Alfred: Good Butler, So-So Friend

25Jul12

Continuing my digestion of “The Dark Knight Rises,” I’ve come to a conclusion: Alfred is the worse character in “Rises,” and maybe in “The Dark Knight,” and possibly the entire series if you don’t count Rachel Dawes as a character at all (which I kind of don’t). He is, at the very least, the worst pre-existing character used in the final two movies, and it’s a real shame since he started out so great in “Begins.” A heart-felt, supportive-yet-protective surrogate father. He can buzz-kill a little in the name of protecting his charge, but he’s there to help Bruce. He still hadn’t given up on him. Not yet, anyway. Not until the going got tough. Then he ran away. 

I first took note of Alfred’s shittyness in “The Dark Knight,” when he finds Batman/Bruce, half in his costume, morose over the death of Rachel. Bruce asks, “Did I bring this on her?” He mentions how he was meant to inspire good, not madness. Bruce is nearly suicidal, in my opinion, and how does loyal butler handle this? By actively making the guy feel worse, saying, “Didn’t you think there would be casualties?”

I’m no expert in grief counseling, but I would wager that’s not one of the best things to say to a person in Bruce’s state of mind. Alfred doesn’t express the least bit of remorse over the death of Rachel (maybe this is why I, the audience, didn’t really get sad over it either; if the one “truly normal” guy — not a cop, super-hero, or super-villain — doesn’t get upset about losing Rachel, there’s no barometer for the “regular Joe’s.” Regular Joe’s who identify with butlers, but still…).

It’s the character’s inconsistency that bugs me the most. He flip-flops from one opinion to the other, depending on the scene’s need for conflict or debate. At one moment, he doesn’t want Bruce to be Batman, the next he’s suggesting they reinforce the South-East corner of Wayne Manor to make for a stronger Bat-Cave.

By the time we get to “Rises,” Alfred has (apparently) had enough of Batman, and quits (yay! More quitting!), leaving Bruce with the hurtful news that Rachel wasn’t going to marry him (yet another use in the same movie of the power of eight-year-old letters). He tells this to Bruce in a desperate attempt to get Bruce to give up being Batman.

But wait, Alfred. Back in “Dark Knight,” you told Bruce to “endure,” because he could be “the outcast” and take all the punishment normal people couldn’t. Then, when Harvey claimed to be the Batman, you argued with Rachel that Bruce was doing the better thing by not being the hero, by staying Batman so he could do “the right thing” for the city. And now you don’t want him to do it? Make up your mind, old man!

This brings us to the finale of “Rises,” wherein Batman hooks up an atomic bomb to the Bat and flies it out to the sea to detonate, saving millions of Gothamites, and presumably killing zillions of fish. Everyone sees the mushroom cloud, everyone assumes Batman is dead. There’s a funeral, and Alfred cries at the gravestones of Bruce, Thomas and Martha Wayne, turning to the parental stones and bawling, “I’ve failed you.”

Now… I get it, emotionally. Alfred was trying to protect their boy, and in that regard, he believes he has failed. But in another quite obviously awesome way, Bruce did save an entire city by acting selflessly and, completely on the nose, heroically. He didn’t volunteer for that Kamakaze mission to ensure his own death. Batman did it because it was “the only way” and/or “the right thing to do” TO SAVE LIVES! If the Waynes and Alfred hadn’t raised him right, Bruce would have quit being Batman long ago, and Bane and Co. might have destroyed everyone. So what does Alfred want more: Bruce Wayne to have given up Batman and gotten married, or to have 6 million people still alive? It’s an impossible question to really answer, but I think Alfred’s reaction is selfish and bullshit. The dude grew up to be Batman — Gotham’s greatest defender. He turned out to be the most extraordinary man. And you wanted him to grow up to be “normal?” Like everyone else? Bruce Wayne isn’t normal. He’s beyond everyone.

Maybe Alfred’s just jealous. But seriously, watch that grief scene from “Dark Knight” and laugh at the most harsh calming down ever filmed.

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