“Maybe it’s time we stop trying to outsmart the Truth and let it have it’s day!”
Althought Alfred Pennyworth realizes this 8 years too late, he’s the first one to voice it in the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. I hit this issue with a broad pass in our spoiler-free video review, but now we’ll careen into SPOILER territory (you’ve been duly warned) with these follow-up posts by looking individually at Alfred, Bruce, Gordon, Blake and Selina.
I think Christopher Nolan’s direction for Michael Caine was “make James Harleman cry every time you’re on screen” because from the first moment he realizes Bruce is in the cave again, descending in the elevator with a hovering tear in his eye that won’t quite fall, my “guys-don’t-cry” throat-clearing reflex kicked in. One of the things that truly stood out in this film was the loving relationship between Bruce and Alfred, and the reality that in many ways, he really is Bruce’s father, having raised him for more years than Thomas and shepherding him through adult years as well. It’s not a well-meaning butler admonishing Bruce for trying to be Batman again, or spurring him to move on: it’s an imperfect father desperately trying to seek the best for his son, prodding and yet realizing that the younger man must make and OWN that decision.
Problem is, Alfred made a decision nearly a decade earlier that has grave consequences and works counter to his hopes.
Holding back the letter at the end of The Dark Knight – not hitting Bruce with it in that exact moment – was a kindness. There is a time and place for every conversation and revelation. However, burning the letter, breaking the trust of Rachel Dawes and her last request, and hiding something from Bruce, creates the rationale by which Bruce remains stuck. In Rises, Bruce tells Alfred that Rachel “couldn’t move on” and so neither can he, a false assumption he’s been using as a crutch for years to avoid any more relationships and… well, any life at all. Remember, Rachel’s request for Bruce was indeed that he move on, from her AND Batman, so the very letter Alfred burnt might have helped prod him that extra step to get out of the manor and be a man. The action he took to “spare Bruce pain” actually caused more pain.
While not the sole contributor, Alfred himself has stunted Bruce from becoming the person he hoped he would be. It’s a personal version of the Harvey Dent cover-up that impacts the entire city – the film presents this conundrum in both macro and microcosm – a hidden truth that seems useful in the short term but only creates a longer term rot that ultimately hurts more than it helps.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend;”
– Proverbs 27:5-6
Realizing this as he and Bruce converse, Alfred confesses his omission and cover up, and even risks sacrificing his relationship with Bruce to set things right. When the only way to communicate how severe the situation is means being “absent” – leaving – he’s willing to make the point, to be hated for speaking the truth in love. Although it initially causes a rift between them (and Bruce never seems to take the shortest distance between two points) “Master” Wayne DOES recognize the points of wisdom in his surrogate father’s advice, and a proper portion of the advice is taken and acted upon by film’s end. At one point Alfred believes he has failed, that he did too little and too late, but it turns out this isn’t true.
Have you ever done this? Do you maintain the status of your relationships at the expense of letting people you say you “love” stumble into pitfalls of life? Are you willing to love in ways that jeopardize the status quo of that relationship, by being honest and speaking truth? Are you willing to speak into ways friends and family are hurting themselves, their household, or others? Are you willing to call out their omissions and commissions of folly and sin? Or… do you wish to be “liked” more than you wish to truly love? Specifically as a parent, do you want your kids to “like” you at the expense of proper teaching and discipline?
Whatever you’ve done, it’s never too late to start loving and being the truth our Creator calls us to be.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor… let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:25-29
In the comics, animated series as well as the film, Alfred has always been the one to speak his mind to Bruce: to be frank, sometimes with sarcasm, and to voice the unspoken truths the Batman sometimes doesn’t want to admit to himself. Some of us might like the idea of having a personal butler, but far better is the care, comfort and counsel of the friend and fatherly figure Alfred is to Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s trilogy. Also, we shouldn’t just want to HAVE that, we should also look for opportunities to BE that to the people in our lives. More than Miranda or Selina, the love story here is about the friendship of Alfred and Bruce. It’s also heartwarming to see a version of the story where, after years of tireless service to the Wayne family, Alfred enjoys a retirement and freedom to live out his remaining years in pursuit of… well, I guess whatever a Pennyworth does when he’s not ironing Master Wayne’s socks.
“and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32
The relationship between Alfred and Bruce causes us to ask these questions:
Do we bend or omit Truth with “good intentions”?
Are we equally willing to “let the Truth have its day”, or do we try to outsmart it for our own devices, our own comfort, our own conventions, our own deceptions (or self-deception)?
Do we omit Truth out of fear, or are we willing to face it, voice it, and live in light of it?
Are we willing to sacrifice for it?
That’s not to say fear is entirely bad, mind you. Bruce Wayne learns a little something about fear and sacrifice, as well as moving on, but we’ll look at that in the next post.