SCIENCE FICTION UNIVERSITY:The Punk-Gothic Vision: From Blade Runner to Batman and Robin

Charlie W. Starr
Charlie W. Starr's picture

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 12/01/09

My reward for arriving an hour early on Friday, June 20, 1997 for the first showing of Batman and Robin was free choice of a strategically assessed aisle seat and a film experience that proved somewhat disappointing. Any pop culture critique that aspires to something more than a newspaper review, however, requires a theoretical construction of some intellectual rigor against which to read it. The construction I propose traces its roots back a thousand years and provides a framework in which to read a contemporary film trend which I call Punk-Gothic. Represented by such films as old as Blade Runner, as new as this summer’s The 5th Element, Batman and Robin, and Spawn, this trend originates in the Gothic novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which, in turn, owes its beginnings (and name) to medieval Gothic architecture. When we examine the history of transformation from one art form to another and another, what perplexes us is the total alteration of meaning that occurs. What the Gothic represented for medieval Europe stands in complete contrast to what it means in these films. Of specific interest to the new Batman film’s relationship to the Punk-Gothic (PG) is its reversal of the Punk-Gothic voice, its main streaming the voice of alienation.

Gothic Architecture/Gothic Sensibility

Gothic Architecture was the art of the later medieval period. The erection of these great monuments to a holistic Christian world view was a communal activity which mimicked the hierarchy of the cosmos itself. In marked contrast to the fragmentation of our postmodern age, the medieval period was a time of cosmos, where Western Culture perceived unity in all things. This order was rigidly hierarchical, both ontologically, from the lowest non-living matter to the highest created angel, and socially, from the lowest serf to the highest King. The symbol of this unity was the Gothic cathedral. If we dare to risk over generalization by summarizing an entire age in a few words, we could perhaps say of the middle age that it was a time when human happiness, comfort, and meaning were not sought in the diversity of earthly things but in the unity of heavenly being. We might say it was a Platonic rather than Aristotelian age, one in which emphasis was placed on heavenly realms and hopes at the expense of earthly motivations. If the purpose of art is to teach the imagination, the Gothic cathedral was designed to teach the medieval imagination to look heavenward to something otherworldly as the source of beauty, meaning and happiness.

To this end, Gothic architecture combined the pointed arch and ribbed vault of its predecessor, the Romanesque, with new techniques in the use of light and the relationship between structure and appearance (Simson 3) in order to serve a single purpose: to draw the eye heavenward. Verticality is the aesthetic of Gothic architecture (7). To achieve this, the Gothic makes use of long, narrow spaces, high vaulted ceilings and several elements which achieve the illusion that the walls holding the edifice up disappear, dissolving within a series of ribs, arches, recesses, windows and the interplay of stain-glass light with shadow that makes the Gothic wall seem “porous: light filters through it, permeating it, merging with it, transfiguring it” (Simson 3). A sense of mysticism or the miraculous in the construction, the abundance of vertical lines, and the diffused/other-than-solar light (permeating the entire space but seeming to emanate from nowhere) all contributed to the medieval viewer’s sense of having entered an otherworldly place, a presage of the heavenly city for which the viewer longed.

In this quality we can summarize the significance of the Gothic cathedral in the medieval period: Otherworldliness. A viewing of the interior of the cathedral was a vision of a supernatural/transcendent world for which the viewer happily longed. One of the theses of this paper is to answer the question, how did the Gothic vision come to represent something so completely opposite in Punk-Gothic film?

