Batman Returns Again

Some people think Die Hard is a Christmas movie and I’m not here to contradict them though it’s in my every bone to do so, it’s Christmas, we should get along, somebody somewhere invented the idea that it was rude to ask these people exactly what the analytical criteria for a Christmas movie might be, but no, it’s Christmas, get some nog, let’s play a game:

Word association test. Give me five. Ready. Go.

Tim Burton.

(waiting a reasonable interval for answers to collect…aaaaaand pencils down) What’d you say? 

I said 

1)barber poles 

2)Spooky Brunettes with Bigguns’ 

3)the 50’s 

4) waistcoats and…

5)Christmas.

Burton is artistically entranced with the Holiday, and no wonder, let’s tally its cinematic virtues: a. Red and green…everywhere b. darkness 17 hours per day c. snow d. the intersection of commerce and metaphysics e. adolescent wonder becoming teenage ennui shifting into young adult nostalgia then mutating into middle-aged reflection the straight back to doe-eyed wonder, old age wonder…because you forgot everything before 1996, coincidentally that was the same year they started showing blocks of Matlock and Barney Miller on the Home and Garden Channel? Oh, that you remember, your granddaughter’s first name, well….

Creatively, Christmas is a plum too plump not to pudding, or, sticking with the fancy food theme, like a store-brand Champale it extracts notes of smoky misfortune and earthy Original Sin, while not over-powering the distinctly sweet undercurrents of redemption and cosmological moral order. It’s the perfect companion to any story.

Enter Batman. Watch Batman Returns and a sudden truth will dawn: Batman is a “Christmas Character”. What is a ‘Christmas Character’? It’s a character who lacks everything Christmas offers: as mentioned, a belief in a cosmological order, invisible, except, maybe, in the soft fall of snow, the defeat of Man’s Evil through the concentrated application of will (and violence…and cool doo-hickies), the promise of redemption and, therefore, peace. Bruce Wayne hasn’t tasted any of those since he was eleven and only at Christmas do they seem attainable. That’s a Christmas Character.

Batman is Gotham’s redemption and so is already a Christ figure, but if you’re going to tell the Christmas story through this already Christmas Character, you’ll need more than one. ‘Redemption’ is the word and a Christmas movie would do well to show it, Batman Returns supplies a redemption arc for each of the three main characters, in fact it layers it’s New Testament themes so thickly it becomes a Christmas movie, inside a “Christmas” movie, inside a Christian movie…inside a reason to frottage your mattress over Michelle Pfeiffer.

Crap. Hold on folks, it looks like we’re going meta.

Rule 1: Not all redemptions are noble.

Penguin seeks it nonetheless or you might say ‘payback’ is a better word but I say revenge is merely inverted redemption. The walking eye-rape that is Oswald Cobblepot began life as the deformed son of Gotham aristocracy, a twisted infant and then toddler bent not only in body but mind-kept in a cage we see him snatch the family cat by the tail , the cage jostles until the piercing screeches cease. Here, I note that in an entirely silent performance his father was played by Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, Tim Burton was a friend of Pee-wee’s, if you recall he cut his teeth directing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and so hastily cast him in Batman Returns as this was during the scandal involving Reubens’, shall we say, ‘questionable etiquette’ at a Florida Theater.

The baby is tossed into a river at Christmastime, the bassinet floating far, far away, surely to a pitiable death, but, of course, no,  adult Oswald returns, but like Herod, or an anti-moses, to slay the first born of Gotham as revenge for his cruel life in the circus, to bring down the plagues of murder and mayhem on the exhausted and overworked drones of Goshen/Gotham.

Did that baby just eat a cat?

Yep! Did I just dump a pound of guano in my Bat-BVD’s? Sure did. So, that’s two votes for retirement, we’ll see what Alfred says when he hoses me down.

