Matt Reeves‘ The Batman carries the prodigious weight of fear through the caped crusader, anchoring his growth around his losses and the profound connections he makes towards becoming the notable superhero. And while much of Bruce Wayne’s fears are a subtly palpable presence through Robert Pattinson’s performances, his quiet confession to Alfred fortifies how fervently he cares.
In our review of the film, we briefly explored Bruce Wayne’s fears through this scene, stating: “And fear is the crux of Bruce Wayne’s characterization that’s easily stood out. For a man who walks around calling himself “vengeance,” it’s refreshing to once again see his vulnerabilities come to the surface. And this is precisely why his quiet moment with Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) is the most gut-wrenching in a film full of sinister, cruel murders. Because for a brief instant, Bruce Wayne isn’t a hero or a vigilante; he’s but a mere boy, looking into the eyes of a man, telling him that he’s afraid of yet another loss, and there’s no emotion more tremendously taxing than the fears that grief can instill.”
The untimely tragic death of a parent generally stirs a superhero’s ambitions towards becoming the helping hand that they are. So, no, The Batman doesn’t necessarily do anything innovative or new with Bruce Wayne’s fears. However, the sheer bravery in Bruce’s decision to be vulnerable distinguishes it from others that have come before. It’s the detail that he doesn’t say the words overtly aloud, but the screenplay allows him to struggle with his confession. And in his struggle, the delivery will enable viewers to understand that fear is the worst enemy to all those who have somebody they love.
Alfred Pennyworth is a significant character in all adaptations, but The Batman plays further on Bruce’s uncertainties before it dives into the heart of his emotions. He’s reserved with Alfred. He doesn’t necessarily give him grace or distinct flashes of innate kindness. He’s just there, and while Bruce cares, no part of him understands how to show it quite yet. His thirst for vengeance cobbled with his desire to help the city is one thing, but when he finally allows himself a chance to be vulnerable, Batman starts to take flight.
Bruce could fight against whoever is necessary, and there’s no part of him who fears dying at the hands of any villain, but every part of him fears loss, and it’s that very admittance that humanizes him so brilliantly. Pattinson plays with Bruce’s struggle with such ardor that you could not only see the daunting agony written all over his face, but you can feel it in your gut. And that’s perhaps because this writer understands exactly what it’s like to lose a parent and fear for all those around me, but it doesn’t change the fact that Bruce’s guttural confession is the ultimate showcase of grief’s lasting effects.
You don’t cross a bridge at any point in the grieving process and never look back because those who’ve passed cross with you. They become a part of you. We don’t forget those who’ve died; we carry them with us. It’s why the most harrowing fear in the world is the loss of a loved one, and it’s when Bruce realizes after the news of Alfred’s state that if history were to repeat itself, there’s no going back after this juncture.
When Bruce Wayne lost his parents, he had Alfred Pennyworth, but if he loses Alfred, he loses every part of himself that’s fought for a purpose. He was allowed to grow up with Alfred’s teachings, but if he’s no longer in this world, then Bruce Wayne dies the kind of death from which there’s no coming back.
It’s refreshing to watch two grown men open up about their hesitations, but it’s even more vital to see them realize that they matter significantly to each other. Alfred didn’t fail Bruce in any way, even if he had no idea how to be the father he needed. He becomes everything necessary to Bruce, but more than that, he becomes the heart that carries him through every battle.
Pattinson and Serkis play off one another with such zeal at this point that every expression tells a story critical to shaping them. There’s immense respect in this conversation that’s incredibly hard to find, and Bruce’s fears allow Alfred to firmly understand that whatever he’s doing, as long as he continues to be by Bruce’s side, he could never fail him. It’s a scene that humanizes and grounds Bruce Wayne beautifully while keeping Alfred’s significance front and center.
In every version, Alfred Pennyworth is the beating heart of the story and a tremendous part of Batman’s legacy. Most variations exhibit Alfred’s role in a matchless way exclusive to the narrative and the director’s vision. However, much like Michael Cain’s embodiment in The Dark Knight series, Serkis’ interpretation allows us to actually feel the weight of Alfred’s importance as if he were a real person, not a fictional one.