Before we can consider how Gothic architecture contributes to, even creates the visual (and perhaps intellectual) landscape of the Gothic art forms that follow, however, we must consider another medieval phenomenon which also contributes to that landscape. Mikhail Bakhtin is the critical name most often associated with the medieval festival tradition known as Carnival. Carnival could be described as the anti-plague, Jes Grew (6) in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, a radical moment of life celebration which disease people want to catch. In the medieval period, carnival celebrations turn the cosmos of carefully structured hierarchical order on its head: The laws, prohibitions, and restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary, that is noncarnival, life are suspended during carnival: what is suspended first of all is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it--that is, everything resulting from socio-hierarchical inequality or any other form of inequality among people (including age). All distance between people is suspended, and a special carnival category goes into effect: free and familiar contact among people. This is a very important aspect of a carnival sense of the world. People who in life are separated by impenetrable hierarchical barriers enter into free familiar contact on the carnival square. (Bakhtin 122-3)

Rather than considering the full implications of carnival as a phenomenon, we must limit ourselves in this paper to a description of its characteristics which contribute directly to the visionary terrain of Gothic literature and Punk-Gothic film. Marilyn Stewart summarizes these qualities:

Four elements of carnival celebration seem especially relevant . . . : disguises or masks which suggest some kind of metamorphosis (for example, men dressed as women or clowns in painted faces), a reign of confusion where boisterous anarchy appears to prevail, contests or attacks, and ritual execution (of pharmakoi or of King Carnival). The world of carnival is thus a peculiar construction which loosens the conventional boundaries between fantasy and reality and mocks ordinary ways of perceiving time and space. During carnival time, riotous behavior, obscene gestures, and abusive language singularly inappropriate in daily life are not only tolerated but seen as “normal.” Conventional groupings of people--for example, in terms of sex, age, social rank, or ethnic group--temporarily lose their significance, and unexpected alliances of people who seem to have little in common are typical. (144-5)

We recall in this description Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” and Punk-Rock culture. Carnival is, as we shall see, as integral a characteristic of the Punk-Gothic film as is Gothic architecture.

The Gothic Novel

Fred Botting manages an excellent synthesis of the factors in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which contributed to the rise of a Gothic sensibility:

Throughout the century important social, economic and political as well as cultural changes began to prise apart the bonds linking individuals to an ordered social world. Urbanisation, industrialisation, revolution were the principal signs of change. Enlightenment rationalism displaced religion as the authoritative mode of explaining the universe and altered conceptions of the relations between individuals and natural, supernatural and social worlds. Gothic works and their disturbing ambivalence can thus be seen as effects of fear and anxiety, as attempts to account for or deal with the uncertainty of these shifts. (23)

Furthermore, the Gothic attempted to explain that which the Enlightenment had left unexplained. Like its counterpart, Romanticism, the Gothic arose as a reaction to the Age of Reason, seeking to recover divine mysteries and connections with a past “that offered a permanence and unity in excess of the limits of rational and moral order” (23). Artistic developments of the day also influenced the development of Gothic literature: Romantic fantasies, a trend in England called “Graveyard poetry,” an aesthetic of the sublime, a revival in both England and America of Gothic architecture, and, in America, frontier/Indian adventure and New England myth stories (Ringel 16-17) contributed to the development of the Gothic vision.

According to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the characteristics of the Gothic novel are universally conventional:

Once you know that a novel is of the Gothic kind (and you can tell that from the title), you can predict its contents with an unnerving certainty. You know the important features of its mise en scene: an oppressive ruin, a wild landscape, a Catholic or feudal society. You know about the trembling sensibility of the heroine and the impetuosity of her lover. You know about the tyrannical older man with the piercing glance who is going to imprison and try to rape or murder them. You know something about the novel’s form: it is likely to be discontinuous and involuted, perhaps incorporating tales within tales, changes of narrators, and such framing devices as found manuscripts or interpolated histories. You also know that whether with more or less relevance to the main plot, certain characteristic preoccupations will be aired. These include the priesthood and monastic institutions; sleep like and deathlike states; subterranean spaces and live burial; doubles; the discovery of obscured family ties; affinities between narrative and pictorial art; possibilities of incest; unnatural echoes or silences, unintelligible writings, and the unspeakable; garrulous retainers; the poisonous effects of guilt and shame; nocturnal landscapes and dreams; apparitions from the past; Faust- and Wandering Jew-like figures; civil insurrections and fires; the charnel house and the madhouse. (9-10)

