We’re each others’ good luck charms. I always say to him, I’m not your good luck charm, you are mine!
Father figure, mentor, friend, guide, conscience, bad ass, gentleman.
Alfred is all of these and more to ‘master’ Bruce.
Alfred as portrayed by Micheal Caine in Chris Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is the character whose essence is perhaps most true to the comic book source material.
Caine embodies the best qualities of Alfred.
Alfred is loyal, passionate, tough, loving and kind. He is the father that Bruce conveniently forgets he has, the man who actually raised him.
The Alfred /Bruce relationship is at the core of the Nolan Batman films, their relationship is the core dynamic that binds the three films together thematically and emotionally.
Micheal Caine’s Alfred eases us into our Batman cinematic journey. The transition of Bruce Wayne boy billionaire to Bruce Wayne masked avenger is also the relationship of Bruce and Alfred.
Alfred is there at the beginning to hold our hand and guide us in the dark, he travels with us along the way through the hard times and the good times, he’s quick with a joke and a smile, he stands up to and questions Bruce’s journey as all good mentor figures do, and Alfred is there to shed a tear at the end of the journey, the lone figure standing over the empty grave of a strange man the world truly never knew.
Christopher Nolan began his cinematic relationship with Michael Caine in the film adaptation of the novel The Prestige.
Nolan has included Caine (his “good luck charm”) in every subsequent film from Batman Begins and Inception to Interstellar.
In Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Caine plays Alfred to Christian Bale’s Batman. Alfred is a father figure, mentor, guide, conscience and a friend to Bruce Wayne. Alfred is Bruce’s rock in a chaotic life, he is Bruce’s only family, and primary care giver, even though they are not related by blood.
In the Batman source material, Alfred Pennyworth has been portrayed as a bungling amateur detective and failed actor for comedy relief.
Alfred later died and then turned into a super-villain called Outsider in one of the silliest and ill-conceived ideas in comics history. Of course the idea would be repeated with Jason Todd / Red Hood as well as other ludicrous stories that make no real sense. Alfred got better better and reverted to his normal self after Batman punches some sense into him (see the image below, top left panel).
Alfred over the years evolved into the sarcastic but warm hearted mentor/father figure to Bruce Wayne that we are most familiar with in the modern era of the Batman mythos.
Alfred is an essential of element any great Batman story. Without Alfred, Bruce is just some spoilt rich manchild in a silly costume who takes out his anger on criminals and refuses to move on with his life. Alfred is Bruce’s conscience, stand in father figure, mentor and friend. Without Alfred, Bruce would rapidly descend into his own self-invented Batman persona, leaving behind the ‘Bruce Wayne’ parts of his personality.
As a character, Alfred has never been more vibrant, wise, sarcastic, kind and loving as when Sir Michael Caine brought the cheekiest, toughest and most loyal Butler in town to life in Chris Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.
If there is a valid criticism to be made of Nolan’s Batman trilogy it is perhaps they are TOO serious, too grim, too dark and depressing. Batman is a dark character, but not one hundred percent of the time. Spawn and The Shadow are darker characters (and both are killers), lets say not one hundred percent, but around ninety-nine percent.
I see Batman as more like 60-70% dark, in my hypothetical ‘just imagined for this sentence‘ scale of darkness for popular fictional anti-heroes, vigilantes and masked avengers. Otherwise Batman becomes too much like Spawn or the Punisher.
There has to be a line somewhere, and I think maybe Nolan went over that line. But I still love the films, even when they are not being true to the comics by having Batman kill, or when Bruce gives up being Batman after The Dark Knight to go sulk in his mansion like a bratty child.
Batman basically kills the main villains in each of the Nolan Batman films, something that doesn’t sit right with the comic book version of Batman. Most of the time when I watch The Dark Knight I forget that he kills Harvey Dent / Two-Face at the end of the film by knocking him off a building, which muddies the character of Batman in a film I really love.
The thing you have to accept to really enjoy Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, is that this is HIS Batman, not our communal (comic book) Batman. It is Nolan’s version of the character, and the internal film logic makes sense to him,but not always to us.
The cinematic Batman is its own thing, you can’t hold a director/writer accountable for following their own vision in telling the story they wanted to tell. Whatever the story ends up being, it is basically the writers/directors subjective opinion/interpretation of the character, so can not be “wrong” in any absolute sense.
You can argue “Batman doesn’t kill” and pick plot holes in the Nolan Batman Trilogy all day long, I have no issue with that, but remember that you can do that with any film ever made. You could say, in an imaginary heated exchanged with the tea drinking heavy coat wearing Nolan:
“Wait a minute, I don’t think you are really being true to the essence of the Batman character here.”
