Batman Returns : Tim Burton's personal hero movie


In Gotham City, during the holiday season, a dark fellow named the Penguin comes out of the city's sewers and allies himself with a wealthy, unscrupulous businessman named Schreck. The latter wants to build a power station to drain all of the city's energy. However, when Selina Kyle, her assistant, finds out about Schreck's malicious plans, Schreck will attempt to eliminate her by throwing her out the window. Thus, Catwoman will be born. In order to eliminate Batman, Selina Kyle will also ally himself with the penguin, who in the meantime, driven by Schreck, decides to run for mayor in order to make the latter's plans possible. As discussed above, the action takes place during the holiday season in Gotham, which as usual is rife with crime. Going from shootings to explosions, the metropolis will become a place of disorder for residents and authorities.

Tim Burton was obviously greatly inspired by the German expressionist movement when filming Batman Returns. Thus, we find in his work several characteristics specific to expressionism. First of all, the city plays a very important role in the story. Gotham seems alive and the director has fun filming it from all angles. Alleys, sewers, public places, roofs, poor neighborhoods, wealthy neighborhoods, nothing belonging to the metropolis is hidden. Moreover, the latter is filmed with very little light, which accentuates the level of fear and uncertainty specific to the expressionist cinema from which it is inspired. Then, the puppet's roles are clearly defined by Selina Kyle, who, before becoming Catwoman, was Schreck's shy secretary, as well as the Penguin, who came out of the shadows and manipulated by the wealthy businessman. Next comes the theme of the double. Indeed, all the main characters of the film have a double identity. Whether it's Bruce Wayne and Batman, Selina Kyle and Catwoman or Oswald Cobblepot and the Penguin, all have an alter-ego. There is also the presence of the theme of moral revolt against the bourgeoisie, a recurring theme of German expressionism, is also present in the film. Indeed, it is important to remember that it is Catwoman and not Batman who will get rid of billionaire Schreck. Selina Kyle who, unlike Bruce Wayne, is not part of the bourgeoisie. We will deepen this analysis in the following paragraph. Additionally, Burton’s film is filmed entirely inside huge studios, as was largely the case during the German Expressionist film era. The size of the studios in particular allowed the construction of magnificent urban settings with very rectangular buildings (apart from the Schreck tower) forming rigid and aggressive lines. Finally, comes the processing of the circle and the angle. Indeed, Gotham marries the two types of traits very well. Going from rough, angular and straight for buildings, these lines become rounded and supple when we dive into the world of the Penguin. As proof of this, the sewers, the capitals and the spiral staircases, present in his marker when he became a candidate for mayor. In short, by noting the characteristics of German expressionist films, one can easily see that Tim Burton was inspired by this movement when he produced his film. Now, it remains to be seen how Batman Returns is such a movie. First of all, what is obvious is the exuberant presence of film references. Tim Burton likes to quote the big names in German expressionist cinema like Fritz Lang, Robert Wiene, Max Schreck himself and many others. (The aspect of the penguin as well as the chase towards the end of the film refers to Doctor Caligari (1920), the appearance of the city, the aspect of Schreck, the latter's office, the public square as well as the giant statue of the worker pushing the lever are all references to Metropolis (1927), the name of the rich billionaire businessman is a reference to the German actor Max Schreck, whose character in Batman Returns is reminiscent of the vampire who drains energy from the city) Aside from expressionism, the director will quote Orson Welles and his film noir The Third Man, when the time comes to film the sewers of Gotham. One can also find references to the films The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Vertigo (1958), The Feline (1942) and many others. In addition, Tim Burton will not hesitate to make self-reference. Whether it is the striped suit that Schreck wears, reminiscent of the one worn by Michael Keaton four years earlier in the excellent Beetlejuice (1988) or even a reference to his 1985 film Pee Wee big adventure since the parents of the Penguin are played by the actors of Pee Wee and Simone, two characters present in Pee Wee. Then, the interbreeding of the arts present in Burton's film effectively indicates that Batman Returns is a post-modern film. Indeed, the film does not only deal with the cinematographic universe, but also considers the art of the spectacle, with the presentation that the Penguin does when he presents himself for the town hall, as well as the world of the circus with the presence of clowns, which recalls the close bond that Tim Burton maintains with his characters, in this case the Penguin, often treated as "Freaks". Finally, as specified by Francisco Ferreira: “The“ mannerists ”will then offer a certain type of reinterpretation of the classics, by exaggeratingly deploying their great stylistic formulas in films openly presenting themselves as variations from a filmic work, d 'a sequence, or even a pattern, considered as matrix. »(Francisco Ferreira. 2006: Dead man (1995) by Jim Jarmusch. (Since I came across this article and find it difficult to find it I put the link: High school students in the cinema ( The exacerbation of style is part of mannerism. Therefore, Tim Burton and his artistic team will not hesitate to exaggerate the features of their sets, lighting and costumes in order to almost caricature the style of movements from which they are inspired.
By directing Batman Returns, Tim Burton takes the opportunity to make his film a critique of the contemporary world. Thus, he will mainly criticize the power of multinationals, the media and powerful businessmen. First, it's important to note that the film was released in the United States on June 19, 1992, but the action in Diegesis takes place during the holiday season. The connection between the holiday season and capitalism is therefore more than obvious. Then, the abundant presence of media sources such as television and newspapers invade the daily lives of the citizens of Gotham. So much so that at times, it feels like being in the middle of reality TV, like when the journalists harass the penguin, when the latter is in front of the grave of these deceased parents or when Oswald presents himself for town hall. In addition, Tim Burton takes the opportunity to deal with the class struggle, because as treated above, it is Selena Kyle, the only one not part of the high society, who gets rid of the rich businessman Schreck and not Batman. On this subject, Marc DiPaolo, the author of The Politics of Batman, Part 5, will say: “Ironically, when Shreck is definitely beaten at the end of the film, it is not thanks to Batman, but because of from Shreck's personal secretary, Selina Kyle, who is from the lower middle class. Thus, she is better placed than Wayne to know how bad men like Schreck are ”. (Marc DiPaolo. October 8, 2014: The Politics of Batman, Part 5:Batman Returns, Enron, and the Buying of American Democracy) Finally, the director will take the opportunity to assert that multinationals and bourgeois are becoming so powerful that the law itself no longer concerns them. Marc DiPaolo clarifies, “However, he (Batman) cannot find a way to decisively defeat Shreck, or to strip him of his wealth and power. Therefore, the film suggests that Shreck is above the law and beyond the reach of Bruce Wayne and Batman ”. That’s why the only way I could have beaten Schreck was by killing him.

Sorry for the late response, Olivier, but I've been a bit too busy to post here much lately. That being said, good work! Returns has always been a movie I've been fascinated by, and I'm actually planning on writing something about it for my Genre Deconstruction thread about the way it subverts our expectaions of the typical Christmas film (which will tie into what you wrote about its criticism of the commercialization of the holiday), so keep your eyes peeled for that when the time comes!