On a thematic level, I would suggest that the Gothic vision emphasizes an exploration of the human psyche, the origins of evil, the imagination, and encounters with the sublime. In this latter aspect, especially, the Gothic novel mimics the representational content of its architectural predecessor. While the Gothic cathedral typified a human longing for something transcendent, metaphysical, sublime, numinous (choose your word)--what I have labeled otherworldly, the Gothic novel represents the same longing in a post-enlightenment age, an age in which the clarity of the transcendent other had disappeared due to the demythification of the Western world view and the disruption of social equilibrium by the first waves of industrialization. Thus, this new Gothic vision is very different from its predecessor. It represents a longing for something otherworldly, but does so in an age when that otherworldly thing has been touted as primitive (even savage) in the light of reason; it does so in an age when that otherworldly thing is utterly unknown and represented only by a literature of fear and dismal precoccupation with death and the re-erection of ancient foreboding edifices--grey and gloomy and guarded by gargoyles--huge monuments to a pre-enlightenment past in which the metaphysical other could be believed in. Like the Gothic sensibility of the medieval period, the Gothic vision that has come to us in literature expresses a desire for otherworldliness. However, it does so in the context of epistemological uncertainty, of an age when the existence or benevolence of that other world is no longer assured, a desire for the otherworldly coupled with a fear that it might not exist or that its existence might be horrifying.

The Punk-Gothic

The Gothic vision of the previous two centuries has continued to the present though it has become increasingly associated with pure horror fiction. Botting, however, identifies an early association between the Gothic and science fiction (162-8) which will be the basis for the Punk-Gothic subgenre of the eighties and nineties. Frankenstein, The War of the Worlds, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, to name a few, laid the foundational connection between science fiction and Gothic. The Punk-Gothic film is born of this influence and several others.

First, and obviously, the Punk Rock movement of the mid-seventies to mid-eighties is central Punk-Gothic stock. Second, and obviously related to the first, the use of Gothic imagery by Heavy Metal bands like KISS and Alice Cooper (which continues today with less glitzy but even darker intensity in the music and images of groups like Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins). Gothic and punk imagery were most popularly combined, then, in the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show which I do not call Punk-Gothic because of its camp which does not allow the film to make anything other than a playful statement. Elsewhere, punk and Gothic imagery was being put together by comic artists such as Morpheus and Frank Miller (see below). We cannot underestimate their influence and should note that many of the films we will consider (Batman, The Crow) were comic books before they were movies. The sci-fi cyber-punk sub-genre, from which Punk-Gothic doubtless receives influence, owes its existence to these artists as well as advancements in computer technology. We should also consider (and further study is due) that the proliferation of music video brought about by MTV is a major influence on the style, and structure of Punk-Gothic film.

What do I mean when I say a film is Punk-Gothic? What I do not mean, first of all, is that it is a horror film after the fashion of Stephen King or Wes Craven though there may be some overlap. In Punk-Gothic film, the source of evil is far more ambiguous than in modern horror where evil is personified and concentratedly overt. Punk-Gothic film operates less in the emotional state of terror and more in suspense. And the Punk-Gothic film is far more trendy in its use of pop culture forms (music, dress) than is contemporary horror.

Within the Punk-Gothic oeuvre I would place at least the following films: Blade Runner (the first Punk-Gothic film--1982), The Crow films, the Batman films (with reservations on the last two), and Liquid Sky. The increasingly popular Japanimation cartoon films (such as Akira) as well as late night cable cartoon series like The Max (MTV) and Spawn (HBO) (which was also a comic before a cartoon and will be a feature film released in August 1997) fit the Punk-Gothic perfectly. Consideration should also be given to the Alien films (although they enter the realm of horror), Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Edward Scissorhands, Natural Born Killers, The Mad Max movies, Robocop, the films of Cronenburg and David Lynch (and Lynch’s Twin Peaks TV series), the recently released Romeo and Juliet, the 5th Element, and television series like the X-Files and Millennium, though they lack the youth culture/alienation themes that make Punk-Gothic, punk. Obviously a genre that includes as many possible entries as it does definite ones needs critical development. (If nothing else, this list shows in the genre one of its several postmodern tendencies: the blurring of generic lines.) With this list in mind, though, we can turn fully to an explication of Punk-Gothic characteristics.

