Movie Notes: Batman Forever

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My dreams are coming to me when I’m awake now…
–Bruce Wayne

1995’s Batman Forever, directed by Joel “The Number 23” Schumacher, is one of the weirdest superhero movies you will ever see. It’s all about trauma and mind-control—you know, something for the kids and the Happy Meals!

I remember stumbling out of the movie theater in my late teens after seeing this flick and just like…having no fucking idea what I just saw. When you talk about movies having really bizarre seemingly incongruous conspiracy-type elements shoehorned into it for no apparent reason, this is like the poster-child for that.

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I’d start with the plot, but there barely is one. So let’s do a rundown on the different types of trauma suffered by the main characters, leading to all of them having some form of split identities:

  1. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Val Kilmer): trauma from dealing with a tragedy
  2. Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones): trauma from suffering a physical accident
  3. Edward Nygma/Riddler (Jim Carrey): trauma from rejection

Helpfully, at the beginning of the film Batman meets police psychological adviser Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), who is an expert in multiple personalities. (she also admits an attraction to said research subjects…an early version of Harley Quinn, perhaps???)

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Bruce Wayne and Chase Meridian

Batman goes on a chase to stop Two-Face—former attorney Harvey Dent, who developed a split identity after acid destroyed exactly half his face (how does that happen, by the way???). Director Schumacher may be short on making a comprehensible movie, but he’s great at huge symbolically-loaded set-pieces. A close-up on a green pyramid shape! Two-Face’s helicopter crashes into a giant eye! Shortly after that, the helicopter’s blades gouge out the eyes of the Statue of Liberty (!)! And the ring in the circus also has a distinct eye image!

What can it all MEAN???!!1??

Could it be…an ILLUMINATI MIND-CONTROL CONSPIRACY????

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In another barely fleshed-out plot, lowly WayneCorp inventor Edward Nygma finally gets to meet his idol, Bruce himself. Bruce is quickly skeeved-out by Nygma and alarmed by the man’s latest gadget—a helmet with a blender on top of it (an actual fucking blender) that taps into the brainwaves of its wearer.

“Tampering with brainwaves raises too many questions,” Bruce says, dismissing Nygma’s invention and utterly destroying all his dreams.

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Ed Nygma and Bruce Wayne

Tucked within all this is the implication that Nygma actually has a romantic attraction to Bruce, referenced several times in the film (the most straightforward being when Bruce refers to Nygma’s riddle-messages as “love letters.”) In a somewhat homophobic Jim_Carreytechnique that has been often used in Hollywood, Nygma is “coded” as outside the bounds of heterosexuality: his flamboyant attitude, his ever-more elaborate costumes (moving from the A0428jrelatively sedate two-piece Riddler suit to a Liberace-styled unitard and a curled pompadour)…even wearing a tiara after a jewel heist.

And so because Nygma is outside of those norms…he needs to be utterly crushed (this technique happens in movies and TV even if the character isn’t a villain…I could fill a whole post with examples).

Now, there is also a homoerotic thing going on between Bruce and Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) in Batman Forever. Rather than being a boy, Dick is close to Bruce’s age; sporting a crew-cut, a single earring, and a leather jacket. The costumes the two wear feature accentuated crotch-pieces, inexplicable latex nipples, and, in an extreme close-up, a zipper up Batman’s shiny latex ass-crack (I’m not kidding). And there are aspects of the dialogue and the acting between the two that can be read in more than one way.

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Richard “Dick” Grayson and Bruce Wayne

But Bruce is our Hero, and he’s “normalized” with his relationship with Chase (whom he has barely any sexual chemistry with)—so, safe to say, he will live intact to see another day, whereas (spoilers) Nygma will be screaming insane and brain-damaged in the bowels of Arkham Asylum.

Regardless of the fact that Schumacher himself is openly gay, he had to “play” within the mass-market cinematic norms of the time, broadcasting a shitty message about “good” and “bad” sexuality. Which is a shame, because Kilmer and O’Donnell would have been the hottest couple in all of superhero moviedom (and this is what fan-fiction is for).

