My writing is filled with chaotic relationships, especially when it comes to romantic entanglements. I won’t say I’m as cruel as Joss Whedon, destroying happiness whenever it occurs. I tend to have Pyrrhic victories and bittersweet scenes. I’ve known this about my writing for some time, but I never found a root cause or inspiration–until now.While my personal life serves as an inspiring force, just as every writer’s personal life, I was watching a movie on TV the other day and came upon a wonderful scene from a movie I greatly enjoyed as a kid, Batman Returns. In that movie, there is a wonderful exchange between Batman and Catwoman during a suggestive fight that takes place under a bough of mistletoe:
“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”
“But a kiss can be deadlier if you mean it.”
When this exchange is first delivered, Batman speaks first and Catwoman responds. Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer have great chemistry, in and out of their superhero costumes. (I can say superhero since Catwoman is occasionally good, not evil, making her quite interesting.) Of course, the interesting thing about Batman and Catwoman is that are drawn together in and out of costume.
Later in the film, the couple meet again at a masquerade ball and… You know, I think I’ll let you watch the scene and let you make your own opinions. If you haven’t seen Batman Returns, I’ll warn you, it contains a major revelation, which I plan to talk about further.
This three minute scene has it all. Romance, tension, conflict, and revelation. I think all four are great things to have in a story, especially when the physical relationship between two is an essential part of the plot. I’m not a fan of verbal reversals (I think this is Christopher Nolan’s biggest flaw as a filmmaker), but Tim Burton gets it right here. Without this verbal reversal, Bruce never learns that Selina is Catwoman, just as Selina figures out that Bruce is Batman. It’s essential to the plot and happens for logical, realistic reasons.
From Bruce’s perspective, this hurts. He can’t deal with it immediately, so he pulls Selina close to him. It’s not just to keep up appearances, it’s because he doesn’t know what to do–a subtle vulnerability I never noticed when I watched the movie as a kid. It’s a humanizing moment for Batman, especially when reacting like Batman or even a concerned citizen wouldn’t necessarily be the right thing to do. He doesn’t act out of self-preservation either; wiping the tear from Selina’s face tells them both that what they’ve heard is true, that as much as they care about each other, they’ve also been trying to kill each other.
Selina is much more interesting in this scene (and Michelle Pfeiffer quite beautiful as well). Selina is happy to see Bruce, but she’s actually coming apart at the seams. The notion of being Catwoman is degrading at this point and she just wants to kill her boss, a man who shoved her out a high-rise window early in the film. Her personae are becoming unhinged, falling apart at the seams. Then she finds out about Bruce and knows he’s figured out her secret as well. From that point forward, Selina’s focus isn’t on murder or trying to put herself back together; it’s about figuring out what to do with–or about–Bruce being Batman.
It’s a lovely scene, but there’s something else that’s haunting about it. Selina’s tear has all the truth of the scene in it. There’s no way things will work out between Bruce and Selina, as much as they both might want things to get better.
I think it’s interesting that in talking about a dark movie, a movie where virtually all the sets are shadowy and painted in blacks and grays, it’s the mild, dramatic scene that stands out. The bright tones of the scene help a lot, but it’s the drama and tragedy of the scene. I can only hope my writing will produce scenes like this one some day.