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Be ye warned: this article contains spoilers for The LEGO Batman Movie.
Batman is a loner. He’s the Dark Knight, moving through the shadows and being a vigilante all over the place. Even when the Justice League was formed (partly by his design), he didn’t want to be tied down by the responsibility of belonging. The LEGO Batman Movie is a hilarious and exciting exploration of Batman’s desire for solitude and his need for companionship.
In his famous poem, John Donne said, “No man is an island.” Batman, as Alfred points out, not only lives on an island, but has formed himself into an island by pushing everyone away. But, human beings need relationship, were even specifically created for it, and so in his attempt to be entirely self-sufficient, he makes his Siri-like supercomputer into somewhat of a friend. He chats with it as he’s fighting crime—mostly giving directions—and then it chats with him upon his return to the Bat Cave. The computer is sort of like his “Wilson” from the movie Castaway—Batman doesn’t realize it, of course, but he built himself a companion that cannot die and that he can control to suit his desired level of intimacy.
Any Batman fan knows that the root of his desire to be alone is the tragic loss of his parents; they were murdered in front of him as he helplessly stood by. That’s the root of all that he does and all that he is. When he saves the city from pretty much every single member of the Rogues Gallery in an opening scene, he retreats to his island and ponders the last family photo that he has, talking to his parents, and believing that they would have been proud of him. It’s the pain of losing them and his helplessness in that moment that prevents him from being able to open up to any other relationships. To risk love is to risk pain, and that’s too much risk for him.
Distracted by Barbara Gordon’s good looks upon his first glimpse of her when she’s introduced as the new Commissioner, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts Dick Grayson. He is dismayed later when Alfred tells him that his “son” is waiting to meet him, and that it’s about time he makes himself emotionally available. Alfred has been there all along, acting as a father to Batman after his parents died, and now Alfred feels that it would be Batman’s best interest to do the same for another in the same situation. Funnily enough, often when we care for others, our own wounds end up healing (I got that wisdom straight from the Bible—Isaiah 58:8). At first, Batman sees Dick as an expendable acrobat that he can use to accomplish a mission, but as soon as they are out and about, Batman’s fatherly instincts kick in. He really does desire closeness, and it is adorably natural to him.
Alfred and Barbara become willingly entangled in fighting the bad guys—and there are a ton of those in this movie, as the whole Phantom Zone had been emptied into Gotham by the Joker to get back at Batman for not valuing their relationship. All the best villains were there! Sauron, King Kong, the Daleks, Voldemort, villains from bunches of cool Lego playsets (squee!), so Batman was going to need a lot of help. He appreciated having the help, enjoyed the teamwork, and loved his new companions, but was gripped by fear of losing them like he lost his parents, and so he pulled back. Well, sent them away from the danger. When questioned on this decision, he’s challenged—was he really trying to protect them as he said, or was he trying to protect himself from grief?
One of the reasons I love Batman almost more than any other superhero is that I identify with his fear of intimacy and his struggle to succeed in the midst of that battle. I don’t have the scars Batman does, but I still find myself extremely guarded in my relationships. The vocation to family life is the most holy, most formative vocation that God ever made; it’s also the one that requires the most vulnerability and commitment. Those two things are scary to someone who has trouble trusting that they can be loved and won’t be rejected. Batman’s parents didn’t leave him by their own will, but it’s not uncommon for children to feel abandoned by their parents when they die. And when you’ve suffered loss on a huge scale, like Batman did, being open to experiencing that kind of loss again can be terrifying.
Batman had a choice to make. He couldn’t defeat the contents of the Phantom Zone by himself, and by being closed off to love, almost became a member himself. He wasn’t sure he had the courage to let himself be loved. The Joker, in his disappointment at Batman’s denial of his impassioned hate for the Joker, tells Batman that he’s right; he’s not Batman’s worst enemy—Batman is his own worst enemy because he refuses to allow himself to feel. Well, as all good hero movies, love wins out, Batman gathers a crime-fighting family around him and becomes happier and more effective.
It seems silly to think that something as natural as belonging to a family can be heroic and require great courage, but for many people, it does. We’re all born into families, and most people choose to make their own when they are grown. But to make myself truly available and vulnerable is another story. Like Batman, I often prefer to hide behind my computer, or keep those who would be my Alfreds (what I wouldn’t give for a housekeeping, meal-cooking butler!) at an arm’s length. I retreat into my Bat Cave to avoid real intimacy. Intimacy comes with the risk of rejection and loss, and there’s nothing more intimate than family life. My family sees me at my best, worst, and everything in between. If I can build a culture of trust and acceptance, and allow myself to risk being loved, my family can also be a source of strength and support, helping me to defeat my foes as well—even my worst foe, myself.