The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 24: “Batman” (1989)

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman movie, The Arkham Sessions takes a break from Batman: The Animated Series to pay special tribute to the legendary film that influenced the style, music, and dark themes of the animated show. Consistent with her measured, analytical approach to the characters and stories of BTAS, Dr. Andrea Letamendi offers  psychological conceptualizations of Burton’s Batman and Joker with the help of co-host Brian Ward. Is the film, as Burton once described, a story about the intertwined paths of Batman and the Joker, culminating in a “fight between two disturbed people?”  Furthermore, how does Keaton’s Bruce Wayne compare to Conroy’s version when it comes to the maintenance–or fusion– of multiple identities? How is Nicholson’s Joker more destructive and dangerous than Hamill’s?  Listen to this special edition of the The Arkham Sessions and reminisce about Batman ’89 in a whole new way.

Episode highlights:

It doesn’t have to be a perfect world

Vicki Vale, one of very few people that has grown close to Bruce, learns about his lifestyle as Batman (thanks for breaking the confidentiality code, Alfred).  By telling Bruce it “doesn’t have to be a perfect world,” she’s essentially saying not every problem can be fixed and not every person who does something bad will be brought to justice. She’s also saying that Bruce is actually hurting himself more by trying to create a “perfect world” that simply can’t exist in Gotham City.

But what Bruce feels he “just has to do” as Batman serves as a distraction and a means to avoiding primary feelings that are difficult for him to process if he were to abstain from the cowl and the cape: sadness, failure, fear, disappointment, fear, uncertainty, and lack of control. It’s Vicki who’s astute enough to point out the problem with Bruce’s rigid preservation of his mission (thanks again, Alfred). So are we gonna try to love each other or what?

The fully functioning homicidal artist

Burton’s Joker is a formula for disaster: We’re dealing with someone who has the criminality and deceitfulness of antisocial personality disorder along with the irrationality of delusions of grandeur. With a history of cruelness and lawlessness dating back to his teenage years and his cataclysmic accident causing brain injury and disfigurement, Burton’s Joker is perhaps the most realistic version to date.

The difference between pain and suffering

At the end of the film, has justice been served? Has Bruce gained emotional closure after confronting and defeating the Joker?  While the villain’s death can be seen as cinematically satisfying, it may not impact Bruce significantly from a psychological perspective. Why? “Batman’s pain does not come from the murder of his parents, but the years following the traumatic incident during which he’s unable to overcome the loss. There is a difference between pain and suffering: Suffering is pain plus frantic efforts to push the pain away. It’s the feelings about the injustice of our suffering. It’s the pain of having pain.”  Sometimes the only way to reduce suffering is to accept and process the painful emotions that resulted from the loss or trauma; so while ending the Joker’s life may have extinguished the cause of his initial pain, it doesn’t necessarily end Bruce’s suffering.

Have psychology related questions about Batman? Write to us via twitter @ArkhamSessions or on Facebook.

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2 Responses to “The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 24: “Batman” (1989)”

  1. […] from the classic BTAS episodes to analyze other Batman content (Tim Burton’s 1989 film, Batman, and the recent DC Animated Movie, Assault on Arkham). To celebrate the 1-year anniversary of our […]

  2. Julia Arsenault says:

    I love Tim’s take on Batman!

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