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Batman & Robin in shiny latex; strangely, the version of the bat-costume for this publicity photo is different and doesn’t feature the bat-nipples

Now, a dejected Nygma retreats to his apartment and has a psychotic breakdown, goaded by a life-sized “fortune-teller robot” in a booth (you’d have to see it). He becomes The Riddler, dyes his hair red, and decides to take his revenge on Bruce Wayne.

As an aside, I have believed for many years that Aurora “Dark Knight” mass-shooter James Holmes was not really inspired by the comic book/movie character The Joker as told in the media…but that actually it was Batman Forever that gave him the idea to dye his hair red (the Joker, of course, has green hair). The “revenge” angle against a “cruel world” would fit. In an interesting coincidence, the first “Joker Killer,” Kim De Gelder, also had red hair cut in the manner of Nygma in Batman Forever.

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The Riddler, James Holmes, and Kim De Gelder

And if we consider the topic of mind-control that is the center of Batman Forever…it gets a little bit rabbit-holey.

(then again, perhaps “Riddler Killer” just wouldn’t have sold enough newspapers)

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Let’s move over to Nygma’s mind-control instrument itself. As I’ve previously noted, the first model has a blender on top of it—literally, to scramble brains. The next model is like a smaller rod that you place over the forehead—third eye. And the “ultimate” model sort of attaches to your TV like a blender-shaped cable-box and sucks your brains out (again, through the third eye) into a “power station” that goes into Nygma’s head.

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Batman Forever doesn’t pre-date the Internet, but it certainly was released before it was super-mainstreamed. Might the Nygmatech Box be a metaphor/prediction regarding it? Virtual reality was a fad during this time period, but what the Box seems to do is more akin to augmented reality devices.

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But there was also a conspiracy meta-theory making the rounds in the mid-1990s…Project Blue Beam. Alleged by Quebecois journalist and conspiracy theorist Serge Monast, it envisioned a “New World Order” takeover, part of which would consist of the following elements:

  1. A holographic light show in which three-dimensional images would be beamed across the planet. This would allegedly be achieved with the aid of Russian computers that would utilize “the minute physio-psychological particulars based on their studies of the anatomy and electro-mechanical composition of the human body, and the studies of the electrical, chemical and biological properties of the human brain”
  2. “Telepathic Electronic Two-Way Communication,” in which people would have their brainwaves hijacked by voices meant to sound like “God.”
  3. “A mixture of electronic and supernatural forces, allowing the supernatural forces to travel through fiber optics, coax, power and telephone lines to penetrate all electronic equipment and appliances, that will by then all have a special microchip installed.”
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This is not a graphic from a conspiracy site, but an actual scene from the film

Supposedly, this theory was originally inspired by the plot of an unsold Gene Roddenberry script for the first Star Trek movie of all things, about a plot by aliens to deceive humans into thinking they were gods. (and we revisit Nygma’s line: “For if knowledge is power…then a god…am…I!”)

Were the screenwriters aware of the Blue Beam conspiracy theory when they wrote Batman Forever? Was Schumacher? (the timeline fits, if nothing else)

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But there is one more fringe theory I want to touch upon regarding Batman Forever, and that is the more general MK-ULTRA lore—specifically, the idea that split personalties can be created by subjects (often, children), by purposely inducing trauma.

A continuing subplot in the movie is Bruce Wayne’s own psychological journey. He keeps having dreams of himself as a child, trying to access a red book and being chased by bats. After he accesses the Nygmatech Box, an even more vivid “waking” dream along the same lines is induced.

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a young Bruce Wayne in a dream sequence

And so we have young Bruce’s trauma, which creates the “split personality” Batman. The Nygmatech induces a spontaneous, “waking” vision of the trauma.

We can imagine such a machine being used for more sinister purposes, bringing us to the rich MK-ULTRA folklore.

Interestingly, the symbol of the red book appears again in Schumacher’s 2007 film The Number 23…starring Jim Carrey as a man with multiple personality disorder! (Many of Carrey’s films feature this theme, and The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind even features a similar brain helmet) Compare the name Edward Nygma with Topsy Kretts from Number 23

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Jim Carrey in “The Number 23” with the red book

Well, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Batman Forever is not a great film, but it is inexplicably one of these films I keep returning to—I’ve seen in more times than all the other Batman movies combined. Maybe it’s because I saw it at a formative time? Maybe it’s all the subliminals?

To each their own…