What makes Punk-Gothic film most different from other contemporary Gothic texts is its carnivalesque quality. The punk in Punk-Gothic is exhibitionist costuming, heavy face makeup, brightly colored hair and wild erratic celebration that frequently crosses a border into violence. These qualities are the essence of carnival, as we have seen. Especially important is carnival’s use of costume/disguise to disrupt conventions of identity. Punk-Gothic films frequently raise the question of identity (what is human and what machine in Blade Runner, dual identities in the Batman films). In carnival, traditional systems are turned on end, authority breaks down and the Carnival King is crowned and killed. In Punk-Gothic, society is technologically advanced/ordered and culturally decaying, power is in the hands of the fringe and a painted martyr (the Crow, the Joker, the android Roy) finds himself crowned with power that is then lost to him along with his life.

Urban decay, squalor and excess comprise another major Punk-Gothic characteristic. The opening scenes of Blade Runner and The Crow are amazingly similar fly-overs of dark flaming inner cities. In Punk-Gothic, buildings tower high, grey and black stone dominate and gargantuan figures, titanic males (the Gotham city architecture in Batman) bend their backs to uphold overwhelming structures or dark gargoyles watch over the humanity below with disinterested obsession. Nature is absent (even the sun has disappeared), the city-scape humanly oppressive. The architecture is a bricolage of styles: Western, Eastern, ancient, modern in which science fiction feats of engineering exist alongside (or are themselves) decaying industrial age edifices. Darkness pervades: grey and black. Stone is preferred to glass--glass, when it is present, is usually broken (a further symbol of decay).

Light in the Punk-Gothic film is otherworldly, like that of the Gothic cathedral, but possessing a techno-artificiality. Common modes of lighting include neon (especially in Blade Runner, and the two most recent Batman movies) which replaces the stain-glass color of the Gothic cathedral, black light, stark direct lighting (flood lights--bright narrow beams) and strobe light affected either in the lighting itself (as in the self-destruct sequence as Ripley escapes in Alien) or by Venetian blinds or boarded windows (as in Blade Runner).

Punk-Gothic music is postmodern, usually cutting edge. For Blade Runner (1982) it consisted of the new age otherworldly synthesizer sounds of Vangelis. More contemporary Punk-Gothic utilizes industrial, grunge and alternative rock.

The hero is at once mythified and demythified in Punk-Gothic: he/she is masked and empowered (supernaturally or by possessing great personal expertise) but exhibits human frailty (usually psychological). Batman is neurotically driven, the Crow is a walking zombie kept alive by the grief of his girl friend’s death. Especially interesting is the heroine of the recent The 5th Element, a genetically perfect super being whom every man around her longs to protect. Her frailty is excessive compassion, a tenderness which almost keeps her from saving humanity.

The Punk-Gothic, apart from its science fiction setting, is at times surreal. Consider as examples the death scenes in Blade Runner (Zhora breaking through an artificially snowy display case in slow motion or Leon’s unusual conversation with Deckerd while they try to kill each other) or the Joker dancing among hundreds of clipped photographs (“Hard to stay within the lines”) in Batman. Surrealistic are the city-scapes, of course, but so is the structure of the film itself. In Punk-Gothic, the narrative is subverted by image. It is not that the story is told by action rather than words (though this is the case) so much as it is that the images of the film become the story. This is nowhere more clear than in the evolution of Blade Runner. When Ridley Scott released his director’s cut of the film it was, primarily, to remove Harrison Ford’s detective flick voice-overs which the producers added for the original release, thinking them necessary for the audience’s comprehension of the story. Blade Runner is very much about its images, though. Its story is the vision it creates for the audience’s imagination (hence the film’s emphasis on eyes and photographs).

