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The Bat Gaze

The Bat Gaze

The Batman (2022)

The opening scene of The Batman (2022) shares a point of view with the villain spying on his victim. Paul Dano’s Riddler announces his presence behind the binocular lens aurally; his heavy breathing is accompanied by the soundtrack of Ave Maria and the background noise of Gotham City. After observing the Mayor (Rupert Penry-Jones) and his family, the binoculars wonder again until they latch onto the roof window which later becomes the entry point for the murderer. 

In this obvious and open homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), the director Matt Reeves puts the audience into the uncomfortable  position of the intrusion. What could normally bring interest and pleasure thanks to its experiential closeness to movements, which is made uncomfortable by the goosebump-inducing soundtrack and the eerie atmosphere of the scene. In a truly Hitchcockian spin, Reeves uses his camera to ‘implicate the viewer,’ as he explains to Time.

This scene sets a tone of unease that permeates the film. It suits the gritty, corrupted, inherently unsafe and dire setting of Gotham. But there comes a point not much later in the film which echoes the opening scene and brings a new layer of unease with it. 

After meeting Selina/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) at an  underworld hangout spot, Bruce/Batman (Robert Pattinson) follows her taxi home. Positioned on a nearby rooftop, he watches Selina in her flat first talking with her roommate, and then changing into her sleek Catwoman uniform. 

Watching her through Batman’s binoculars rightly feels like a violation. Reeves puts the viewer in the position of the voyeur for the second time, in order to maintain the film’s tone of unease. This scene reminds us of the vulnerability of the person being watched, especially as it appears not long after we have witnessed a gory murder of the Mayor, who had been spied on by his murderer. The soundtrack is softer here – the incessant rain accompanied by the soft score and Catwoman’s ethereal string theme communicate Batman’s intrigue and make the scene more palatable. Unlike earlier, we are also offered a reverse shot from inside Selina’s apartment, showing Batman on the rooftop obscured by the curtains. But is this enough?

Reeves claims to have employed this technique in order to question the morality of his hero. If Batman stalks people, lurking in the shadows and climbing rooftops, is he different from the villains he seeks to obliterate? 

Whilst both scenes echo Hitchcockian narrative genius in how they create the eerie atmosphere and communicate information vital to the story, their presentation is disturbing beyond the intended measure. Selina may be spied on by the hero, but this does not erase the earlier scene from our minds. In the very opening scene, a man kills another, and here as we are learning more about Selina through Batman’s eyes, it is essentially a woman being spied on by a man in her own home, in her bedroom, in her closet. To be sure, when Selina and Batman meet in person, they are introduced to the audience as equals, when they both show skills and intelligence and later work as a team. Can one voyeuristic scene which takes place before their official meeting undo their partnership? Probably not. But the implications of this parallel between a murder victim and the female protagonist which the voyeuristic scenes invite have left a sour taste after seeing the film which I thoroughly loved in other ways.

Written for The Film Dispatch by Slavomira Nemcikova.



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