream Cheese and Watercress
- 24 diagonally sliced baguette slices (1/2-inch)
- 1 (8 ounce) carton light cream cheese spread
- 1 1/2 tablespoons snipped fresh watercress
- 1 1/2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
- 1 1/2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
- Watercress sprigs
Combine cream cheese, basil, chives and watercress. Refrigerate, covered, several hours. Spread each baguette slice with about 2 teaspoons herbed cheese mixture; top with the edible flower or watercress sprig.
Recipe Source: Enchanted Oaks Recipes