Baptism on Film ('The Batman' (2022) dir. Matt Reeves)

Recently I went to get my first blokey haircut. I went to a barbershop and was greeted by a the barber addressing me as young man- I felt like blushing and giggling but it was also mildly scary. Nerve-shredding, in fact, when I was asked to remove my mask and a coat I love because it is shape-obliterating. Me and the barber made idle chatter throughout, though I tried to keep my responses minimal as I still think my voice is one of the things that give me away. I was sat in between middle aged men talking about rugby, their grandkids. I felt like an imposter even, thought irrationally that any second they would guess my ruse and chuck me out half-shorn.

At the end, I looked almost nice. I never like my hair after its been freshly cut, so this was a pseudo-miracle. I paid and pretty much ran out of their, but as I was jogging home through back alleys, looking up at telephone wires that crossed the sky and running my hands through my now short hair, I felt almost ecstatic. Breaking into a grin, I had the tremendous feeling that I had gotten away with something, that this was a milestone of some sort. A fresh beginning. Fittingly, I have since been thinking about unconventional baptism in film.

I could go the cliche route and talk about Amanda of Saw fame tearing the reverse bear-trap from her head just as the timer clicks to zero and it snaps shut, throwing it aside and screaming. Im also partial to Camille in Sharp Objects gazing at the ceiling and seeing the red and blue illumination of police cars right outside. Almost on the verge of death and incoherent, the truth about her family laid bear and fittingly, the personal truth scarred onto her skin also brought into the light as her police officer finds her there. She had also just emerged from a bath-tub, fresh. This is quite a harsh one as Camille still has another quote unquote baptism yet to come. I feel like both of these examples are far too obvious for me, so Id like to talk about something even more obvious, and topical seeing as it has captured the fandom potential of quite a few subcultures online. The Batman is a great movie for literally any reason you can name.

Its not new or refreshing to call a scene near the end where Bruce plummets into the pit of a flooded stadium and emerges with a more pristine idea of his purpose in Gotham a baptism. Its great, but I feel it overshadows a similarly great baptism way earlier on in the film. So, the Riddler must have been planning everything for quite some time, but as evidenced by American Animals, another film I rewatched recently, theres a big difference between planning and doing. As a sidebar, I love the actual heist scenes in American Animals- to me it perfectly shows the difference between a suave plan and pathetic execution, with lots of sweating and screaming and things going wrong. I love that the first half of the movie makes it seem cool to plan a massive crime, maybe even possible, and the second half shows the floundering that would actually take place if you went through with it. Theres palpable relief when the heist is briefly called off and you think thank god that you have never went through anything like that, make a mental note never to take part in a large scale heist or whatever.

So, if something similar is true for the Riddler, he has been planning for moths and is very idealistic about the whole thing, bolstered probably by an unnamed mental illness. Suddenly the months and notebooks and cracked-out little poster board with twine connecting images are all far behind and hes standing in the mayors lounge fixated on the back of his head, knowing that now he has to strike, because thats what the months have all been for. He does it, after a number of minutes standing statue-esque, the American Animal effect of being in the situation youve planned for and realising that its different to how you thought it would be. But he pushes past it all and lashes out. Im guessing based on whats presented in the narrative that this is his first ever kill. Im not trying to woobify him or whatever by saying ohh he must have been so nervous but he did such a good job, but look at it from this perspective- in his eyes, this is the first step to actualising a change he sees as necessary. He is making his own form of progress.

And after it all, what I would call the baptism in question, is the moment where he catches his breath, sitting atop the body, and looks up to the light. Rebirth. Pretty nifty that the film starts and ends with baptisms that both were borne from each other and yet symbolise wildly different things.