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Why The Nirvana Song In The Batman Trailer Might Mean More Than You Think

We got a special treat during DC's FanDome in the form of a trailer for The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson. It was only fair for director Matt Reeves to add the caveat that they hadn't filmed more than a quarter of what they wanted before the production was shut down in March, but even a taste of his vision and tone was well worth it in an unexpectedly dry year for cape films. "Mood board" might be a better descriptor for what we saw than a traditional trailer, but the important thing is that it's dripping with angst, noir, and we'd go so far as to say it's a bit grungy — especially given its chosen music track.

You might have recognized the voice — even the uninitiated can likely pick out Kurt Cobain's characteristic crooning — but not necessarily the title. The song Reeves and company chose is "Something in the Way," from Nirvana's iconic 1991 album Nevermind. The Gen X Batman is here, and he's exactly as sulking and detached as we ever could have hoped for. Since The Batman's team didn't have a lot to work with and a whole virtual convention to show up for, they apparently sought to fill in some of the creative gaps with a song to evoke some of the feeling they're looking to put into this reinvention. That choice reflects what could be significant hints about the themes that we're going to explore in this new iteration of the Caped Crusader.

"Something in the Way" as an anthem for orphans

The memes likening Battinson and his smeared eyeshadow to a young boy whose father took him into the city to see a marching band are already filling up social media feeds, but an "emo" Batman is not necessarily a bad thing. "Something in the Way" is a song about abandonment and isolation, reportedly inspired by a period of time in which Cobain was homeless after dropping out of high school and being told by his mother to leave the family home.

Isolation has been examined somewhat obliquely by a few Batman movies, sure, but rarely weighs with any substance the cost of a reclusive life and its compounding traumas. Every Batman we've known before now is a damaged but otherwise self-empowered man, thanks to the purpose he's given himself in becoming Batman. Even Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins casts Christian Bale as an angry but nonetheless pretty self-possessed Bruce Wayne before he finishes training and dons the cowl. Your mileage may vary, of course, but previous films have tended to prioritize "ass-kicking stoic" over "orphaned survivor" in their cinematic profiles of Bruce Wayne.

Already, we can tell Pattinson's version is a mess, no matter his appearance in costume or in plainclothes. He's not buttoned-up or tidy, and he's given to explosive fits. There's little sense of control, much less heroism. He may be a billionaire with all the riches of the world at his fingertips, but he is presented as bereft as the song languishing alongside him in the trailer, stuck in an emotional place not entirely of his own choosing. That promises to be the underpinning that drives the circumstances around him as he faces off against Gotham's worst. This is a man somewhere between Bruce the Frightened Orphan and Bruce the Principled Crimefighter. Wilder, more emotional, and more textually separated from the world around him.

Hubris and poetic license

This first trailer suggests that Paul Dano's Riddler will be the primary villain (among many) in the film. It doesn't appear to strictly be about bringing him to justice, however; at one point, the Riddler asks Wayne "what the price is for your blind eye" and insists that the only way justice is achieved is by ending lies. It seems the Riddler is being set up as a mirror that Wayne will gaze into during his investigation, and the lyrics of "Something in the Way" reflect that, permitting some poetic license: "And the animals I've trapped/ Have all become my pets... It's okay to eat fish/'Cause they don't have any feelings." Perhaps Wayne will convince himself that it's acceptable to utilize the labor of a homicidal maniac for his own vigilantism as he pleases, because he thinks he can control the Riddler with the threat of turning that vigilantism on him. After all, forgetting that criminals can and will bite the hand that feeds is the kind of hubris many a character has suffered in many stories throughout time.

The trailer ends with a voiceover from the Riddler telling Wayne that he's "part of all this" and will eventually come to understand why. Perhaps The Batman, like The Dark Knight before it, is interested in examining how Wayne's hubris in taking on the criminal underworld the way he does — and doing it extra-recklessly before developing maturity and principle — perpetuates its own cycle as he becomes the only force capable of fighting the darkest parts of Gotham that no state institution can contest. Only time will tell if this theorizing bears out, but in October 2021, we'll (hopefully) get to settle into a darkened theater and find out.