Batman and Billy Lynn
I strained a muscle in my leg in a zumba class last week. I had to rest the leg and keep the walking to a minimum. Even though I realized that it could be a lot worse, I was still bummed. I wanted to move and just plain couldn’t.
Fortunately, I could still stir a martini and eat cookies. Ugh, too many cookies. Then, I saw a movie I really liked and read a book I highly recommend. Quick, to the Sunshine Jen Cave!
In The Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman pulls out a gun in the middle of a fist fight. Batman slaps the gun away and says ‘No guns.’ After the recent awful event in Colorado, this moment takes on a melancholy bigness. The audience at the Imax theater let out a collective sigh after the line was said.
In the context of just the film, the scene shows us that Batman has a code. Okay, yes, it also keeps the super baddie alive into the third act. Batman’s code is an old school code of taking out the bad guys with cunning, cool gadgets, and the well-placed punch.
Like his super hero, Christopher Nolan has a code for making his Batman films---write a script that combines action and character scenes in which the themes of the film are spoken by at least two different characters, cast the film top to bottom with an excellent ensemble anchored by Christian Bale capable of both filling the bat suit and disappearing in it, shoot on film, and finally action, action, action. Ticking bombs! Revelations! High Tech toys! Flawed good guys. Really bad guys. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman. This film even has orphans. Orphans!
Sure, sometimes, I asked, wait, how did he do that? Wait, am I watching a Dionysian orgy of anarchy or an Apolline plea for moderation? Wait, uhm never mind, it’s Batman. I was entertained. For nearly three hours, I got to be in Batman’s Gotham. Even though a lot of it got blown up and frozen over, it wasn’t such a bad place to be.
Batman is a painfully human super hero. I sympathized with billionaire Bruce Wayne hobbling with a cane at the beginning of the film. Pass him the heating pad and the advil. Batman/Bruce falls, but he rises again and again and again. He has that pesky human will that tells him he’s not done yet. As several characters say, ‘anyone can be Batman.’ Personally, I don’t want to be Batman. Not into bats.
Not everyone can be Billy Lynn, the protagonist of Ben Fountain’s first novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk. His narrative voice is unique, unexpected, and funny. Like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Billy is looking for a code—and some advil for his hangover.
A private in an army squad stationed in Iraq during the Bush years, Billy was a hero in a fire fight captured by an embedded Fox news camera team. After the footage is replayed again and again, Billy and his buddies get pulled out of Iraq and sent on a Victory Tour across the US. They have a Hollywood producer trying to set up a studio deal for their story.
The tour culminates at a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving Day. During the half time show, Billy and his squad have to walk out onto the field during a performance by Destiny’s Child. During the climatic walk, the squad must face a thousand cameras shooting them as they face the kitschy heart of American lightness.
When I finished this book, I just had to tell everyone about it. The themes might sound heavy, but it is a fun read. It has been compared to Catch 22, but to me, it feels more like Kerouac’s On The Road. It reminded me of being young and spotting the bullshit behind the shimmering curtain for the first time.