In the film, Batman Begins, we the see the very dark coming of age story for a young Bruce Wayne. While most film makers focus on him after he is already established as Batman, this movie, however, dives deep into the seemingly bottomless pit of a soul that is Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. It explores the traumatic childhood in a way that no other Batman film has before. Not only that, but the film also gives us as the audience a rare look into his life in-between his childhood and his transition into Batman. His life in the beginning of the film is a guide to seeing the true inner turmoil that was Bruce Wayne, including the conception of Batman down in the caves beneath Wayne Manor.
Now, it can be assumed that a man in a mask fighting crime at night is a little strange, but is there a real diagnosable condition to blame (or thank in some cases)? I believe that there is. Bruce Wayne, as a child, fell down an abandoned well, and was swarmed by bats flying around his head. Because of this event, when his parents took him to the opera later that evening, young Bruce became frightened of the costumes, as they were giving him flashbacks of the experience in the cave. He and his parents walked out into the alley, where they were shot and killed by a nervous robber.
I believe that Bruce Wayne, traumatized by the sudden and violent death that occurred before his very young eyes, suffers from PTSD. I also believe that he uses Batman as a coping mechanism for the crippling shame he suffers, because he feels his fear is to blame for his parents’ death. I believe that because of the PTSD, Bruce, an otherwise well-educated and smart young man, was indoctrinated into a cult like organization called the League of Shadows, which gave him the training and skills to become Batman.
Now something that should be pointed out is an important distinction between Bruce Wayne and Batman: Bruce is the man who physically wears the suit and fights crime; Batman is the idea behind the mask. He is not, however, a vigilante. He was told during his training, “A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely.” Batman is that something else entirely.
Just as a note, before we begin, for the purposes of this paper, any background information on Bruce Wayne or his family used is taken directly from scenes in the movie. I have not done any other research on a diagnosis, nor am I including information from any other source but the movie. Any quotes, however, will be referenced back to an official script that I was able to find online.
First, before we can understand Bruce Wayne, we need to know about his background: He was born to Thomas and Martha Wayne, where they lived on the outskirts of Gotham City in Wayne Manor. Thomas was a doctor, and although it is never explicitly said what Martha did, it is implied that she was a stay-at-home wife and mother. They were often seen taking the public transit that Wayne Enterprises built, like everyone else, as opposed to being driven.Thomas Wayne felt that it was important that Bruce be exposed to and understand the struggles of people less fortunate than them. He once said, “Gotham’s been good to our family, but the city’s been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times, so we built a new, cheap, public transportation system to unite the city. And at the center… Wayne Tower.” It’s made clear in the film that Thomas was well thought of in his community because of his generosity and thoughtfulness of others. It’s also made clear in the scenes showing Thomas and Bruce together that there was a strong bond, and that Bruce very much looked up to his father.
I believe that because of his strong admiration for his father, along with the all the sudden attention and air of expectation placed on his shoulders at such a young age, it could have put Bruce’s grieving in jeopardy. After his parents’ shooting, people who knew his father started treating Bruce like an adult, expecting him to understand what any of the business talk meant. As well, although it is never explicitly mentioned, but he was probably followed around by paparazzi for a good portion of his life. In a scene following his parents’ death, young Bruce was in a room surrounded by what appear to be paparazzi through glass windows, visible to him as he waits to be told what’s next.
Little is said about Bruce’s life between his parents’ murder and when he comes home from Princeton in the next scene (as a college student), aside from the fact that he will not sleep in the Master Bedroom, though he is technically the rightful owner of the house. It is made clear throughout the film that his father’s approval means everything to him. At one point, when Bruce came home from Princeton, when Thomas and Martha’s murderer was in a hearing to determine if he was eligible for parole after 14 years in prison and providing the DA’s office with information on a mob boss, a now twenties something Bruce Wayne comes home from Princeton with the intention of killing the murderer. When Rachel, a childhood friend of Bruce, learned that he was planning on killing the man, she slapped him repeatedly and said, “Your father would be ashamed of you,” and then Bruce’s jaw dropped, and then he exited the vehicle. He was devastated.
Later on, after having put himself into exile, he was met by a man named Ducard, who would go on to be his mentor and trainer in the League of Shadows. Ducard introduced himself, calling Bruce by name, shocking Bruce. He offers Bruce a chance to take back control of his life, as cult leaders and recruiters usually do. Ducard speaks of a man name Ra’s Al Ghul, a man feared by the rest of the criminal underground. He says to Bruce, who’s asked Ducard what kind of path Ra’s Al Ghul offers: “The path of a man who shares his hatred of evil and wished to serve true justice. The path of the League of Shadows. Because of his deeply troubled state, he was manipulated into joining that cult-like organization.
