I could write pages on the movies’ cultural impact; how the one-two punch of Batman Begins and Casino Royale altered the ways studios think about rebooting worn-out properties and how so many movies of the past decade have been informed by Begins‘ aesthetic and mood, but neither of these qualities are why the movie holds so much personal significance a decade later. It will likely be remembered for the ways it redefined Batman in the public consciousness and as the opening chapter in indisputably one of the most influential movie trilogies in modern cinema, but for me it holds a different accolade: it’s the movie that changed how I thought about film forever.
If that’s a little hyperbolic, it’s not by much. Before Batman Begins, my interactions with movies were much more passive. Obviously, I had loved and obsessed over movies before– The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in particular come to mind–but I loved movies solely within the terms of entertainment; entertainment that could excite me, move me, or make me cry, but entertainment all the same. Even the classic films I grew up watching with my dad I accepted as classic simply on reputation, without considering the elements that made a Casablanca or Citizen Kane stand out as something truly unique. Batman Begins was the first movie that made me realize that a blockbuster could be things much deeper. It helps that Begins is pretty much the perfect movie for an insecure teenage boy.
13 year old Will was, shockingly, not a crackling vessel of self-esteem. Middle school was difficult for me in the ways that middle school is typically difficult for shy, nerdy kids. It would make sense, then, that I would be receptive to a movie so concerned with themes of overcoming fear and trauma. Sitting in the impossibly swanky seats of the Bridge Theater on UPenn’s campus, Batman Begins washed over me in ways few films had before, and when it ended (with that Joker tease that felt revolutionary before such character teases became part of the language of reboots), a part of it left the theater with me.
For weeks following, the movie’s dwellings on fear rattled around in my head. At camp that summer, I discussed it with my friends, frequently coming back to its central themes; having conversations about the movie I hadn’t had about movies prior. Fascinated with the portrayal of a superhero with a clearly defined character arc, I dragged my parents to the nearest comic book shop to pick up any Batman trades I could find (which led to picking up a collection of the first Batman stories ever published, which more than made up for the lack of Begins’ rich character work with Batman fighting vampires). But most importantly, I started to consider other movies differently as well. Qualities like cinematography and directing started to become apparent in ways they previously hadn’t. A period spent analyzing the movie and discussing it in my eighth grade english class (shout out to Jeff Barnosky) helped crystalize that perhaps I wasn’t so far off track with the time I’d spent pondering this superhero movie.
Did Batman Begins and its themes help me overcome my teenage insecurities and lead me directly to being the movie writer I am now? No, though that would be the better story, I guess. Both would be longer journeys that would wind through experiences in high school in college, but both are journeys that began watching Batman Begins in that heater ten years ago. Christopher Nolan’s first entry in his Batman trilogy has cast a long shadow (of the bat) over the modern film industry and its legacy as one of the most important blockbusters of the 21st century is more than secure; but the movie’s true legacy– for me anyway– will always be much more personal.