And you would have a valid point.
But the counterpoint is that Nolan went with his version of Batman, his cinematic Batman – a character based on the source material that was never intended to be the same literal Batman from the comic books. So calling out errors based on what people like in the comics is just irrelevant, because it is a movie, NOT a comic book!
I do have issues with Nolan’s Batman, – such as Batman killing Two-Face – but overall I love the films.
As Batman’s conscience, Alfred (Michael Caine) helps Bruce Wayne reach the outer limits of his psyche, harnessing the power of the villain / shadow archetype without fully giving in to the darkness he feels inside himself. Batman owns his demons, they don’t own him. It would be easy to just kill criminals and be done with them. But Batman holds himself to a higher moral standard.
At the end of the day, Batman values life, and the lives of all people. He is not an executioner, nor a judge. Batman is more like a cop, bounty hunter or sheriff in the old West. He chooses to operate outside of the law, because of the high level of Police corruption and all around ineffective law enforcement at all levels in Gotham City due to the stranglehold of the mob, serial killers and masked maniacs.
Some may call Alfred an “enabler”, in that he at first resists Bruce, then ultimately supports and helps Bruce to become Batman. He enables Bruce Wayne’s particular brand of madness. Alfred is such a highly principled character, so strong, motivated, caring, loving, and yes – wise – that I feel it speaks volumes about the rightness of Bruce Wayne’s choice (or mission / calling) to become Batman.
In ordinary terms becoming Batman is basically an insane choice. It would not be the choice of a well adjusted person.
But Gotham City is no ordinary city, it is the most crime ridden most corrupt city in America. Extreme times call for extreme measures, and given the depths to which Gotham City has sunk, and the cities genuine need for some force outside of government and law enforcement to allow for genuine change and progress, progress here meaning not capitalism, but a return to wellness, in this situation the invention of the mythic “Batman” may be a very reasonable response.
Any system that is so corrupt as to be completely ineffective has lost any sense of wellness, or sanity. A return to sanity, or wellness then requires either abolishing the current system, or change from outside of the system itself that ultimately pulls the old system down by proxy, or coerces it the old system to change by demonstrating a superior model. A city that lives in its own Shadow (as in the psychological term, not actual shadows) and refuses to evolve becomes a cancer on the land, and Batman is like an immune system response to the overwhelming attack of corruption (cancer) on the body of Gotham City.
Sanity and wellness then are ultimately the same thing. Once the city has been rehabilitated, then in theory there is no need for Batman, or if Batman is to continue, he becomes no longer an emergency response to a sick body, but a worker preserving the healthy status of the city. Batman becomes a defender of life, wellness and sanity, despite appearing to be a bit of a loony.
People in all times and places respond to Mythic characters, not with their intellect, but at a primal instinctual gut level. Mythic characters and archetypes bypass our everyday rational mind and penetrate our subconscious, they haunt our dreams and fantasies, they live in the space between worlds and flow from our intuition speaking to us of timeless tales and life lessons.
In this sense, Batman is an idea whose time has come. He is the antidote to the sickness of Gotham. He is Gotham’s underbelly given form and shape come back to haunt them, he is a wrathful deity determined to drag us kicking and screaming out of darkness and into the cold hard light of truth, showing us what we refuse to see or acknowledge for ourselves.
Michael Caine’s accomplished career has seen the actor staying the course in more iconic roles than most of us can even remember. Early films such as Alfie, The Ipcress File, The Italian Job, Zulu and Get Carter established Caine as a versatile actor. He could be an effortlessly charming ladies man, a tough guy, a quiet spy, a soldier, an upper class gentleman, or a lovable James Bond-like rogue.
Caine’s seventies roles were stereotypical male power fantasy roles that later led into his more intellectual roles in eighties cinema. Caine featured in further dramatic and comedic performances in the nineties, and a surprising return to both action and thrillers in the post year two-thousand era amidst the resurgence of aging male action stars in B grade films such as Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Arnold and Sly Stallone.
Throughout his career, Caine has played a mix of heroes and villains. He has every bit the talent and ability to play a Bond, Batman or Bruce Wayne. Caine is well suited to a variety of roles, but he is not limited by those roles, nor afraid to do something different.
From working with Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters to boldy strutting around with a shotgun in Get Carter to being Austin’s dad in Goldmember, and the pseudo-father to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Caine never really felt like a “young man” even when he literally was a young man on screen.
Michael Caine seemed to appear fully formed on screen, full of wit, bravado and effortless class. The seasoned veteran is a thoughtful actor whose acting style has changed and grown over the years, while still remaining effortlessly charming and unique. Caine is a perennial favourite among impressionists. The list of celebrities and laypersons who love to impersonate his distinctive voice are legion.
