Before I begin, let me just get this out there: I hate the word ‘bromance.’ Everyone and their mother thinks they are hilarious by using it. You really need to get creative these days to really make an impression on me with this subject matter. Unfortunately, it’s hard to come up with a shorter word to describe a friendship between two heterosexual men. I’m just going to play devil’s advocate here, and use it for the sake of time. I would probably felt pretty pathetic spending my time on what title should I go with for my Batman note that 10 people are going to read. I just feel sort of pathetic spending this much time discussing the matter.
Christopher Nolan has finished his Dark Knight trilogy. This leaves us to poke, prod, and dissect every aspect of it, and as clichéd as it sounds there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said by better writers out there. So instead of tackling the trilogy as a whole, I am going to talk about one of the most interesting, and therefore strongest, elements it sports in my opinion, and that is the partnership between James Gordon and Batman.
It’s always fascinating to watch a relationship between a lawman and a vigilante. Both are different sides to the same coin. Each have the same goal with different resources to achieve them. Each can work the law in ways the other can’t. The lawman is confined to the rules, but at the same time can be hailed the conquering hero. Conversely, the vigilante can go to places the lawman isn’t allowed, free to exact justice in any way he or she see fit, but is often seen as the outsider, shunned and vilified by the very people they protect. Often these two archetypes are set against each other. The lawman, commonly seen as corrupted by a corrupt system, is charged with hunting the vigilante, who is normally the main protagonist. The audience normally cheers for the vigilante, and laughs when the lawman is made a fool. Conflicts like this can be found throughout popular fiction going all the way back to the feud between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
The relationship between Gordon and Batman in Nolan’s films is an example of an exception to that common story element, however. In fact, it’s fairly close to how the two interact in the comics. In past iterations, outside of comics, it was a very one-sided partnership. Gordon was played off as a fairly simple-minded police commissioner who called on Batman for just about every occasion. In the comics, and in the Nolan trilogy, the two see each other as equals. They are two soldiers in a war that will never end.
To really see why this partnership works so well, I am going to look at a few key scenes from each film. The first scene they share is of course pretty important. It sets the mortar for what’s to come for both of the characters over the course of three movies.
(It starts at 2:21.)
Bruce has just lost his parents. Without question, this is the moment Batman was born; a fraction of Bruce’s psyche that will become the dominating factor of his life for the next few decades. He is alone in the world, when out of the darkness, a light appears; a friendly face. Sgt. James Gordon attempts to reassure Bruce that the world isn’t over with something simple as wrapping the boy in his father’s coat, a symbol of security, and telling him a simple lie: “It will be okay.” Gary Oldman gives a very subtle look acknowledging the lie, and he absolutely nails it. It’s a very beautifully simple scene that is once again called upon in the third film. In this scene, Gordon shows Bruce what a hero can be. The next takes place years later, with Bruce fully embracing his self-appointed war for Gotham’s soul, as he looks to enlist another warrior:
I believe that the line, “Now we’re two,” can be interpreted in two ways; Bruce has excepted his darker personality, and the other being that he has just gained an ally. He knows that Gordon is a good cop, and believes Gotham can be saved. Unlike most authority figures in popular culture, he isn’t corrupted by the corrupt system he upholds, unlike most of his compatriots. This is a fact the Joker exploits in the second film. For now though, the Batman has a very necessary ally, as does Gordon. At the end of the film, after Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan to destroy the city through fear has been thwarted, Batman and the newly appointed Lieutenant reflect on their victory and an uncertain future.
It’s a scene that strikes very emotional core for me. It’s a scene straight out of Frank Miller’s iconic ‘Batman:Year One.’ These two are about to go through some of the most horrific events one could imagine, all for the sake of saving a self-destructive city. Hell, Gordon even correctly points out that Batman’s presence there is only going to invite even more horror to Gotham. They are both going to sacrifice so much for this place for a war they can’t possibly win. It’s bravery defined, and while Gordon has more promotions, medals, and praise his way, the Bat will forever be on the outside until his “death.” I will discuss this more in a bit, but just Gordon attempts to thank Batman, he is stopped with that legendary line, “You’ll never have to.” This is a key insight into Batman as a character, as well as this partnership. In the next film, the duo become a trio, as a new hero rises in the form of Harvey Dent. It’s crucial to talk about Dent because he represents the two’s greatest failure. Harvey was the public face of the crusade the two had begun, and thus, hope began to grow in Gotham. All three are able to use one another: Gordon has the support of an entire police force, Dent can be the face that can take drag crime into the light, and Batman’s form of justice has no boundaries, free to enforce justice in ways that Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ and Commissioner cannot. I could write another note entirely about Harvey Dent and Batman, but I’ll do my best to keep it on track.
