Joseph Campbell detailed his theory of the monomyth in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory of the monomyth or Hero Cycle is that there is a way of telling a story that is hardwired into our brains and that across cultures myths will resemble each other due to this internal plot. The book shows how Humans in general prefer to, and find it hard not to, tell a narrative not as a hero’s journey with an underlying theme.
If analyzed most books, TV shows, and movies are played out corresponding to the monomyth. The 2005 release of Batman Begins depicts this through a variety of events and then resolves with the underlying theme of facing your darkest fears. The journey will begin with a call to adventure where the hero receives news of disturbance and sets off to set the world right. In Batman Begins the Call to adventure is depicted through a series of flashbacks detailing the murder of Bruce’s parents and the murder of their killer after his appeal.
The two events happen years apart but are depicted in quick succession throughout the movie. The murder of his parents results in creation of his beginning hate for the criminals of Gotham. The second part of his calling is when his parent’s killer is murdered. It is important to note that although the killer was murdered by a hit man in order to ensure he didn’t confess who he was working for, Bruce would have shot him.
This has little effect initially on the story but it does later show insight into Bruce’s character. After the killer is murdered Bruce attempts to confront the Falcone crime boss who ordered the hit to tell him he isn’t afraid. The boss mocks him and his parent’s death and throws him out, focusing his anger which originally was turned purely on the single thief who murders his parents into a general hate for crime. While in the dark dangerous areas of the city Gotham Bruce sees the terrible effects of crime in the city, and what a horrible state the city is in. On a literal scale it is easy to understand how this could be considered widely different to a call to adventure, there is no simple call for help more as Bruce simply becomes in touch with his surroundings.
On a narrative standpoint however these events act as a device just as a basic call for help would. Bruce has set off on an adventure against crime. Thus although the events within the call may be different from others that is almost irrelevant as long as the effects have remained the same. As Bruce sets into his “quest” to understand and destroy crime, he travels to China and is arrested while working with criminals he is trying to understand. While he is imprisoned a mysterious group known as the league of shadows reaches out him. He is given a task of climbing a mountain to pick a small blue flower and then carrying into to the temple in return for being accepted into their order. The league trains him in hand combat as well as to control his greatest fears. The blue flower is later revealed to be the main component in a hallucinogen that incites your greatest fears.
The first threshold crossing in Batman Begins is depicted not as physical passing into a new land but of an internal physiological shift so that the world changes relative to the reformed character. Similar to the time Jonah spends trapped inside the belly of the whale during the semi-famous bible story in the book of Jonah, Bruce’s time in the temple redefines him. On a basic level, he is trained physically and mentally in combat but this is only the surface of his recreation. On a deeper level, Bruce understands to control and use his fear. In a symbolic sense the keys to his inception, is his fear in the form the blue flower. This is one of the first signs of the overarching theme of facing your fear appears within the story. As shown in this scene it was fear that unlocked Bruce’s abilities to fight crime through a symbolic use of the flower. A large feature in the During Bruce’s stay at the temple, and thus before he has fully passed over the first threshold, was his meeting with Henri Ducard. The Hero Cycle is in general very loose in most of its feature with myths usually containing only a majority of the bullet points.
One role that is almost always filled across cultures, especially so in more developed stories, is that of the mentor. Whether it is depicted as Morpheus or Yoda the mentor is a common device used to enhance the threshold crossing and the changing of the protagonist. Henri Ducard defines the term mentor, when he first asks Bruce to apprentice for him, Bruce is unguided, strong but not strong enough. Henri is the man who trains him in the temple, who brings him across the threshold. Henri’s role in the whole plot of the narrative does overcome the simple mentor position in later events yet for the section in the threshold he is Bruce’s teacher. At the end of Bruce’s stay at the temple he is required to execute a criminal and then lead a group of men against the people of Gotham, his home city. He is told Gotham is beyond saving and must be destroyed for it had become a breeding ground for criminals.
He disagrees and deserts the league of shadows, destroying their temple in the process. Bruce is able to save Henri before he falls of a cliff and brings him to a mountain village to heal. He then returns home to Gotham determined to fight crime and save the city. That section concludes that threshold crossing and reinforces his mental change with an environmental one. Although the main change is still in Bruce, he has been gone from the city for seven years. It is vastly different than when he left. On a physical standpoint he has left his home to the temple and returned home but on in the narrative it is more as he has left his home, passed through the temple’s threshold and journeyed to a place that is uniquely dissimilar to him. When Bruce returns to Gotham he investigates into the well he fell into as a child. This fall was when he was attacked by bats resulting in his deep fear of them. He explores the hole from with the bats flew and discovers a large cavern filled with bats.
