Room For Fear

You don’t need me to tell you that the new Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises, is good. Really good. How many stars you got? That’s how many I’ll give it. And I’m also not really interested in adding to all the general commentary out there about the bizarre and terrifying attack at the opening night showing in Colorado. There are plenty of thoughtful people out there who’ve already tackled that issue.

I will say only these things about the film itself. One: I was so surprised to learn that Bane was played by Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception, Charles Bronson in Bronson and Mad Max himself in the upcoming reloaded Mad Max). Would have thought him too pretty, but he did an excellent job. Two: Catwoman… oh I’m so sorry, that should be Selina… was awesome and I want those shoes! Three: Burn Gorman (Owen from Torchwood) gives me the absolute creeps. Four: Cameo appearance by Will Estes who plays Jamie Reagan in Blue Bloods was really cool. And, finally, Five:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be a fine Robin someday. And oh by the way, never thought I’d say this but he is Fine!

Ok, that’s done.

One of the two most interesting things about Batman is the concept and use of fear. The other interesting thing is anger/vengeance but that’s for another time. Facing fear, using fear, taming fear. In Batman Begins, there is a very powerful scene where Bruce Wayne faces his life-long fear of bats as they swarm around him. At first, he cowers and then he rises to face the fear.

Ra’s Al Ghul speaks of basking in the fear of other men and using fear as a weapon. Scarecrow clearly uses fear as a weapon through drug induced terror and even his name is meant to evoke fear. In The Dark Knight, fear comes again in the form of chaos. The uncontrollable wild card. The Joker whose weapon of choice is, beyond gasoline and dynamite because they are cheap, fear. Terror.

Now we have The Dark Knight Rises which also addresses fear. Lots of different fears. Fear of dying. Fear of living. Fear of facing the choices we make when we believe we’re choosing a lesser evil. Fear of watching those we love suffer. In no small way does Batman seem to be without fear. Or is he? I am not certain, but there was a very interesting exchange between two characters about his fear or lack thereof. I’ll not describe too much just in case there’s someone out there who hasn’t seen the movie. Here’s the exchange, courtesy of IMDB:

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

I’ve always loved the stories where the hero faces his or her fear head on and conquers it. Stares it down by force of will and transforms themselves into a powerful and fearless person. I find that admirable. One of my favorite children’s stories is Where the Wild Things Are primarily because Max uses that special magic of staring into the eyes of the monsters without blinking. In my office I have a sign hanging in a place only I can see from my desk that says There Is No Room For Fear Here.

However, I’m beginning to rethink that just a bit. In the book Game of Thrones, a boy asks his father, “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” and his father replies, “That is the only time a man can be brave.” My rethinking is not that facing fears isn’t a good idea; I truly believe it is, but I have always thought the goal was to get rid of fear. The point was to be without fear. To be fearless. But now, I’m not so sure. Fear can motivate us to cower in a corner or do amazing and courageous things. It can be the impetus for running away or self-sacrificing acts. Fear can even mark the gateway to truly significant things in our lives. Fear is a hallmark of crossroads. If we do not know how to fear, if we have no fear, how do we know what is valuable, what is meaningful, what is precious to us?

Perhaps the better goal is not to try to rid life of fear but to meet fear well. I doubt that we need to go searching for fear because it often finds us without any searching on our part, but rather than striving to live fearlessly, the admirable thing may be in how we meet it when it finds us.

In the scene quoted above, Bruce is attempting to escape a virtually inescapable prison. [minor spoiler ahead] Repeatedly, he climbs up the walls to the sunlight above just as so many before him have done and, just as they have done, he misses a significant leap over and over. It is the safety rope that keeps him from making the ledge. The thing keeping him safe from crashing to his death far below was the very thing keeping him from leaping far enough to escape. But this was something more than facing a fear, it was using his own fear to escape. It was not using the fear of others as a weapon but using his own fear in order to find a way to live. He was not without fear but the way in which he met and used his own fear is what freed him.

It is very easy to go from staring down fear to closing eyes to fear. Sometimes, we may think we are fearless when in fact we have simply managed to avoid the fearful things. We build safe lives where we believe we have no fear but could it simply be because we have not allowed space for anything risky enough to be fearful? It is quite possible that this kind of fearless life is a prison we must escape and do so without a safety rope. Because there is no room for fear here.

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