Enter the Joker. He is able to effectively throw a wrench into each of their strengths, and destroy Gotham’s hope. Like Gordon and Batman, he saw the importance of Dent. So he uses Gordon’s force against him by attacking their most basic desires i.e. the safety of their loved ones, revenge, money, and the allure of Batman’s limitless justice. The only thing left he needed was a push, which the death of Rachel Dawes provided. The Joker wins, and if Harvey’s evil actions ever come to surface, it could undo everything that the three had done. So Batman makes a decision, and once again, James Gordon must lie:
Batman and Gordon realize the symbol they have attempted to create with Batman must now be transferred to Harvey, or all will be lost. The people of Gotham had faith in Harvey Dent, and as Batman eloquently puts it,”Sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” So Batman decides to become another symbol; a symbol of evil. His reasoning being that Batman is a symbol, and by that logic, Batman can be anything Gotham needs him to be, much to Gordon’s objection. One could simply argue why not shift the blame to the Joker. He’s a known murderer, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The Joker isn’t standing over Harvey’s dead body. Batman is, and an army of cops are on their way. So a quick decision is made, and everything the three worked for is allowed to continue, effectively pushing organized crime out of Gotham through the Dent Act. This leaves no place for either Batman or Gordon. The city no longer needs them, and the two begin to gather dust, and building inner turmoil. Bruce still feels guilty over both Harvey and Rachel’s death, and longs to die for the city he swore to protect. Gordon, having lost his family to divorce, must live with the lie that Gotham demonizes the man who saved his son while it celebrates a man who held a gun to his son’s head. The two aren’t given much screen time together in the film, which is a shame, but is also a necessity. The two must now be enemies, and as such are now on opposite sides in the public’s eyes. Gordon is also sideline for a good portion of the film due to an injury, and his place is taken by a new ally for both characters. This time being a young police officer named John Blake, who lights a spark in both characters, representing Batman’s continued legacy. He also reminds us of a younger Gordon, not yet corrupted by Gotham City. One can assume the two continued to work together in the same way Bruce’s Batman and Gordon did.
With new hope comes a new threat however, and thus Bane enters to continue what Ra’s started in the first film. In a way, he is also continuing the Joker’s plan as well. He seeks to destroy Gotham by attacking Gotham’s hope, much like the Joker did. While in the hospital, Bruce pays Gordon a visit, with his identity covered of course. In this scene, Gordon urges Batman to come back into the game because his city needs him. Bruce attempts to rise to the occasion, but he has been out of the game too long. Bane decides to break Gotham in a very blunt manner. You don’t get much more blunt than taking a city’s hope (Batman) and breaking its fucking back over your knee. Add breaking the neck of the only man who deactivate a nuclear bomb in front of every one for good measure. Gordon’s lie is also brought to the surface creating even further distrust. While in Bane’s prison, Bruce is finally able to embrace fear, and thus move past it. In doing so, he is able to let go of Batman. They only reason he returns to Gotham, is because while he may no longer need the mantle, the city does. As Bruce put, Batman is whatever Gotham needs him to be, and now instead of fear, he bring hope. It is in the film’s final 30 minutes when our two heroes are reunited and allowed to work together again. In their last scene together, Batman and Gordon are allowed one quiet moment. In it, Gordon once again attempts to thank Batman, believing the city deserves to know who their hero is.
Batman’s response brings this whole relationship full circle. “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” In doing this, Bruce reveals his identity, and sums up a very powerful statement about Gordon, one of the unsung heroes of this franchise. With one simple act of kindness, James Gordon influenced a boy who would grow up to be the savior of Gotham City. The smallest of acts can have the biggest of consequences, good and bad. Both molded a hero. If Batman was the hero Gotham deserved, James Gordon was the hero Bruce Wayne needed.