Here is part 2 of the Childhood through Cartoons series dealing with Batman. This post turned out to be 3 times longer than what I had wanted it to be. However, I realized my last post could have used more detail to highlight my main points.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman was my favourite character of all time as a kid, and still is today. There are many adaptations of the Batman character, therefore I will be focusing on the 90s’ Batman Animated Series, and more in particular its’ movie adaptation “The Mask of the Phantasm” (MOTP). MOTP is a film that explores the origin of the character and in my opinion stays true to the Batman character: a man who must put his own happiness aside for the greater good of those who are innocent and preyed on by evil.
The storyline and feel to the movie is dark and mature for a movie made for children at the time of its release. The story tells the story of how Batman’s past love, Andrea Beaumont, re-enters his life as a criminal (known as the Phantasm) seeking revenge for the death of her father. Batman must put this case to rest while dealing with The Joker. The action is great and all, but the shining moments of this film are the flashbacks that explore Bruce’s psychology and past life with Andrea.
Through Bruce’s flashbacks, we see him 10 years younger, ready to finally do justice in the world. At this point, he has not become “Batman” yet, as he is only starting out his fighting career. At this moment, he meets Andrea in his parent’s graveyard, who is visiting her mother’s grave. As the flashbacks progress, we see Bruce trying his hardest to realize his vow to his parents that he would protect the innocent. However, his constant interactions with Andrea show us that he is falling in love with her. It is around this point of the story where children are introduced to the theme of duality. We see Bruce struggle to balance out his love life with his promise to his parents as he is unsure which road to take. Part of Bruce wants to pursue a relationship with Andrea while another part of him wants only revenge. He is unsure of himself, and he utters to Alfred: “I can’t have it both ways. It has to be one or the other.” Bruce cannot fight crime nightly while still needing to spend time with a family waiting for him to come home. The children are shown the struggles of the main protagonist to choose between 2 alternatives. Children are usually given whatever they ask for, and Bruce’s struggle teaches them that adulthood holds hardships. The deeper meaning of Bruce’s words, however, highlights his two internal personalities fighting for control; as one cannot truly exist with the other. There is the Bruce Wayne personality who wants to just lead a normal life, and the Batman personality who wants to overtake him. Children are shown that life is a fight for control within. Pretty dark lesson to be taught to a child that only wants to see Batman punish bad guys, but it gets darker from here.
Another significant theme is “family”. When Bruce Wayne first meets Andrea’s dad, her dad echoes: “Family is everything.” This line in the movie does two things. The first thing it does is obviously tell children how having a family is important. The second thing it does is teach children that without family, one will face darkness. Andrea’s dad complicates the choice that Bruce Wayne must make. Andrea represents family and happiness, while Bruce represents solitude and revenge. Bruce is troubled by Mr. Beaumont’s words because a life with Andrea would mean putting family ahead of revenge. Andrea is happy at the meeting between the three because she is the image of happiness thanks to having a family. Bruce is troubled because he must choose between the family he wants, and the family he once had. Mr. Beaumont’s words clarify to Bruce and to the audience that one can either go for a life of happiness, or a life of solitude. In many cartoons that try to promote the idea of family, they usually show happiness within a family. In MOTP however, it explores the negative consequences of not having a proper family, which causes children to appreciate having a family.
The greatest line of the movie is echoed when Bruce goes to his parents graveyard after he desperately decides he wants to be with Andrea. (Shown below) He kneels in front of their graves and begs: “Please…I need it to be different now. I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy.” This confession demonstrates the ultimate struggle of a man who must choose between his apparent destiny and what he yearns for. Do we all follow a path laid out for us because of obligation, or can we take control of our own destiny and go for what we truly want in life? The scene holds great importance because not only do children feel compelled to show compassion, but they are also reassured that it is not wrong for them to follow their own path in life. Bruce ultimately makes a choice that his happiness is more important than his obligations, and this is a valuable lesson for children to grasp. Bordering on the sidelines of all this reassurance, however, is the ultimate lesson to be drawn from the movie: sacrifice. This is the first scene in the set of Bruce’s flashbacks where children are formally introduced to the idea of sacrifice. Bruce’s choice for happiness caused him to sacrifice his vow that he made a long time ago to his parents. However, the main idea of this scene is to reassure the viewers about controlling one’s own destiny, and the idea of sacrifice is explored in more detail later on.
Another scene that holds great significance is the scene where Bruce becomes Batman for the first time, or better known as the birth of Batman (Shown below). Andrea is forced to leave Bruce and he feels he has lost his only chance at a normal life. As a result, he decides to become Batman, now that his happiness is out of the picture. This scene does not really teach as much as it warns the viewers. As Alfred gives Bruce the mask, he is stunned at what he sees and is only able to utter: “My God…”. Alfred is not taken back because the first glimpse of Batman is physically scary. Instead, Alfred fears for the man underneath the mask. Alfred is scared because the birth of Batman caused the death of Bruce Wayne; the same Bruce Wayne who was taken care of since childhood by Alfred. Alfred is scared by what Bruce has become. The scene serves as a warning to children to exhibit control in life, or else the consequences will prove to be destructive. There’s no lesson to be learned here other than offering children a glimpse of the fall of a man whose been driven to the edge; a possible outcome for anyone who is not cautious enough in real life.