At first, you might think the selection of Danny Devito as the diminutive Penguin was inspired. I thought so too. But Devito, nee the character himself, was wasted by the character design. By making him a deformed bird-man, dripping with sweat even when it’s in the low forties-is…is that blood, is he bleeding for some reason?–making him a drooling, slurping caricature of a caricature of a penguin, was a kick in the spats to whomever appreciated the motif of an arch criminal that was bird-like in tone and mannerism completely without the plot-crutch of physical deformity. Devito could have pulled it off, I feel cheated and have ever since, it is my one serious gripe with the film.

Rule 2 Destructive Redemptions can be holy.

I’m a purist, Catwoman should have been brunette, but Burton’s adolescent eye for women suited this film to a T. Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the last great screen vixens who is actually a dynamite actress–supermodel-hot, you know, in that psychologically arresting way that makes you talk in random geometric shapes that pop like soap bubbles as they leave your mouth. That kinda hot. Still, she’s easily in the ‘Glenn Close’  range of Screen Actress Excellence, if you don’t think so or can’t remember why, recall she’s won 3 Oscars and flawlessly bounces between vamp (Fabulous Baker Boys) virginal prude (Dangerous Liasons) blinkingly innocent single mom (Witches of Eastwick) to gangter’s-moll-in-leopard-print-chinos (Married to the Mob), like Sharon Stone, her physical beauty warps the air around her so an audience doesn’t fully appreciate just how evocative an actress she truly is.

You can judge the film’s treatment of the Catwoman by how it treated the S&M element of the character design. Like Wonder Woman, Catwoman is an obvious 50s stag film nod&wink, like Wonder Woman she carries, as part of her ensemble, something to tie her up with (Wonder Woman was tied up in a very back-arching, bust-projecting pose with her own lasso 69% of the time, according to a Comics Insider article I read when I was fifteen and have failed to find for this piece, I don’t know what the Catwoman bound-oh-so-tightly-with-her-toes-touching-the-back-of-her-head ratio is but I can guarantee it’s at least 80-20). To make a real character out of this excuse for pre-teen boys to spend inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom ‘taming their cowlick’, a certain delicacy has to be taken, justice must be done to the character, and justice was done, at least in that element, better than I expected.

What do you mean ‘justice’?

I mean ‘believability’. Was it the script or Burton or Michelle who turned the crank on the character’s justice? Well, it wasn’t the script, and Burton seemed more preoccupied with daydreams of patent-leather legs wrapped around his sun-taut leather neck. It was Michelle who made Catwoman explode from relief into the realm (with obvious exceptions) of the real.

I believed Selina Kyle was just a young lady trying to make it in the city as the put-upon secretary of a department store magnate, I believed her aw-shucks-small-town-sincerity proved a bigger obstacle working for that bastard than it should have been. I believed her maddening stress as she found herself at the nexus of ingenue and woman-of-a-certain-age, unwed, petrified of everything, and pushed, pushed, pushed to get, to get got, and to get going with God knows what. So I completely believed her shatter when her boss threw her out of a window for seeing what she shouldn’t have and left her twitching in the snow, almost dead, on the cusp of rebirth…the Crypto-christo┬« is so strong in this film, (my literary term for the sub-textual method of using New Testament content to threaten or debase another, but also, more generally, the secret codex of Christian references slyly used in character or narrative creation, it’s MY term, go near it or play with it and I will. cut. you. the paperwork is already in, stamp it-stamp it-no erasees-touch-blue-make-it-true) I doubt it could have reasonably been set at ANY OTHER TIME other than Christmas.

(Unlike a certain Bruce Willis’ ‘bloody-foot’ movie. NO! Nevermind. Not going there. It’s Christmas.)

Yoo-hoo. Tim. Over here. It’s Michael talkin’, ‘member Michael?

Actor. Did your last one? No? Nuthin’? No recognition whatsoever. Tim, I think a PA is sucking off a donkey–just turn your head–it’s right there, I’m looking right at it, Just cast your eyes thattaway. just for teeeeensy split-second.