A number of science fiction themes are prevalent in Punk-Gothic film, which is itself either a sci-fi or fantasy story. First there is technological advance amidst social decay, a schizophrenic fear and love of technology as savior and curse. The Faustian motif is overt: we rely on technology to empower us while suffering the consequences of sin against the forces that humanize us. Another theme is man vs. machine which plays out in films about killer machines (Blade Runner), machines that seem organic (Brazil; it is no accident that the creatures in Alien appear both biological and mechanical), and man becoming machine (Batman and Robin’s Mr. Freeze). Alongside the sci-fi theme of change/progress runs a pervading theme of nostalgia; this is seen in the motif of family photographs in Blade Runner and in Bruce Wayne’s childhood flashbacks (as he worries about the death of his foster father, Alfred) in Batman and Robin.

In contradiction to this theme, Punk-Gothic film is filled with a youth culture that rejects societal conventions. Skate boarding children and skull faced gangs roam chaotic streets. The convention of family is absent, distorted or destroyed. Cultural roots are replaced by cultural bricolage, a mish-mash of languages, fashions, and architectural styles. Sexuality and suspense permeate the Punk-Gothic. In relation to suspense, time is elastic, elongating with slow motion pain or accelerating with the speed of the editor’s cuts.

Finally, then, the Punk-Gothic sensibility possesses two more contradictory visions. It is filled with a pervading sense of hopelessness, an ill-defined angst which inhabits the realm of community, of culture. What this hopelessness seems to suggest is the cultural absence of apocalyptic vision, the loss of a sense that humanity is going anywhere, that living is therefore without purpose, without goal. At the same time, however, a final hope that is at once transcendent and desperate asserts itself into the Punk-Gothic terrain. It is a hope that is at once modernist humanism, faithful of the ability of humankind to overcome, and romanticist heroism (going back to the roots shared between the Gothic and Romanticism) in which the sacrifice of a very human being saves humanity. In Blade Runner, this occurs when Roy saves rather than kills Deckerd. His subsequent death, accompanied by the release of a dove into a moment of sun light is that transcendent moment of salvation. Deckerd concludes that Roy loved life too much in his last moments to destroy any life. Deckerd is able to return home and find his beloved Rachel alive and is able to escape with her into an Edenic world of nature and sunshine. Love, of course, is the transcendent quality that enables the salvific moment. In the climactic scene of The 5th Element, the wounded young heroine (the super being) questions whether she should save humanity at all since it seems to exist only to kill. The hero, an average human (a taxi driver) convinces her of humanity’s worth by his individual confession of love for her. Love is salvific, but, true to Romanticism and postmodernism, it is vaguely defined, a transcendent quality which can only be intuited in emotion and imagination.

Before we consider the significance of the Punk-Gothic vision, we should briefly explore its relationship to the postmodern project. A number of the trends, themes, and phrases we normally associate with postmodernism are typical of the Punk-Gothic film: science fiction, technology, cultural bricolage, pastiche, the mixing of generic forms, the mixing of tradition and trend, questions about the relationship between man and the divine, meta-narrative, layered texts, intertextuality, interpretive free play, disjunctiveness (subversion of narrative), and collage are all qualities shared by Punk-Gothic film and the postmodern project. Especially similar is the presence of consumerist culture in both projects. But while postmodern discourse raises alarm about rampant free market consumerism, Punk-Gothic film embraces it. Within the films themselves are the workings of product placement and famous-name musicians. Peripherally to Punk-Gothic film operates a marketing blitz of action figures, book and comic adaptations, talk show plugs, TV news magazines where news about entertainment becomes the entertainment, and movie soundtracks filled with songs that do not appear in the film until the end credits are rolled (Smashing Pumpkins drew this honor in Batman and Robin, U2 and Seal in the previous Batman film). The question of identity central to the carnivalesque quality in Punk-Gothic finds its parallel in postmodern discourse where “[i]dentity has become as uncertain as everything else” (Bertens 65).