Bruce’s transformation also addresses another point: it’s never too late to correct our past choices. Earlier, in Bruce’s plea to his parents, he makes a choice and the viewers become convinced it’s not wrong to pursue what they yearn for. However, could they ever go back on their choices if they are to regret them later on? The birth of Batman teaches us that it is never too late to correct what was done in the past. Bruce made a choice to pursue happiness, and it failed. However, he was still able to become what he promised his parents he would be. This completes the idea of free-will in life explored earlier on in the film: one is free to sacrifice and choose as one desires, but may also correct past mistakes.
The theme of sacrifice pervades the final scenes of the film when Batman finds out the Phantasm is actually Andrea. He unravels the reason why she has become a criminal and realizes the Joker is responsible for both their pains. Andrea is a tortured soul. She has also sacrificed her love for Bruce into order to become the Phantasm and seek revenge. She willingly puts her love aside to fight for something she believes is greater, much like Bruce. Bruce also realizes at this point that he cannot make things work anymore with Andrea. There is no more possibility of a future for the two because the two do not believe in the same thing. Bruce can’t be with Andrea because she has become a criminal; the very thing Bruce lives to fight. Bruce and Andrea have both chosen the road of vengeance, but the former refuses to kill while the latter does. Bruce does not believe in killing and cannot possibly pursue anything with Andrea. He must sacrifice any chance of being with his love because she has turned into what he fights against.
Ironically, the scene takes place in the “World of the Future” amusement park which has been destroyed. Bruce and Andrea once went to the same amusement park when the two were dating and now they must fully depart from each other in the same place. The movie does more than simply teach lessons; it brings out the emotions from the viewers. Throughout the film, we see little good things happen between the two main characters. The “World of the Future” was supposed to symbolise a future that both Bruce and Andrea could walk together into. Having their final confrontation take place in the same, but ravaged, setting informs us that their future together is no more. Children learn that sacrifices are absolutely necessary in life and nothing goes as planned. They will come to a point where they will have to make a choice, and their choices will carry heavy consequences.
After dishing out so many advanced themes and messages to children in a tragic and overall depressing storyline, the movie manages to end on a more accepting note by introducing the concept of forgiveness (or at least semi-forgiveness). At the very end of the movie, both Joker and Batman are worn out from battling each other. Andrea appears again to claim the Joker. Batman makes a plea to Andrea to not take Joker away, for he is sure she will kill her father’s murderer. However, Andrea does not listen and bids farewell. We later learn that Andrea is still alive, as well as the Joker. We aren’t informed what happened exactly, but we can speculate that Andrea finally let go of her vengeance and did not kill the Joker just as Bruce asked of her.
At this point, it is logical to ask: why should Joker live after tearing up the lives of both Bruce and Andrea from the start? It only seems fitting that he dies to pay for what he’s done. The movie does a great job of acting on emotion. At the end of the movie, we want nothing more than to see Joker suffer. Children want to see Joker suffer as much as they may love his jokes because of how much he’s tortured both Bruce and Andrea. Batman is able to semi-forgive Joker because of morals alone. He does not believe in killing and only in punishing. However, Andrea’s act of semi-forgiveness offers light to the viewers.
Children aren’t given what they want or might expect in this film, and are instead taught to accept the tragedies that unfolded as they were. Rationally speaking, Andrea should have killed the Joker because of her vow to avenge her father. However, she manages to let the Joker go because she listens to Bruce’s plea to stop pursuing vengeance. Perhaps she gives up her chance to kill her father’s murderer because she still loves Bruce and understands he does not want to see her become bent on destruction alone. However, the reason he lets Joker stay alive is not because she forgives him; she forgives herself. She realizes the importance of Bruce’s plea to stop killing. She believes that Bruce is right and shouldn’t kill to free herself from pain. Her actions show to children that forgiving the unforgivable for a greater cause and what we believe in is true strength in the end. She is the very definition of a character that children can aspire to be; she teaches us to accept our feelings and not use it as a sign of motivation to destroy. While she does kill in the beginning, she is able to turn over a new leaf in the end which once again whispers to us that it is never too late to correct our past mistakes. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but it’s the right thing. The ending is tragic, and totally depressing. No one really wins in this ending, unlike other movies made for children. But Andrea’s act of forgiveness and acceptance, accompanied with Bruce’s knowledge that Andrea is still alive helps reassure children that their heroes of the film turned out alright in the end. It is a bitter way to wrap up the film, but is slightly mellow in its own way.
That concludes my analysis for MOTP. If you haven’t watched this film yet, I strongly urge you to. If you are a Batman fan, then you must watch it. As a side note, I’d like to thank Geekvolution from Youtube for reviewing this film and confirming some of the ideas that I’ve talked about. Part 3 will be out soon and will deal with Disney’s “Mulan”.