My one issue: Catwoman isn’t a terrorist. She’s a thief. She steals and she steals big. Like a cat she’s transfixed by the glitter of baubles and will spaz out and shoot whom she might till she can make the jiggledy-jiggeldy her own. I really missed that part of the character, the giddy sexism of it, implying you could dangle any sparkly thing in front of a woman and she’d be rendered a drooling moonbat. (which is absolutely true)

That brings us to the heavy, Max. Max Shrek. But how heavy can he be—so, he’s played by Christopher Walken, so what? is casting America’s spindly, staccato memorial-to-menace an automatic suggestion of villainy? The cheek! The presumption and cheek…right?

Gotham’s an Industrial Town with Industrial Villains, enter Max, Honor Cord Recipient at the Let-Gravity-Do-The-Talking School of Management.

Max has a problem, the Mayor stubbornly refuses to obey his every whim on every issue, so he needs a new mayor, lo and behold what’s this, a deformed Penguin man with a sad story he could put up in a recall. But how to make the mayor so unpopular he’ll even get a recall? Why, the Penguin man just so happens to have a sewer-dwelling gang of freaks, who could, given their outsider status and general odor and unlikelihood to mate within species, be persuaded to gin up a full-on five-alarm Fuck’m-All of crime and mayhem…but circus themed! Because Lord knows, getting mowed down in the street while Christmas shopping is just better to the acid-clown hoots of a glockenspiel.

Karnak says: “No Subtext, Plot Irrelevancy, Corporate Christmas Bash on Christmas Eve Which Has Never Happened [opens envelope] Name three reasons Die Hard is not a Christmas Movie.

Enter Batman to thwart and investigate yada,yada, yada. You have the plot. But you don’t have the point.

And the point is Christmas. Batman Returns, even if you remove the Christmas theme backdrop, is about Christmas, it’s about the birthing of an Earthly savior (the Batman logos), it’s about rising from the dead, reconciling fallen man with God via the sacrifice of the innocent.

This is the Meta part. She shall have a son and he shall bruise thy head and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the first prophetic mention of a messiah in Genesis, God is talking to Satan about Eve, basically saying that You (Satan) used woman to destroy Adam but I will use her to destroy you. The purpose of Christmas is the symbolic rejoining of male and female after their fracture in the Garden set them permanently at odds, subordinating women out of necessity, increasing pain in childbirth etc. The family unit remained intact because of need but all harmony, all compassion toward the other, was lost. In this world of gender acrimony, only the Christ Child represented a return to that state of familial grace, reconciliation between child and parent, sinner and God, Man and Woman, the family so reoriented is a generational weapon against Earthly evil, but which Earthly evil? quite simply, Anti-Christ, the evil bizarro messiah that will arrive in grotesque mimic of the real one, and like the Christ child he will be born, die and be reborn, rising from the dead.

MOVIE ANALYSIS CRIB SHEET

Site the Birth-death-rebirth Christmas pattern in these three main characters: Batman, Penguin, Catwoman

Batman—->Was born, I guess.—->Died with his folks in that alley, not literally but does it have to literal for this to work,—–> let’s just say since the ‘incident’ Cousin Bruce ‘ain’t been quite ruht.’—–>Rebirth into a marauding anthropomorphic vampire bat whose thirst for revenge is so deep but so diffused he chooses as his victim EVERY CRIMINAL ALIVE!

Penguin—>Was born, probably sideways, clamping onto his mother with jagged rows of en utero weasel teeth—>died, again metaphorically and mosaically, by murder—>reborn, into the Machiavellian Child Murdering Herod: Oswald Cobblepot. (In early versions of the Daniel Waters Screenplay the name Oswald Cobblepot was not discovered to be his own, but was invented by computer at the behest of metrosexual image doctors hired by Shreck for the campaign)

Catwoman—>Born to, I imagine, scowling, super-religious farm parents who never found the dead bunny she kept in the closet under her prize -winning 4-H dioramas.——> Cause of Death: Curiosity; Means of Death: Despondent, suicidal young woman, 108 pounds, picks self-up by scruff, marches self-mid-air ten feet, hurls self through plate glass, falls eight stories, slowed to survivability by convenient awnings, but landing with a wet-burlap-sack-of-pig-offal plop on the asphalt.—>rebirth into the female half of the symbolic human couple, a woman at first in league with but eventually bruises the heel of the Serpent. That is Christmas, which is what this whole analytical metaphor was about…you know, if you forgot.