Now that we have had a chance to look into a brief history of Bruce Wayne, let’s look into the criterion that I believe makes Bruce Wayne a candidate for PTSD. Something to make clear before we go on, any diagnostic criterion mentioned from here on out is Criterion from the DSM-5, the latest edition of diagnostics in the mental health profession. This information was extracted from a website run by the US government and the source will be provided on the Reference List.
Criterion A: Stressor. Bruce was in the middle of the violence that ended his parents’ lives. Not only that, as stated earlier, his earlier traumatic event, falling into the old well and terrified by a swarm of bats flying by him, would have left him feeling raw and fearful to begin with, but also made him fear the costumes from the opera. He was feeling guilty because of having to make his parents leave the show early, and as his father was trying to lighten the mood with a joke, when the shooter came up and tried to rob them.
A young Bruce Wayne was sitting directly next to his parents as they were murdered. Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, the one-person Bruce admired most in the world, dove in front of Bruce’s mother, Martha, to save her, only for the gunman to shoot her afterwards. The man then ran off, leaving the boy alone with his dead parents in a cold city alley.
Criterion B: Intrusion symptoms. Any time anyone brings up or insults Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, there is a physical reaction, usually in the form of violence. At one point during the film, Bruce’s mentor, Ducard, at the League of Shadows tells Bruce, “Your parents’ death was not your fault. It was your father’s. Anger does not change the fact that your father failed to act” (Daily Script, n.d.). In that scene, when Ducard tells Bruce that his parents’ death wasn’t his fault, it was his father’s, Bruce attacked Ducard, enraged by Ducard’s attack on Thomas.
Criterion C: One type of trauma-related stimuli avoidance. I believe that Bruce’s self-imposed exile would count for avoidance behavior. When we see Bruce for the first time since his exile, he is covered in mud and being treated like a slave by outlaws. He has the option of going back to the lavish lifestyle of the Wayne Fortune in Gotham, but voluntarily puts himself through daily torture. It is revealed later that he kept himself away from everyone and everything he knew for 7 years. When Ducard met him for the first time, “The world is too small for someone like Bruce Wayne to disappear, no matter how deep he chooses to sink” (Daily Script, n.d.).
Criterion D: Two negative alterations of cognitions and mood. Bruce blames himself for his parents’ death; more specifically, he feels like his fear of bats is the cause for his parent’s death, so he uses the symbol of a bat to inflict fear of those he hunts. At one point at the beginning of his training with Ducard, Bruce reveals that his anger outweighs his feelings of guilt (Daily Script, n.d.). The fact that his main emotion is angry leads me to believe that this “guilt of killing his parents” is more about the shame he feels that his fear is why they’re dead.
After the incident with Rachel described above, Bruce literally puts what seems like thousands of miles between himself and the people who love him, namely his guardian and family butler, Alfred. Alfred was given custody of Bruce after the death of his parents, but in many ways, becomes more of a pseudo father figure for Bruce. He clearly doesn’t feel like he can be open with either one of his closest loved ones.
Criterion E: Alterations in arousal and reactivity. According to Naoni Sadeh, Mark Miller, Erika J. Woke & Kate L Harkness, researcher in longitudinal PTSD studies, “Chronic PTSD is a dynamic and environmentally sensitive condition characterized by periods of symptom exacerbation and relative remission” (Sadeh, Miller, Wolfe & Harkness, 2015). It is not said if there were any behavior issues with Bruce as a teenager or not, but I don’t believe that it is unfair to assume that an event like the perspective release of his parents’ murderer would be a triggering circumstance for Bruce to possibly relive that trauma. It is shown before the hearing that Bruce takes puts a small hand gun on his person to take to the courtroom. He reveals to Rachel later that he had intended on the murderer. Also, as mentioned before, any negative mention of his father sends Bruce into a blind rage.
As well, Bruce shows no interest in any “normal” activities. Once he is back in Gotham, he puts all of his time, energy, and resources into becoming Batman. He puts his physical self in danger by being actively involved in ridding the dangerous crime filled streets of Gotham City.
Criterion F: Duration of at least one month. Bruce more than meets this criterion, as these events of the movie take place over a span of several years. Because of this, he also meets the delayed criterion for diagnosing PTSD.
Criterion G: Functional significance. As mentioned before, Bruce pours all his time and energy, as well as much of his own personal wealth to build and maintain the creature Gotham knows as Batman. The only two people Bruce interacts with on a regular basis are Luscious Fox, the head of Military Weapons division, and his butler, Alfred. Batman is his life. Bruce Wayne is stuck in a never-ending cycle of his own broken psyche.