Rationality is something that most people take pride in: the ability to solve a problem, put forward an argument, make a wise decision. These are all aspects of people’s daily lives, and we look up to those that excel at applying rationality to human circumstances. However, despite being highly regarded in some spheres, rational thought is often left by the side of the road to bleed out at the hands of emotionalism, herd mentality, and fear. What is worse, oftentimes the irrational tries to wear the skin of the rational as a façade of legitimacy: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
What does this have to do with Nolan’s Batman trilogy you may ask? Everything. If you go through the films, they are filled with examples of how irrational behavior endangers people and affects the political state. In fact, upon re-watching the series, I was struck by how realistically the characters in the films mimic what we see in the world around us.
In the second film, whenever Bruce Wayne is about to turn himself in, and Harvey Dent is pleading for the people of Gotham to not give in to the Joker, a man in the room yells, “No more dead cops!” followed by hoorahs from everybody. This settles the issue, and the film continues. However, this scene has stuck with me. If you analyze the statement by the police officer, it is ONLY a statement of a desired outcome, but not a logical argument. There is not even a plea to morality: “No more dead cops because it is wrong”. However, it is treated as an argument by everyone in the room, and this statement carries a weight to it that drives people to behave and think in a certain way. This is a plea to emotionalism as everyone feels anger (rightfully) at the murder of the police officers, and based on that emotional response jumps to the most expedient avenue to reach the desired end: turning in the Batman. We see this everywhere around us today where catchy hashtag slogans are almost the entire substance behind movements.
In the third film, the character Bane opens up the city to the convicts and poor, allowing them to loot and pillage the wealthy who have trod them down. Nobody cares to examine the logical illegitimacy of hating a person because of the things they own, but rather they rape, pillage and burn because of an emotional pent up rage fueled by herd mentality: turning men who would normally be considered good to follow their peers in acts of violence. Look at many riots today, or in the past, and a similar trend can be spotted there as well.
Fear is also a common motivator of irrationality. In the second film, citizens trying to escape Gotham city seriously consider blowing up an entire boat of convicts if it means that they can save their own lives. “They had their chance” quips one man. Although they ultimately decide not to act, the mere fact that such a statement was given serious consideration as a reason to take men’s lives is disturbing enough. However, everywhere in the world today, people acting out of fear give credence to similar arguments.
In the films, Nolan shows the facades for what they are. I think that this is the reason that the films appeal so much to me: they show us the real world and warn us of the pitfalls that lie therein. So next time you listen to an enlivening speech, feel the urge to blindly pursue the cause of most of your peers, or are afraid and about to act, stop and seriously think about the motivations and reasons. You might be surprised. I know I often am.