It is here he establishes his base for fighting crime and creates the “bat cave” to house his equipment for his personal reconstruction into the batman the story is built around. Here demonstrates the theme of facing your fears to the letter. First he physically embodies his phobia in the creation of batman. The suit itself hides his identity and thus protects people he care about from being harmed when he fight crime. His greatest fear also becomes the only thing that allows him to fight the crime he hates. Furthermore not only does he simply embody fear but the birthplace for the last line of defense for the people he cares about is also the birth place of his original terror. The creation of Batman also is another component that reemphasizes the change of Bruce as he passed over the first threshold. He becomes a new person, in some ways more than that. In large sections of the remaining story he isn’t seen except for glimpse of him as he defeats his enemies one by one.
Even the glimpses you do see of him are still masked in his bat costume. The Bruce that you followed for the beginning of the narrative might be there but you won’t see him very often. The story uses this to examine the antagonists more than the typical movie which allows for the interesting effect of seeing how Batman affects these people. Now that Bruce has faced his fear you see how he benefits from this by instilling fear in his enemies as Batman. As a hero has passed through the first threshold and reached a new world of unfamiliarity, they will receive assistance from several “helpers” and be tested in several “trials”. A well known example of this is demonstrated in the famous myth of Hercules’s labors in which he is tested twelve times and is helped by an external source for many of the tasks.
Batman’s labors appeared to be vast yet when analyzed they were broken down into three battles, in a surprisingly simple order. First he battles the city’s crime boss, Falcone, in quick battle. He then battle’s Falcone’s boss, Scarecrow, and then Scarecrows boss, who is yet to be revealed. In this simple linear Boss, Boss’s Boss, Boss’s Boss’s Boss manor completes three trials the final being his supreme ordeal. Helpers are dispersed through each trial correspondingly being three main helpers for Batman’s three main trials. The first trial takes place immediately after Batman is created. The Falcone family is moving a drug shipment in the Harbor and Batman wants to stop it. The scene begins with Falcone’s men walking through the shipment containers inspecting each one, when one leans in to look into a shadowy container. Immediately he is sucked into and is silenced right as he begins to scream. The other men split up to look for him when both lights explode above them shadowing the area in darkness.
The gangsters turn to see a silver bat shaped knife hit the ground. One clearly frightened walks to the end of the hall and turns around to tell his partner that all is clear. He turns just in time to see a black blur smash into the man and lift him of the ground. Finally he breaks into an unstable stage screaming for Batman to come out, until batman slowly emerges behind. The camera goes black just after you hear the words “I’m hearing”. The police, primarily shown as Detective Gordon, later arrive on the scene to find Falcone tied to a spotlight with rags attached to his arms so that light projects the silhouette of a bat onto the night mist. This section happens way before the supreme ordeal and victory or defeat will cause little impact on the rest of the plot so it’s most important function is to display how Batman has embodied fear and how it has affected him.
The last time he saw Falcone was in his past life where he was still afraid. Then he was mocked, humiliated, and eventually thrown out of Falcone’s restaurants onto the streets. Then he left, passed through the threshold, and now he has learned to embrace his fear. This director most likely included this scene to show the positive effects of Bruce facing his fear through the creation of Batman. What Bruce could never stand against, Batman destroy without much of a fight. The next trial is when Batman confronts the man known as scarecrow. This shows his progression through his journey to return the city to peace because he is beginning to take on more and more powerful criminals. The scene plays out surprisingly stereotypical for a hero’s trial beginning with a “Damsel in Distress” depicted by Rachel the women who Bruce loves is attacked and poisoned by Scarecrow. Batman is then tasked with saving Rachel and defeating Scarecrow.
His confrontation with the scarecrow is specifically important because the scarecrow is powerful through his use of a neurotoxin that induces intense fear, a weaponized version of the blue flower that acted as a key to Bruce’s threshold passing. Again the movie shows a very literal depiction of its internal theme of facing your fears. This fight acts as a mid-ground between the swift destruction of Falcone and his supreme ordeal. He only barely has time to save Rachel and is wounded greatly in the process. This shows his ascent into the city for although he is having more difficulty he is also becoming responsible for saving more of the city. The final and ultimate ordeal Batman must face before he can restore the city is his former mentor Henri Ducard who now leads the league of shadows and is intent on destroying the city to reap the growth of crime at its heart. The final ordeal begins with Bruce hosting a birthday party at his house, when he is confronted by Henri and group of their soldiers.