Caine can play a tough guy loner, spy, mild mannered intellectual, charming thief, father figure, mentor or just a lovable rapscallion that you can’t help but enjoy on screen no matter what mischief he gets up to.
The Italian Job while a relatively boring film, is memorable for two reasons – the fantastic car chase getaway scene in the iconic mins through the stunning shops and streets of Italy, and leading man Michael Caine. Remove either of those two elements and the movie would be a totally forgettable sub-par Ocean’s 11.
Even when playing a villain or amoral selfish character, Michael Caine remains very likable. There is something about his face that he just seems trustworthy and reliable. At this stage of his career, he literally is the archetypal Wise Old Man. It is hard to imagine Michael Caine in his younger days being a scoundrel running around with Sean Connery picking up women. Michael Caine starred alongside Sean Connery in the John Huston directed The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Caine and Connery remained lifelong friends.
There is something of a retired James Bond feel to Micheal Caine’s Alfred in Batman Begins. Beneath the cool and fatherly exterior is a man of remarkable depth and insight. While Batman despises guns, Alfred has no issue with them, and will not hesitate to shoot an attacker.
As much as we learn about Alfred over the three films, by the end of Dark Knight Rises we still know next to nothing about his personal history. The original Alfred introduced in Batman #16, 1943 was a fat bumbling Detective, a failed actor and son of Thomas Wayne’s butler Jarvis.
Later revisions of the character saw Alfred slimming down, changing his name and becoming the slender snooty sarcastic butler we are more familiar with today. Another retcon of the character made Alfred a former cold war spy. In yet another take on the character – Geoff John’s Earth-1 Alfred is a former Royal Marine, sharpshooter and martial artist who trains young master Wayne in martial arts. It will be interesting to see which version of Alfred turns up in the next Batman live action film.
When Micheal Caine made Harry Brown following his success in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it instantly reminded me of his seventies film roles such as Get Carter. It is easy to forget that Michael Caine is not just a classy English gentleman, but is also suave, sexy and charming on and off screen. Just as dangerous as BOND on screen, and real life friends with BOND (Sean Connery) off screen.
Harry Brown was a return to the anti-hero character made popular in revenge films by Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. A senior citizen who grows tired of the endless street gang violence and drug dealing in his neighborhood, Harry Brown is set on a path of destruction when his best friend is murdered. Being a former soldier, Harry is more than familiar with guns, and goes to town like a senior citizen version of Marvel’s Frank Castle / The Punisher.
Michael Caine makes a difficult role believable. It is Alfred’s role to convince us that Batman is plausible, that it is not completely insane to dress up like a Bat and punch crime in the face. Alfred is the cinematic bridge between our everyday world we inhabit and the realm of the unknown world, or underworld that Batman makes his own.
When Bruce decides to dress up as a giant bat and punch crime in the face, Alfred is the voice of reason. Micheal Caine sells this role by being a very warm, gentle and yet tough no nonsense mentor. Alfred’s acceptance of Batman ultimately becomes our acceptance of Batman, we want Bruce to succeed in his insane quest.
Alfred helps us to make the unknown known, he helps us to see the shadow that is Batman is not some threat, but an essential part of our personality that we have been afraid to explore. The power of Batman is not just about fear, but that there is a little of Batman in us all, we all have a dark side, and we all have hidden strengths demanding to be expressed.
Batman is an also an explorer of the human psyche
Batman then is not only a highly trained martial artist, scientist, criminologist, strongman, gymnast and detective. He is an explorer of the human psyche, making his home in the place where most of us fear to explore within our own lives, he not only journeys to the mythic underworld daily, he embraces and empowers himself with the symbols of shadow. Batman uses a criminals own fear against him by appearing to him as an otherworldly wraith, an invisible ninja, an unkillable spectre of the night.
Alfred doubts Bruce Wayne’s reasoning, methods and motivation. He is the sounding board to Bruce’s eccentricities. By running up against barriers and resistance in life, we are better able to gauge our actions, and know when we are moving beyond a barrier through the natural growth of our personality, of whether we are pushing ourselves in a direction which ultimately does not serve our best interests. Bruce butting heads with Alfred over his decision to become Batman only leads Bruce to further solidifying the idea in his mind.
Bruce Wayne becomes determined to become Batman, despite Alfred’s well reasoned and sane pleas not to. When Bruce later decides he no longer wishes to be Batman, Alfred reminds him that once you start something, you should really follow through. Alfred suggests to Bruce that the city may need Batman after all. Of course by the third film, Bruce Wayne has lost his way. He has given in to his own ignorance and self-delusion. He has walked away from his quest and Alfred, again the voice of reason pleads with Bruce not to be Batman.
