By Josué Cardona
If Geek Therapy ever becomes a PBS documentary series, my hope is that the Batman episode would be a lot like Brett Culp's Legends of the Knight.
Legends of the Knight is a documentary film about how the character of Batman can and has inspired and empowered people in different ways. To be clear: The film is not about Batman. It's also not about Batman fans. The film is about how fictional stories and characters can affect us in positive ways.
It's also about the power of stories in general. The stories we read, hear, and watch but also the stories we create. One of the great things about fictional stories is that they can take on meaning way beyond the creator's original intention. Sometimes we don't even "get" or remember the story and we create our own around it. Whether it's because of what we were going through at the moment, who we share them with, or what we do with them, stories can be very powerful.
We Are Batman
After witnessing his parents' murder, Bruce Wayne vows to avenge them. Throughout the years he has elaborated on this vow and presented an expanded version of it in which he also suggests that his motivation for being Batman is for no other child to go through what he went through. Wanting to help other children and families not go through what I went through was my biggest motivation for becoming a therapist. My parents were not murdered but I saw myself in Bruce. I could relate to being motivated by a promise like that. Batman has meant a lot to me at different stages of my life and he continues to matter to me. I don't remember deciding to become a therapist the first time I heard Batman say his vow but every time he says it, it helps me remember why I do what I do. It helps me reaffirm my commitment, often when I don't realize I need the boost. I keep a Batman mug in my office which I use during sessions, with the Bat symbol facing me, so I can see it when I need it. That is one of my Batman stories and it's the type of story presented in the film.
David O'Leary has always seen Batman as a hero and was inspired to be a hero for others. He has been a police officer for 24 years. Early in David's career, the nickname that gang members had for him was "The Batman."
Daniel Scott saw Batman as fearless and so he began to wear the Bat symbol as his own symbol, to define his own fearlessness and courage. Daniel was born with three fingers on each hand and one leg so he decided that he had to be fearless when fighting off doubt and fear and defying expectations.
When kids pretend to be Batman they usually want to have fun and fight bad guys. When Kye Sapp was five years old, he pretended to be Batman to fight cancer. Maybe "pretend" isn't the right word because just as David, Daniel, and Petaluma Batman decided to embody some of Batman's qualities, Kye did the same.
There are more stories like this in the film. Stories about people motivated and inspired by the same fictional character. For many, Batman helped define who they are today.
Why Are We Inspired?
Legends of the Knight is a complete package because in addition to a variety of very personal stories, you get insight from experts in psychology, philosophy, comics, and storytelling that explain why stories are so powerful.
Narrative and metaphor are the most important part of the work I do. I am most interested in seeing who or what my clients relate to and what stories and characters matter to them. Through those stories my clients are able to see themselves and reflect on what they are going through. Most importantly, they are able to talk about what they are feeling and thinking through these stories in a safe way and often in clearer terms than they could on their own. I embrace my clients' love of stories more than most people in their lives and it make a big difference in therapy.
Will Brooker, Randy Duncan, Jonathan Gottschall, and Daniel Taylor among others provide the academic and intellectual arguments to explain why stories can inspire us in so many ways. One of the reasons why I think the film is so important is that it shows the impact and it explains it. I believe you could show it to people who don't believe in the value of stories and they will have something to think about thanks to the insights from this great group of people.
Michael Uslan, Travis Langley, and Cary Friedman in particular tell stories in which they share how Batman was important to them as children and how they have carried that inspiration forward through their work and their writing.
An Important Film
Legends of the Knight sets out to do a few things. It shows you that no matter who you are, you can do great things. It explains how characters like Batman can inspire and motivate us. What I think the film does best is illustrate that stories do matter; Because they matter to us and amazing things can happen when we embrace them. I believe that's an important message.
I think the film is important because of its message but it's also very important to me. I originally planned on reviewing it but I couldn't objectively review a film that hit so close to home. I never thought I would see a film that would focus on the power of story through one of my favorite characters. Another reason why it's important to me is that I am constantly talking about the potential and meaning of stories through comics books and characters like Batman but never had a favorite go-to reference. From now on, I may very likely save myself a long speech and tell people to watch Legends of the Knight.
I think that one of the strengths of the film is that it presents such a wide variety of stories and insights that it has the potential to resonate with a lot of people on many different levels. I don't love every story presented here and I resonate with some more than others. I expect that I'll appreciate parts of the movie a lot more (or less) when I watch it again in the future. The film was able to bring up many different feelings for me and I'm sure it will do the same for others.
Perhaps the most important thing about the film is that it is the serious portrayal of the impact a fictional character can have on our lives, one that happens to be a comic book superhero, a man dressed in a bat costume. Brett Culp treats the subject with respect and with a reverence that I truly appreciate. The film also looks beautiful and the music is beautiful which makes it a lot easier to share. The audio and videophile in me is very pleased.
Watch This Film
The film was crowdfunded by a lot of people who believed in what Brett Culp wanted to do. (Full disclosure: I contributed to the campaign and the copy I reviewed is a contribution perk.) I think the final product is better than what Brett originally proposed and it exceeded my expectations.
You can now go to the film's website to find different ways to watch it. However you do it: Watch this film. Watch it in a group and discuss it afterwards. Watch it with friends and family that don't appreciate the power of stories. Watch it and enjoy the stories and insights.
If you can, check out the Blu-ray edition which includes a great director's commentary by Brett Culp that adds some great information about the stories in the film and a lot of fun insight into the making of the movie. The Blu-ray also has an hour of additional footage which includes a fascinating extended interview with Denny O'Neil.
Once you watch the film, let us know what you think and tell us your story.