The league burns down his house as Henri says “justice is balance, you burned my home now I burn down yours”. They leave Bruce to die, who is only saved because of Alfred, a helper, saves him from the fire and brings him to the bat cave to prepare. From there Bruce redresses as Batman and leaves to stop the league of shadows. In the meantime the league is beginning to spread the neurotoxin across Gotham through the use of the train system, and Gotham has begun to tear itself apart with fear. Batman boards the train spreading the poison and undergoes his ultimate judgment with a final battle with his former master Henri Ducard. The fight ends with another helper of Batman destroying the train tracks remotely to send the train plummeting to the ground. Batman has a chance to kill Ducard yet instead leaves him, flying away before the train crashes, exploding and killing Henri. This scene truly ties in the overall theme of the narrative as well as subsequently displaying Batman’s supreme ordeal.
The theme of facing your fears is shown throughout the story yet this is one of the sections where the concept is taken further. As the league taught Bruce, he had to let the enemy feel his fear, he needed to be what he feared in order to fight fear. In the scene before Henri destroys the Wayne manor with fire he says to Bruce “Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.” Bruce replies “That’s why it’s so important. It separates us from them.” This coupled with the ultimate ordeal creates the main message of story of how you must face your fears yet, unlike the twisted morale the league of shadows attempted to show Bruce, you should never become your fear. This idea is enhightened when Bruce refuses to kill Henri, instead leaving him to die which, although ended with really no difference then if Batman were to have simply killed him, shows in a more symbolic sense that Batman will always be above the criminals he fights against.
Another detail shown in this is the progression and character development that is evident throughout the Hero cycle. Bruce has changed significantly since his attempts to avenge his father, by murdering his Dads killer. As a character he has overcome an immense internal journey ending as a much wiser and just character then he began as. Throughout the trials of any Hero they will gain help from an external source. Bruce receives help form three main characters throughout the journey. He is helped by Alfred Pennyworth, who is his personal butler, Lucius Fox, and Detective Gordon, the leader of the military technology division at Wayne Enterprise. Bruce’s father is killed very early in the film, and Alfred, a good friend of Bruce’s father, assumes the role of a father figure in the story despite not having any biological relationships with Bruce. He takes care of Bruce, doing things a parent might typically do like telling him where he needs to be and making him dinner.
In the beginning of the movie when Bruce falls down a well as a child his father climbs down to get him and when they are both safe he says to his son “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up”. Subsequently at the end of the film after Bruce barely is saved from the burning fire of the Wayne manor Alfred says “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up”. In many ways that event shows how Alfred has in many ways assumed the father position in the story for his role in saving Bruce from the fire was almost identical to that of his biological father saving him from the well. Lucius Fox is the second helper who assists Bruce in his Hero journey. Although never actually fully being involved in the trials of Bruce he supplies Bruce with all his equipment he needs to fight.
In many ways Fox takes on a role similar to the helper The Lady of the Lake in the famous mythical tale of King Author and Excalibur. The Lady of the Lake gave Excalibur to Author which allowed him to easily defeat his enemies. Much like the lady, Fox never fought directly for Batman like other helpers, yet did supply him with his suit which allowed him to conceal himself and fight enemies he would never be able to do if he were out in the open. The final main helper is Detective Gordon, who is the most active of all the helpers in assisting Batman in actual trials. He assists Batman by simply telling him where criminals are as well as destroying the train tracks in Batman’s ultimate ordeal. When a Hero has completed his supreme ordeal and returned from the abyss of death he will ultimately receive atonement as a reward for his journey.
Across mediums this can be shown as a gain or right of a new position, the receiving/rescue of one’s love, or a supernatural ascension to divinization. Bruce’s ultimate reward is his ascension to divinization, although not in a strictly religious sense. The story concludes with a scene in front of a newly erected “Bat signal” which has been designed to call Batman if he is needed again. Gordon gives Batman a new criminal to stop, and then, after some dialogue, the camera shifts as you see Batman soar into the night. This scene shows how although in a biblical view Batman really has not become “divine” he has become a symbol to the city. Before his hero journey he didn’t even exist, and even when he first was created his identity was never seen as a legit force against criminals as the police force.
Thus when Batman story is ended with him being seen as a legitimate cause, it is easy to see how his completion of his supreme ordeal has resulted in the ascension into a more than just one man. He became, at least to the city of Gotham, a legend. Bruce Wayne, like so many Heroes before him, answered his call to adventure, crossed the first threshold, trained with his mentor, entered a new world, underwent several trials, was assisted by helpers, passed his supreme ordeal, returned to his home world, and received his atonement. Each step he took has been mirrored by so many other characters through so many different cultures. Whether the hero is shown through the face of Luke Skywalker or Jesus Christ the hardwired method of displaying a narrative in human minds creates these mirrored images of the same hero across history.