Christopher Nolan’s rendition of the Batman universe in his movie, Batman Begins, is
not only packed with entertainment value, but upon closer inspection reveals great room for
interpretation using religious themes. In this context, the film promotes the belief that fear is a
person’s worst enemy and can be used as a weapon by the proponents of both good and evil to
achieve their means. This belief in turn is supported by the visual culture of Batman Begins.
Drawing on concepts about religious creative expression from Ken Derry’s “Indigenous
Traditions,” I will analyze the ways in which masks in the film function as devices for
externalizing and exploiting people’s fear, as well ...view middle of the document...
His father’s last words—“Don’t be afraid”—can be interpreted as a parent’s attempt at consoling
his child. On a deeper level however, these words can be taken as a morsel of wisdom that Mr.
Wayne saw fitting as the last piece of advice he could impart to his son, thereby reinforcing the
importance of conquering one’s fear and the belief of the movie that fear is a person’s worst
enemy. Furthermore, in addition to guns and other traditional armaments, Batman Begins
features a rather unconventional weapon: fear itself. While characters like Ra’s al Ghul and the
Scarecrow use fear by administering strong hallucinogenic medicine on an individual and city
wide level, Bruce creates a persona designed to inspire fear in the hearts of his enemies. The fact
that such terror is central to the plans these characters reinforces the belief promoted by the
movie that fear is used as a weapon by the proponents of both good and evil.
An important visual culture element of Batman Begins is the use of masks by both the
Scarecrow and Batman. The main purpose of these masks is simple: they are a means of
concealing the identity of the wearers. However, Derry’s view of focusing on the form of the
mask with reference to the context in which it is used to get a clearer grasp of the meaning of
critical elements forces one to consider the symbolic meaning of these masks (Derry 2011, 352).
Indeed, the mask serves a literal purpose of concealing Batman’s identity and protecting his
loved ones from reprisals, but as was indicated by Bruce Wayne’s intention of creating a persona
that was immune to the weaknesses that afflict human beings, an identity that was considered
almost super human, his mask serves a greater, more symbolic purpose. Also, in concurrence
with Derry’s account of masks of animals not necessarily representing the worship of those
animals (Derry 2011, 352), Batman’s mask is not meant as a form of bat worship. Fashioning a
mask resembling a bat, his one and only fear, is Bruce’s attempt at externalizing his phobia so that his fear of these creatures can instead be felt by his enemies; he literally wants to become a
face of terror for the corrupt and the criminals of Gotham. In a similar manner, the mask of the
Scarecrow is always donned whenever the hallucinogenic drug is sprayed on his victim, so that
those victims could, as Dr. Jonathan Crane explains, “focus their paranoia on an external
tormenter.” Thus the principal masks in this film are meant as tools for inflicting fear.
As is the case with the marae discussed in Derry’s text, the location of Batman’s Batcave
too is of critical importance, has historical significance, and holds true to the view that what you
see is often not what you get (Derry 2011, 355-6). Like Batman’s mask, the Batcave too has both
a literal as well as a symbolic purpose. Its literal purpose is that it functions as Batman’s secret
headquarters located in a large cave...