After years of being idle, Wayne has lost his edge, and he faces new dangerous enemies he knows nothing about and fails to understand. Rather than retreating from his enemies, instead Batman charges head on into situations in which he has no hope of being victorious. This is where the movie version of Batman departs from the source material. The comic book version of Batman would have retreated, studied his enemies and their tactics, and eventually moved in like a ninja, catching his foe unaware to kick ass and take names.
Instead, the Nolan movie version of Batman goes further down the rabbit hole. He gives in to his own selfish false needs, his gives in to his own anger, desperation, rage, his need to prove to himself that he can still be Batman, and Bruce fails spectacularly when he is beaten physically and mentally by Bane. Bruce is robbed of all his wealth and resources, cut off from his allies and then dumped in a third world prison. Bruce then is his own worst enemy, and his spectacular failure seems to be what he needed to get him out of his Howard Hughes inspired self-exile.
Eventually Bruce Wayne comes back, he redeems himself. He trains and reinvents himself like Rocky and other movie heroes. But Bruce loses the one companion he has known his entire life. Alfred warns him not to continue his insane quest, and walks away, leaving Bruce to his fate.
Bruce Wayne redeems himself as Batman, but betrays his relationship with Alfred. He destroys his relationship to the man who raised him and cared for him his entire life. Bruce betrays Alfred by not telling him that he is alive after the resolution of the terrorist actions by Bane and Talia that threatened the city. The crisis has passed, and what possible reason could Bruce have for not telling his friend, father and mentor that he is in fact still alive, and did not die in the bomb blast, we, the audience never find out.
At the end of The Dark Knight Rises Bruce/Batman is revealed as still alive, but the pain and anguish that Alfred went through because of Bruce’s deception will take a lifetime to heal, if at all. The ending is bittersweet, as we see no evidence of Bruce Wayne attempting any reconciliation or re-connection to Alfred, the man who has been by his side his entire life, and whom he conveniently cut loose when the relationship no longer suited him.
On the one hand, we can say Bruce Wayne is a spoilt rich brat, on the other hand we can see his dedication and commitment to being Batman and serving the common good is total, and he is willing to sacrifice his friends, father figure, his wealth, resources and ultimately his own life.
Starting in Batman Begins, Alfred supports Bruce in his one man war on crime, but he never really fully approves of Batman. When Bruce insisted on becoming Batman, Alfred reluctantly supports him in his choice, but his loyalty is never in question. It would be quite reasonable for Alfred to walk away and have nothing to do with “Batman”.
It would be reasonable to go to the cops when your former employer starts punching criminals in the face while dressed up at night because of his childhood trauma rather than going to therapy or burying his misery in a bottle of booze.
The fact that Alfred never does any of these things speaks volumes of his character and integrity.
Alfred’s actions also suggest that he is not just the Wayne family Butler, but also Bruce Wayne’s primary care giver, the man who raised him more than his own father did. The man who has been by his side his entire life, supported Bruce, loved him and never let him down.
Few of us in the real world have it so good. Despite Bruce Wayne going through a terrible trauma and loss of his parents as a child, he was never truly without parents in the sense that Alfred was always his third parent, and continues to be his parent, mentor and counsel even as Bruce begins his career, obsession and calling as Batman.
The conflicting nature of the Bruce / Alfred relationship is one that has been tested to the limits in both Chris Nolan’s films, and in various comic book stories. Most people have heard of Batman and Robin, but few appreciate how integral Alfred is to Bruce Wayne. Robin, whether Dick Grayson, or any of the subsequent people to take up the role of Robin, can never be Batman’s equal.
Bruce Wayne found in young Dick Grayson the boy he thought he had lost, his inner child. The child he so desperately lost in himself, who never got to grow up with his parents. The death of Dick Grayson’s parents (also a murder) means Batman reliving his trauma, and knowing how it affected him, wants to guide young Richard Grayson to a happier, healthier life than Bruce had after the death of his parents.
Richard Grayson looks up to Batman, and sees the man he wants to become, while Bruce looks at Dick as the child who he never got to be, the child who died along with his parents the day Thomas and Martha Wayne were brutally murdered in a back alley. Bruce, Richard and Alfred then are an impromptu family. Alfred is the wise elder in the family, and guardian of the family traditions, while Bruce Wayne is the progressive rebel who cares nothing for tradition, and insists on doing everything his way. Alone, Bruce, Dick and Alfred are broken men, but together they are a great team, and family.
While the Robin we know from the Batman comic books was not part of Chris Nolans Batman Trilogy, Alfred very much is, and that core relationship remains, proving to be the most emotionally resonant and satisfying relationship in the three films.