The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] “The Batman”: from an avenger to a healer

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 24, 2024 - 05:30

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The 2022 American film, “The Batman,” is different from previous versions of the Batman series. Throughout the film, the screen is dark and gloomy, and the story revolves around vengeance. Bruce Wayne, who is the Batman, is preoccupied by a personal vendetta for the murder of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, by a street mugger when he was a child. That is why he has been fighting crimes in Gotham City as “Batman.” It is only natural that his nickname is “Vengeance.”

Selina, who is “Cat Woman,” also seeks revenge for the murder of her roommate Annika, killed by the Gotham City crime boss, Carmine Falcone. Selina infiltrates Falcone’s place to kill him in the name of justice. Although she is interrupted by Batman, Selina is burning with revenge throughout the movie.

The Riddler, who is a wicked serial killer and a mortal enemy of Batman, is also full of grudges and resentments. The Riddler was raised in an orphanage funded by Thomas Wayne who had pledged huge funds as an election promise when he was running for mayor. Unfortunately, Thomas is killed just before the election and thus he could not keep his promises. Still, however, the Riddler becomes furious because the press only cares about the rich orphan, Bruce Wayne, who inherits billions of dollars, neglecting poor orphans living miserably in orphanages. For this reason, the Riddler swears vengeance.

The Riddler carries out his plan of revenge by targeting corrupt politicians, such as Gotham City Mayor, Commissioner, and District Attorney, all of whom were on the payroll of Carmine Falcone. Out of blind fury, the Riddler even kills many innocent citizens of Gotham City by breaking the dams with explosions, causing flooding. Yet, he does not have the pangs of a guilty conscience because he believes that his revenge is justice itself.

Following a clue from the Riddler, Bruce learns that his father, too, received help from the crime boss Falcone, in order to silence a reporter who was going to expose Martha’s family history of mental illness. The corrupt journalist had received money from Thomas’s election competitor. In order to protect his wife’s reputation, Thomas asked Falcone to stop the reporter, not knowing that Falcone was going to kill him.

Alfred Pennyworth, loyal caretaker of the Wayne family, then informs Bruce that when Thomas found out what Falcone did, he was distraught. Alfred says, “He told Falcone that he was going to the police, that he would confess everything. And that night, your father and mother were killed.” When Bruce asks if it was Falcone who killed his parents, Alfred answers, “I wish I knew for sure. Or maybe it was some random thug on the street who needed money, got scared, and pulled the trigger too fast.”

Since nothing is for certain, Bruce realizes that he cannot seek revenge. Besides, as the maxim says, “Vengeance cannot undo what has been done.” Bruce decides that from now on, he will dedicate his life to heal the wounds of the people of Gotham City instead of seeking vengeance on those who inflict pain on him.

At the end of the movie, therefore, Batman narrates: “Vengeance won’t change the past, mine or anyone else’s. I have to become more. People need hope to know someone is out there for them.” Batman’s soliloquy continues, “The city is angry, scarred, like me. Our scars can destroy us, even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we survived them, they can transform us. They can give us the power to endure, and the strength to fight.”

Our past-oriented, vengeful leftwing politicians should learn from Batman’s realization. They should know that people want someone who can heal their wounds, not a nemesis full of grudges and resentments like the Riddler. Unfortunately, however, our former student political activists who had fought dictatorship in the 1980s have turned into blind revenge-seekers like the Riddler. Consequently, their scars are destroying them even after their physical wounds have healed, as Batman warns in the film.

We should put an end to vengeance forever. We should become healers of the wounds of the people, not vengeful men of hatred. We no longer live in the 1980s when radical student leaders were rancorous, dreaming of a socialist revolution, chanting anti-American slogans and calling for the autonomy of the country, inspired by North Korean leader Kim Il-sung’s Juche Ideology. At that time, they preached a people’s democracy, a people’s literature, and a people’s revolution, which they thought were necessary to fight the rightwing dictatorship.

Those days are long gone by now. Instead of vengeance-obsessed politicians, we now need ideology-free, globally minded political leaders who can heal our wounds, bring reconciliation, and lead our country toward the future rather than the past. Political ideologies that are fixated on vengeance for past grudges are no longer valid and thus should be extinct by now.

“The Batman” reminds us that what we need is healers, not revengers.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.