Tag Archives: The Batman

The Batman

A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD

In the early 1940’s while I was jerking sodas in Canar’s, a skid row drugstore in Omaha, one of  my ancillary responsibilities was serving as guardian of the rack displaying comic books. I was to prevent the teenagers who frequented the store from reading the magazines on display  without purchasing them. One of the perks of that role was my opportunity to do just that. It was there that I became  acquainted with The Phantom, the ghost who lives, Batman, the grim avenger of Gotham City,  and Superman, the extraterrestrial protector of truth, justice and the American way.

The Phantom was not actually immortal; he was a role secretly passed on from father to son.  He had no super-powers beyond his wit and strength and his mythic immortality. Superman, faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, was, as claimed,  super-human. But Batman, the socialite with a hidden life, brooding gargoyle-like over the evils besetting Gotham City, Batman had the noire appeal of a frightening creature of the night.

The Phantom, so far as I know, never made it into the cinematic world. Superman did, but his  dalliance with Lois Lane got frankly boring. But Batman continued to fascinate me; I have seen  the half dozen or so films that constitute his oeuvre. The Batman, a 2022 Warner Brothers film,  was not something I wanted to miss.

Over-all, the oeuvre is not perfectly internally consistent, but its key elements are Bruce Wayne,  the son of a wealthy billionaire benefactor of Gotham City running for mayor, who with his wife, Bruce’s mother, is murdered as their young son looks on in terrified horror. Bruce is, of course,  traumatized by this event and by a later experience of being trapped underground in the caves  below the family manor where he is buffeted by Chiropterae, bats. As an adult, Bruce becomes  aware of a criminal element in the city, and begins a secret life of seeking out evil doers there.

Kohutian self-psychology would expect that the trauma of an early loss of parental protectors  might produce an on-going narcissistic flaw, a sense of insecurity. That may explain Batman’s  reliance on prosthetics. Though he seems adept at martial arts, he also wears armor, drives  super cars, and makes heavy use of high-tech weapons.

The new film is dark in every sense. At one point, we hear Batman say, “I am the dark.” As this  film unfolds, Batman becomes very much a detective searching for clues to the identity of a  serial killer and to the Holmesian Moriarty at the center of the web of crime in Gotham City. He  learns that his father may have, in the course of his reform efforts for the city, made a Faustian  bargain, dealing another blow to the son’s sense of certainty.

This tale describes an early stage in Batman’s career. There is a plan for at least two sequels,  and one might hope for a reappearance of one of Batman’s most redoubtable enemies, the  Joker.

The film ends with Gotham City’s being catastrophically flooded, barely surviving, and Batman’s  coming to see that compassion trumps vengeance, an outcome that seems a bit forced. And at   he end of the three hours of screen time, I was both glad to see the curtains closing—and  ready for the first sequel

The Power of the Dog

A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD

The Power of the Dog is a remarkable movie, dense, complex, and twisted, like the rawhide lariat one of its protagonists works to prepare as a gift. Filmed in New Zealand, the story is set in 1920’s Montana. The cinematography captures the sweep of plains, the towering mountains,  the thunder of cattle herds, and the ardors of a hard scrabble herding existence. The beauty of the equine creatures who play supporting roles is impressive.

There appear to be four main protagonists: brothers George and Phil Burbank, who run the ranch, widowed Rose Gordon, who works at an inn where the herders stop during a drive, and Rose’s teenage son Peter.  However, there is a fifth character, one who has died before the movie opens, Bronco Henry. He had served as a mentor to Phil, who treasures Bronco’s saddle as a memento. Another memento is a kerchief of Bronco’s that Phil uses while pleasuring himself.

The action opens with the herders flocking into Rose’s establishment, tired and hungry for food  and thirsty for entertainment. Rose scurries to get the drovers fed at tables adorned by paper flowers that her young son, Peter, has fashioned. Lank and grimy, Phil makes ongoing jibes at his “fatso” brother and at George’s preference for mufti—a fedora rather than a sombrero and eschewing chaps. Once at the inn, Phil jeers at Peter for his prissiness. When Phil sees that George is attracted to Rose, he sneers at her as a gold digger looking for an easy touch.

Despite Phil’s obdurate disapproval, George and Rosa marry. A crisis erupts in the new household of four when George invites the brothers’ parents for a celebratory meal. George, eager for social status, also invites the governor and his wife.  To entertain and impress his guests, he has purchased a fancy piano, on which Rose—having played piano at the local movie house—is to perform. Rose is terrified by the challenge. Phil tortures her by mocking her stumbling piano practice with a virtuoso rendition of her practice piece on his guitar. George, blind to the tension Rose is feeling, feels constrained to warn Phil that he should bathe before the dinner and dress appropriately.

When the guests gather around the piano, Rose’s stage fright overcomes her, requiring red- faced apologies. Phil shows up late, begrimed and work worn, declining to shake hands or socialize “because I stink.”

Although scruffy, dirty Phil had earned an honors degree at Yale, but he has transformed himself into someone who parades his dirtiness and mocks social convention and its niceties.  The ideal that shaped that transformation was Phil’s mentor, Bronco. This tension between social convention and a rejection of it is a central theme.

Phil decides to teach Peter to ride and lures him into explorations of the mountains. The counterpoint to this development is Rose’s slide into alcoholism fueled by her feelings of social inadequacy and fear of losing her son to Phil.

During one of their mountain excursions Phil tells Peter that Bronco saved his life in a bitter winter storm by warming his body with his own. Though Phil avoids the question of whether they were naked together, Peter has discovered a trove of male nude photos belonging to Bronco. Peter responds to Phil’s story by confession that as a young boy, he had discovered his father having hanged himself, and had to cut the body down.

Their mentoring relationship feeds Phil’s decision to fashion a braided rawhide lariat for Peter, who supplies him with rawhide for the project. Unknown to Phil, the hide came from a steer that had died of anthrax. Phil dies of the infection, suffering, the doctor tells the family, dreadful pain and convulsions at the end. We see Phil’s face being carefully shaved and his body dressed in a conventional suit for his burial, finally conforming to social convention.

Peter does not attend the funeral. He has acquired the lethal lariat. Carefully avoiding its touch, he hides it under his bed. He reads, aloud, Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” The film closes with Peter looking through his window, watching his mother and stepfather embrace, leaving the audience to ponder his motivations and the meaning of his recitation.