by Todd Eckert
August 25, 2013
Late last week Ben Affleck was revealed as the next film actor playing the role of Batman. Within minutes of the announcement waves of indignation crashed through the ether and, predictably enough, indignation about the indignation soon followed. It was the earthquake and the tsunami after the earthquake with lots and lots of grumbling triggered by what on the surface seems to be a super-trite issue. As of this moment something over 30,000 people have signed a petition trying to get the guy removed and memes are being generated as fast as people can lift Gene Wilder’s face.
I know a little bit about this phenomenon. A few years ago I produced a film called Control about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division who killed himself in 1980 when he was 23. Casting Ian was a difficult process and the public watched us really closely, particularly in the UK where he’s considered a pretty massive deal. We were flying around, taking meetings, trying to find that person who would get the role just right. We knew we were making the artifact by which the future would understand Ian and the responsibility felt huge. But the public didn't know that, and every time some rumor would surface we’d get slapped around.
“Jude’s not (expletive)ing playing Ian!” screamed Stuart Braithwaite at me in a club in Pittsburgh just after his band Mogwai had left the stage. I had known Stuart for some time and wasn't all that surprised he was upset – the rumor that Jude Law would be taking the role had surfaced that afternoon and made its way all over the world within hours. Nothing against Jude at all, but he wouldn't have been right and we never considered him. Still, someone thought we had and I was experiencing a particularly intense version of Scottish wrath over the idea. The scenario would be repeated with different actors in different scenarios until we premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and the public accepted Sam Riley as having not destroyed Ian’s memory or legacy.
Perhaps it made sense – Ian was a real guy who touched millions of people very deeply and our film would materially affect the perception of the man. Fine.
So why Batman? Isn't the outrage really . . . dumb? I honestly don’t think so. If anything I think the selection of Batman is probably more personal to more people, and therefore more meaningful than who we picked for Ian.
Batman, by virtue of not being real, is psychologically simpler to admire. He doesn't run the risk of unforgivable behavior in public, growing corpulent or senile, selling out to a dodgy corporation – he’s interesting, he’s dark, he’s just damaged enough and he always wins. Batman is a really tough, really cool version of Gary Cooper – a bench-pressing, world-saving everyman. People see the best of themselves in him (he doesn't have super powers, after all) and they aspire to his greatest strengths. In as much, the selection of the person who will play him, and therefore them, is crucially important to their sense of self.
It’s a self-perpetuated ruse – the ultimate inside joke because no one has to know if it’s not really supposed to be funny. It informs a positive result and that’s enough.
So the indignation is ok. They’re invested – the best audience Warner Bros could possibly want. As for casting Ben Affleck, he probably seems like a bit of an intellectual schlub and therefore incapable of the depth these people need for the character to be satisfying. But I’m sure that’s exactly why he wanted the role in the first place – to prove he can be great as the world-saving everyman.
I hope he’s great at it.