Thoughts on Batman: The Long Halloween
Recently I had the chance to watch both parts of Batman: The Long Halloween animated movies. Many people unfamiliar with the comic which the movies are adapting, like myself, might have been struck by the lack of action, compared to other Batman stories, of course. This is because The Long Halloween is a true detective tale, showing our hero at the start of his journey. A period where punching was needed, like it always is, but no small amount of thinking and solving was required as well. Bruce Wayne is shown as a fresh-faced crime-fighter who has already put most of his rouge's gallery behind bars. Even so, crime is ever-abundant in Gotham, and his vigilante services are still needed. Grounding the story to a more "street" level shows us a Batman who sometimes struggles to make the right connections given the facts. In part one of the movie, a lot of side characters make blatant comments about his lack of top-notch detective skills. While that might be a bit on the nose for veteran fans of Batman, it is perfectly in tune with the adaptation's goal, namely to show us the struggles of a normal person to become the symbol of both hope and horror. To the movies' credits, the mystery remains just that, and only when Bruce Wayne has put all the clues together do we get the reveal, which surprised me with its mature themes. I won't go into spoilers, but suffice it to say, some viewers might feel very strongly that the antagonist was justified in the actions taken.
And this is one of the things that stuck out for me the most while I watched the movies. Different ideas about what is justice are presented from Batman and Harvey Dent. This is, of course, an age-old dilemma in these stories, when a person inside the justice system, in the face of (no pun intended) Dent, tries to take down criminals the way it is supposed to be done. But that begs the question, is it really supposed to be done like that? In the context of a city like Gotham where every rule has been bent by outlaws, those same rules are used as proverbial handholds that allow them to climb above the law. If such a place existed, would it then not be prudent for a man like Bruce Wayne to fight fire with fire? Vaulting over the bounds of the justice system and forcibly cramming every criminal back into its confines where they could be tried, fairly.
And now we reach another dilemma. This time concerning the extra-judicial work of Batman. In a perfect world, the dark knight would put so much fear into the hearts of criminals that they could be handled by an uncorrupted justice system. However, neither the real world nor that of Batman is perfect, and his actions could lead to others taking matters into their own hands. Then someone like Harvey Dent would ask when does it end? How could anyone feasibly account for people going beyond the law and taking matters into their own hands?
Ideological clashes like these are what set this Batman adaptation apart from the rest, in my opinion. A character like Harvey Dent is positioned so well against the belief system of Bruce Wayne that Dent's plotline naturally overtakes that of Batman near the end. Pop culture savvy readers know what I'm talking about, and for those that don't, jump to the last paragraph.
The journey that takes Harvey Dent from a man trying to enact righteousness through the justice system's means to a semi-chaotic villain stole the show for me. At the onset of events, he's a driven man who wants to employ the tools at his disposal to the benefit of his fellow Gothamites. Through his interaction with Batman, we see he isn't a person who would compromise. Things will be done according to the law or not at all. Hence, he needs Batman to corral outlaws back into the reach of the judicial system. Working in tandem, one in shadow, another in light, as was the case in the Christopher Nolan movie as well, they would clean up Gotham. But as the tragic story goes, Dent doesn't manage to sweep the filth of the city, and in his efforts to do good, is swallowed by the abyss he skirts on a daily basis. Perceiving himself a failure, he plummets to the base level of the criminals he fought to put away. In order for his psyche to remain whole, relatively speaking, of course, his worldview changes and aligns with that of Batman. The system he championed is fraught with holes, and there is no fixing it. Drastic measures are needed. While his belief system is similar to Batman's, Two-Face is not above using lethal force. Fate, the universe, or whatever force you care to name, seems to have put Harvey Dent through the wringer. He is no longer the man he was, both visually and ideologically. He now finds himself in situations in which he is judge and executioner, a force of nature that decides the outcome of those that have sinned. And since he has been put in this position, he employs the only fair judgment that in his experience is impartial - chance. His iconic coin twists in the air, and when it falls, the sentence is absolute, but Dent's transformation is not all-encompassing. The coin he uses is given to him by Batman, who in turn, earlier in the movie, received it from a famous Gotham criminal. Both sides of the coin are the same, making it a symbol of unfairness and the corruption of rules. Even after his transformation, Dent does not abide by such blatant trampling of ideals. His inhibitions against extreme violence in the name of justice might be gone, but his need for fairness is still at the core of his character. His solution is simple, a rough X-mark on one side of the coin. This physical representation of his change shows that even though he has accepted his role as the sole adjudicator of what is right and wrong, if you are on the other side of the coin, you still have a chance to be redeemed by the powers that be. This is not to say that he does not tamper with his own rules or change them at a whim, but the core principle of using luck as the only unbiased thing to determine any given outcome is always there. Chance has put Two-Face in the path of others, and chance decides the ultimate consequence of that meeting.
END OF SPOILERS:
And so, a coin toss completes the chaotic plan of the universe. At the end of the two-part movie, Batman has solved the mystery and has put those deemed too violent for normal society away. The day is won, and a good man has lost himself to anguish and disillusionment. At the movie's end, we are left with the question if it was all worth it? While good has prevailed, the wise Jim Gordon reminds us that only time will tell if the cost was too high.