Throughout the history of comic series as well as films, the city of Gotham has always been a unique charm for Batman. Matt Reeves’s Batman film is no exception, rather a crafty addition to the depths of the city and the underlying grim issues that create the characters that we watch on screen. Gotham has always been dark enough to facilitate the existence of “The Dark Knight,” but Reeves here perhaps makes the city even more murky, with an almost hellish appeal. When Batman finally appears, around ten minutes into the film, he is the renegade that the city desperately needs.
The Streets That Breathe Corruption, The City That Weeps
Gotham’s streets are menaced by crooks and goons of all nature, from robbers using the potential of Halloween’s masked festivities to loot stores to vandals who wreck the Bank of Gotham building. The first sequence that establishes the condition of these streets also carefully presents the vilest and most horrid crime—to harass, beat, and loot just for the sake of it, just for fun. It is here that Batman has to intervene, and it is perhaps this mentality that Batman sets out to fix and mend. There are, of course, reasons for such a society, with years of mismanagement and corrupt leaders having established a setup for their own personal gains. There seems to be an inherent division of class in the city, one that is never mentioned, but one that is felt.
In one instance, Selina Kyle remarks how Batman must have been too rich to have faced the troubles that she had to face growing up as an orphan. Edward Nashton, posing as the Riddler, is first and mostly angered by how hundreds of orphans, including himself, put up at the Waynes-funded orphanage were forgotten to remember and sympathize with Bruce Wayne, the rich orphan in the tall tower. The world had its own personal intentions of doing so, while deprivation, desperation, and easy access to crime without much repercussion kept leading generations of the economically lower classes towards delinquency. It is presumed that before most youths can even think of getting decent employment, they are hired as brawlers and foot-soldiers by the villainous syndicate. The gang intervened by Batman is perhaps trying even to reach that recognition, posting videos of their activity online to garner attention. It is amidst such a scenario that a lonely, frustrated forensic accountant arises as a vigilante, not with the intention of betterment, but to burn the city down.
To any individual on the brink of desperate action, the example of Batman as a vigilante is of primary inspiration, and that is exactly what happened with Edward Nashton. After years of neglect, he did grow up to have a stable profession, but he is also one of those individuals who really wants to do something for the city, society, and the people around him. It’s almost like Batman, just on the other side of the spectrum. The film also cleverly introduces a real-world phenomenon in this context, as Nashton initially acts on his own and then finds support online for his treacherous actions. It is sadly true that more citizens relate to Nashton than they do to the mayor, or the GCPD, or Bruce Wayne. Bruce, of course, hardly ever leaves his residence, and he remains lost in a sort of reconnecting with the mysteries of his own past and his parent’s lives. The persona of Batman is his only representation on the streets, but it is one that has a noticeable sense of othering and focuses entirely on apprehending miscreants and putting a hold on crime. Despite the film definitely making references to why society is at such a stage, Bruce never really questions the why, and only states the condition. When he sees a large bill of due rent at Selina and Annika’s apartment, he perhaps does not even comprehend its complete significance.
It is not odd that villains like the Riddler exist in Gotham City, lurking in the shadows and planning their revelation. The city itself has a tremendous shroud of loneliness over it and over its characters, and Bruce Wayne himself is not spared from it either. Whenever Bruce appears on screen, he mostly has that look of a worn-down individual without anyone to share any part of his life with. At least initially, his relationship with Alfred in this film is not the friendliest, and Bruce has the habit of often reminding him that Alfred should not intervene, for he is not his father. He finds a momentary companion in Selina Kyle, but that does not last long either. It rains almost every time that we see exterior shots of Gotham in the film, sometimes drizzling, but most of the time pouring. Again, perhaps it is not too odd that such a lonely individual steps out onto the streets, masking his eyes with black paint to create a more formidable appearance. All of this comes to a gradual resolution at the end of the film, after Gotham has been flooded, despite the potential tragedy being averted. Bruce finally realizes his significance in society, his role in his city, and the impossibility of changing his personal past. Remarkably, along with his realizations, the sun shines brightly over Gotham as Batman actively helps in rescue work, and the gloomy cloud that was shrouding both the city and Bruce’s conscience is now finally lifted and replaced by an unusual clarity.
The Wayne Foundation
It is undeniable that the Wayne Foundation and its various off-shoots, particularly the Gotham Renewal Fund, have played an active role in creating such a city at present. Despite his perceived character as a philanthropic industrialist, Thomas Wayne’s personal intentions are not beyond question. Firstly, of course, he had hushed up any public information about his wife and her family’s mental illnesses. When independent journalist Edward Elliot started looking into the history and secrets of the family of utmost legacy, Thomas had taken unlawful action against him. His stepping into politics also coincided with these events, and it was to avoid tarnishing the mayoral campaign that he hired Falcone to rough up the reporter. What follows actually has more than one version, depending on who you ask, but the only constant in all these versions is the death of Elliot. What is interesting, and quite scary, is the lack of evidence as to what really happened. Of course, it is not too intelligent to totally believe Falcone’s account, given his shrewd and ruthless nature as a mobster. But does it also make too much sense to only believe what Alfred tells Bruce about his father’s apparent remorse after the journalist was killed? It is very much possible that Alfred still plays the role of an ever-loyal servant, still clearing his master’s name from a potential fall of grace, even twenty years after the man’s death. Alfred’s account does not reach out to Gotham City, though, as it is the Riddler’s story that is telecast all over the news. But to a man who does not also leave (he is at least not seen to) the Wayne Manor, all he probably cares about is his previous master and his image in the eyes of his son, who is also his master at present. The film, thankfully, does not delve too much into this and rather leaves it as is, making the storyline slightly more believable. After all, it would have been borderline nonsensical to think of the richest philanthropist in as dark a town as Gotham being free of any moral incorrectness.
Also, as part of his election campaign, Thomas Wayne introduced the Gotham Renewal Fund, which was a large fund created for the apparent betterment of the city’s societal aspects. However, after the sudden death of the man, the fund turned into a large sum of money waiting to be misused by corrupt forces. At present, as the double-dealing police officer puts it, the Gotham Renewal Fund is what keeps the flame of the crime syndicate still burning. The entire staging of the GCPD’s arrest of Salvatore Maroni was carried out simply because of this fund. Carmine Falcone wanted a bigger stake in the Renewal Fund, intending to cut out Maroni’s share from it. As a means to get there, he reached out to the GCPD, bought out city authorities with monthly payrolls, and together they orchestrated a drug bust, removing his rival Maroni from the picture. Instead of being beneficial to society in any sense, the fund has rather become the cause of more bloodshed and vicious violence. All this is tapped into by the scheming mind of the Riddler, who poses himself as a vigilante, taking down every corrupt element in the city. All the high-profile individuals that he killed had their own share and stake in the Gotham City Fund, from Mayor Don Mitchell to District Attorney Gil Colson. It might be impossible to hold the Waynes accountable for all this on paper, but it is not too difficult to connect the gradually decaying society and the philanthropist spreading his money around to come to the conclusion of the present Gotham City. Thomas Wayne’s efforts to bring betterment to his city by creating a large monetary fund that was very easy to use as a money-laundering machinery is a prime example of a lack of societal awareness. Unless, of course, he himself was also a part of the corruption and had intentions of achieving something like this. Highly unlikely, but then again, Gotham does seem like a city that rots from top to bottom, rather than from bottom to top.