When Selina Kyle rises from her fall she returns to her apartment and the neon sign that says ‘Hello, there” she smashes it until it reads ‘Hell here’, which I instantly took as a nod to Christ’s descent into hell after death.

In their final fight Max riddles her with bullets proving her now immortality, like Batman and the episodes wherein he’s shot and rises to a fighting stance are many.

But Batman tells us himself who she is, “We are the same,” he tells her “Split. Right down the middle.” An Adam speaking to his Eve, but also a messiah explaining the messianic narrative of another character. The Adam and Eve motif is heightened when one remembers the painful injury, she inflicts on Batman’s rib earlier in the picture.

As Catwoman is a messiah, so is Penguin an Anti-Christ. As Anti-Christ will mimic the messiah in miracles and biography (penguin’s heroic saving of the mayor’s baby, stealing the Batmobile in a vague but murderous attempt to imitate) he will also be his polar opposite in vocation, meaning a politician. Politics and the Anti-Christ are irrevocably linked. If one is to point out the Crypto-christo here, the NT describes the Anti-Christ as “emerging from the raging sea”, the ‘raging sea’ being a popular 1st century literary allusion to politics.

Was this a perfect movie? No. As a Batman purist some things bothered me, but is it a great Christmas movie? I say take my analysis, watch it and judge for yourself, but I will prophesy one thing before you do: no matter how close you think I got it metaphorically; you will realize it is MORE OF A CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAN DIE HARD!

That’s tight, smart guy, you come up with a birth-death-rebirth analytical structure for anyone in THAT movie, maybe Reginald VelJohnson, the black cop, MAYBE you could stretch one for him. But it’ll be thin, man.

Like those one-use toilet seat covers at airports.

Like the excuses of a four-year-old with chocolate all over his face.

Like the patience of a cop, tapping his ticket pad, as you scream for him to go find ‘real criminals’.

Like–(NO! It’s Christmas. Each to his own. It’s not worth the scuffle. Let there be Peace on Earth, you know, even for cinematic blasphemers–NO!–just Peace On Earth. Like Batman Said “Goodwill to men…and women.” [Even if their definition of a Christmas movie is maddeningly, even traitorously broad, IT WAS RELEASED IN JULY, CHRISTMAS WAS JUST A CONVENIENT EXCUSE TO TELL THE SEPARATION STORY, THERE HAS TO BE A METAPHOR

You Rasta-frootion’-Garbofarkin-Miscallahabit-pishen-puppin’-[deep breath]

fishswappin’-hydrant-droppin-callahootin-mandingo-danglin’-barnacle-burpin;-wallpaper-peelin’-poultry-frightening-fast-flingin’-Ricken-Frackers’–

NO! 

Stop!

Sit!… Just Say ‘Merry Christmas’!

Say it!… Nothing else! Just..yes, that’s right. Just say the words, don’t think. Don’t think about Die Hard and how it could have happened on the Fourth of July and never miss a step, choose peace for once in your brawling, contentious existence: just say the damn words! Please!)

A-hem. 

(Very Good.)

Merry Christmas.

(and?)

…but they only think it’s a Christmas movie because they want an excuse to watch something other than their wife’s Meredith Baxter-Birney Hallmark Channel Christmas Collection of Horseshit!

(And is that wrong?…Is it?!)

No.

(Then what do we say at this most fraternal time of year?)

Merry Christmas.

(And?)

…and I guess you got your reasons and who knows, if I were in your shoes maybe I’d do the same thing. I dunno, so MERRY CHRISTMAS… if you can still live with yourself, that is.

(Baby steps.)

About Bartholemew Cobb

Traveling salesman. I have danced with 12 governor's wives and hold the keys to 9 small towns. My friends are the highest and lowest in society, line cooks, chiefs of police, pimps and retired generals.