Whether we’re honest with ourselves or not, trauma is something that is commonplace in most peoples’ lives. At some point during our time on the planet, we all have to endure certain trials and tribulations that can come to define the kind of people we will become. The defining part comes not so much because of what we have to endure, but in how we choose to deal with it and overcome it. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you: one of the most potent and inspirational forces someone can use to try and find a way out of any struggle is a legend less than a century old, but just as powerful and mythic as the timeless stories of Odysseus or Hercules.
That legend is the Batman.
Filmmaker Brett Culp’s first feature-length documentary is entitled Legends of the Knight, and weaves several inspirational stories of overcoming personal struggle with one clearly defined common element: the Dark Knight, imagined in the 1930s as the scourge of the underworld and something to strike fear in the minds of superstitious, cowardly criminals, and how he became a bright beacon of inspiration that inspired change for the better in many peoples’ lives. The film rightfully takes a perspective that isn’t rooted in the mythology of the character’s world, but Culp and his storytellers instead stick to the most real element that binds them and every Batman fan in the world together: when you take a story to heart about a young boy who rises from the ashes of unspeakable tragedy and uses that trauma as a springboard into carving a path to greatness, how is it that you can’t see that as a message of inspiration?
Culp helps to show us what the true, real, and tangible power of the Batman character really is by giving us several intertwining stories focusing on real people. These include the stories of disabled people who rise like the Dark Knight above their impairments, to the joy and surprise of all around them. He shows us stories of children, desperately in need of hope and a hero, getting both because of Batman’s inspiration. He shows us through a college professor’s efforts teaching a Batman class how the hyper-real lens from the character’s world can teach us something about our own, and help to inform young people about components of justice and fairness that they never thought of before.
It’s stories like the ones showcased in this film that help to illustrate the power not only of a fictional character and his ability to inspire, but also of the height that human ingenuity can bring anyone to if they believe in something hard enough. Whether that’s something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning, or as complicated as running a marathon, or shaping a community, for the people that we meet over the course of this film, the catalyst for determination and change is Batman. This helps to truly and definitively prove that he’s more than an action figure, a comic book, or a cool symbol on a T-shirt: many people have that Bat-Signal embedded on their very hearts, and especially if Batman is a character that you don’t claim to like, this film will likely teach you something entirely new not only about Batman himself, but about the people who call themselves his fans. Anything that can ignite peoples’ desire for aspiration is deserving of recognition, and Culp helps to show his audience of both longtime devotees and curious initiates exactly how powerful the Legends of the Knight really are.
In my personal capacity as a writer for websites like Batman-On-Film, as a former comic book retailer, and a full-on Batman super-fan, I’ve had the good fortune of being able to “preach the gospel,” to a degree, about why I feel that Batman is one of the most positive inspirational forces that anyone on the planet can hope to have. Because of that, it’s very gratifying to me and Bat-fans everywhere that Mr. Culp has made a piece of art that has used the illustrative power of the film medium to show people, perhaps more effectively than I or any other overly verbose fan could ever hope to, why it’s okay to take solace in the outwardly grim adventures of an extraordinary human being. A human being who forced the world to make sense after enduring something senseless. Batman, as a fictional character, is not real. It’s very easy to see, though, in this film and even out your own window, that the things he fights for are very real.
When you come to take that message to heart, then inside your chest you may start to feel the inward illumination of your own Bat-Signal as you rise with the chorus and proclaim with so many others, “We Are Batman.”
Well done, Mr. Culp. 10/10
The film will be starting a theater tour at many different locations around the United States. Many of these screening events will include a Q&A with the filmmaker, so be sure to check out WeAreBatman.com to find all of the details, and see if it’ll be coming to your neighborhood. You can also create your own screening events through the site. The film can also be pre-ordered as a DVD, Blu-ray, or digital download for release in late February. Be sure to check it out!
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