When Batman Begins came out in 2005, there was one particular scene – one line in one particular scene, to be more specific – that bothered the hell out of me, and I have wanted to talk about it ever since.
To paraphrase John Mulaney, I know it’s kind of stupid to complain about a movie that came out 14 years ago, but I wasn’t a blogger back then, so I have to do it now.
The scene in question is the audience’s introduction to The Batman.
I’m coming in hot on this one. Let’s just dive right into it.
A bunch of Falcone’s thugs (Falcone, recall, is the main mobster during the first half of the movie) are up to some nefarious drug smuggling business late one night on the docks (nefarious drug smuggling business always takes place late at night on the docks – cops really should keep a better eye out for that sort of thing).
About midway through their business, The Batman shows up. He starts picking the thugs off one-by-one, slinking in the shadows and terrorizing each of them before knocking them all out.
At the scene’s close, The Batman introduces himself to Falcone by pulling the mob boss out of his stretch limo, growling “I’m Batman” at him, and then knocking him out with a headbutt.
He then looks up from Falcone and sees a homeless man standing nearby. Before taking off into the night, The Batman says to him, “Nice coat.”
Let’s back up.
If you recall, seven years prior, before his training with Liam Neesons, Bruce Wayne is intent on murdering the guy who killed his parents. One of Falcone’s assassins gets to the murderer first, though, so Bruce is left unsure of what to do with all of his anger.
Of course, as we know, he decides to leave Gotham and figure it out. He travels the world for seven years – studying criminals, stealing from street vendors in order to eat, training with the League of Shadows, etc. At the end of his travels, he’s ready to become Batman.
But before all of that, before he leaves Gotham – after his parents’ murderer is killed and he confronts Falcone about it – Bruce finds himself in a rough part of town. He decides to shed all of his wealth in a burn barrel while a sad-looking homeless man watches. Expensive watch? Incinerated. Scarf? Burnt to ash. Wallet? In the barrel.
But before he tosses his wallet, he has the presence of mind to remove the cash from it and buy a coat off the homeless guy standing next to him. He then gives the guy his own coat and heads off to become The Batman in his suitable new temporary disguise.
As Bruce runs off, the homeless man looks at his new jacket and mutters to himself, “This is a nice coat.”
So, seven years later, when Bruce returns to Gotham and performs his first successful outing as The Batman, we get the aforementioned callback: He sees the same homeless man from all those years prior, still wearing the same coat Bruce gave him, and he says to him, “Nice coat.”
And, at that exact moment, The Batman proves that he’s learned nothing from his years of travel, and the audience is able to see him for what he is: An asshole.
Why do I say that? Allow me to explain by going through a few quick points:
1.) According to his sworn testimony, Joe Chill murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne because he was broke and desperate.
2.) While traveling the world, the first time he stole so that he wouldn’t starve, Bruce claims he lost many assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong. He should have doubly understood, then, that sometimes crime is done out of necessity mixed with desperation.
3.) According to a study entitled Lifetime and five-year prevalence of homelessness in the United States, the percentage of chronically homeless (that is, folks who are homeless for lengths of time greater than five years) in America is less than 10% of the total homeless population. It’s still nothing to sneeze at, but the vast majority of people experiencing homelessness aren’t on the streets for a term exceeding five years.
4.) By the time The Batman shows up in Gotham, the homeless man Young Bruce gave his nice coat to has been living on the streets (with the exact same coat on his back) for at least seven years.
5.) In the very next scene after complimenting the chronically homeless man’s coat, Bruce shows up at a posh hotel restaurant, causes a scene, and buys the hotel in a flashy display of his wealth.
Ok, now that we’ve gone through those bullet points, let’s toss them into a big blender and hit the “Puree” button.
What have we learned?
According to his world experience, Bruce Wayne should likely believe that homelessness is linked to crime – not necessarily violent crime, as he himself didn’t resort to that when he was living on the streets in China. But a crime is a crime, and he learns that desperation can sometimes lead to crime.
In the case of his parents’ murder, that desperate crime was violent, and it’s the reason why Bruce decided to devote himself to a life of preventing such a thing from happening again.
We’ve also learned that chronic homelessness is exceedingly rare (and, so, it would stand to reason, the most desperate sub-section of the homeless population in Gotham is the chronically homeless), and we’ve learned that Bruce Wayne is exceedingly rich.
You might argue that his focus shouldn’t be on fixing the homelessness crisis in Gotham (because that would likely be a much more boring movie), but at the very least, Batman could have easily realized that that one specific homeless man – the one with the “nice coat” – had been living on the streets for at least seven years, and he could’ve intervened and helped him.
If not because of his own reasons of wanting to prevent a potential violent crime from a (likely) desperate man, at least he could have done it out of pure kindness. One small act to help one man living on the fringes of society is certainly within his power.
Sure, Bruce buys a luxury hotel in the next scene, and he could’ve emptied it out and turned it into a homeless shelter, but I’m not asking him for that big of a commitment. After all, he has a character to play in his new life as Bruce Wayne, the millionaire playboy.
But he could have so easily helped out that one specific homeless guy.
Instead, he makes a wisecrack about his coat (there’s no chance in hell that that coat would’ve still been a “nice coat” after being worn by a man living on the streets for seven years) and leaves to go hop in his Lamborghini and buy a hotel.
I guess it’s easier to beat the holy hell out of potential criminals than it is to recognize a trend, see an unfortunate guy living on the far edge of a bell-curve, and step up to help him out.
I just hope for the next Batman’s sake, that poor guy didn’t eventually commit a violent crime against a different wealthy family.
But it’s pretty clear that, either way, Batman doesn’t care in the slightest.
So yeah. That’s what’s been on my mind for a decade and a half: Batman’s an asshole, and that needless one-liner botched his introduction and irreparably tarnished the character for the entire Dark Knight Trilogy.
Change my mind.