More centrally, however, Punk-Gothic shares with postmodernism a central quality which Hans Bertens in overviewing postmodernism identifies: “What emerges from this survey of postmodernisms is that the more recent concepts share at least one central characteristic: a radical epistemological and ontological doubt” (53). Ontological doubt is apparent in Blade Runner where defining a human being becomes problematic, in Batman where identities interchange (recall the moment in Batman Returns when Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle realize that, in costume as Batman and Catwoman, they are enemies--Selena wonders, “Do we start fighting now?”), and in The Crow where a category between life and death (being and non-being) suddenly emerges kicking and screaming from the earth. Epistemological doubt is especially poignant in Blade Runner where determining who is and is not human can only be accomplished by a machine and that with difficulty, in Brazil where dream and reality intermix throughout, and in 12 Monkeys where our most constant organizing structure, the linearity of time, is utterly disjointed. The destruction of the Western metanarrative that such doubt typifies serves more than to decenter the nature of our discourse. The Punk-Gothic trend in film shows us that our sensibility of the other has been decentered as well with psychologically disturbing results.

Today, in its Punk form at least, the Gothic is used to represent the world, not the other world. Culturally, we have responded to postmodern reality with Gothic horror, and most importantly, a sense of disbelief. Today, the Gothic no longer calls us to faith in, or desire for another world, but rather symbolizes our shock, our disbelief in our own cultural reality. We look at the world we have made and are overwhelmed by it. The medieval person was drawn by the Gothic away from his/her world happily. Punk-Gothic reveals that postmodern humanity feels alienated from its own world unhappily. The medieval person looked to heaven. We continue to look to the world (and are appalled by what we see). The Gothic no longer represents the otherworldliness of heaven (or even an unknown, if dark, transcendent). In Punk-Gothic film, the Gothic represents the otherworldliness of the world itself.

Dante completed the medieval vision in his triune unity of hell, purgatory and heaven--a vision of harmony where unity and diversity coexist. The Punk-Gothic completes the vision of the modern project which attempted to make a heaven of Earth. In so doing, however, it brought hell along with it. In the Punk-Gothic we are given a new unifying vision: a triune bricolage of discord.

Batman and Robin as Punk-Gothic Failure

In true postmodern fashion, however, the Punk-Gothic vision alters in the release of the fourth Batman movie. The shift of the Batman persona from sixties TV camp to nineties dark knight owes much to comic artist Frank Miller whose 1986 comic mini-series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns inspired the first Batman movie (the film credits Miller by using an element from his series referred to nowhere else in the Batman universe--the battle of Corto Maltese occurs in the comic and is mentioned in the film). Miller’s vision is of a Gothic Gotham City overrun by punk street gangs in which a ten-years-retired Batman re-emerges to wreak revenge on evil because a 55 year old Bruce Wayne cannot shut up the demon within him. In this Gotham, however, super-hero vigilantism is outlawed, not only by the new woman police commissioner, but by the federal government; common man has become frightened of homo-superior. Even the otherwise idealistically portrayed Superman has sold out to the government and is pushed into a climactic showdown with the dark knight. The darkness of Miller’s vision was to Tim Burton’s (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas) liking, and is convincingly apparent in the first two Batman movies. Joel Schumacher brought polish, light, and spectacle to Batman Returns, though it still possesses many of the Punk-Gothic qualities of the first two films.

Batman and Robin proves disappointing, however, as it takes the Punk-Gothic voice of alienation and disbelief and mainstreams it into formula that is unfortunately comfortable in its predictability. Certainly many Punk-Gothic elements are present in the new film: issues of identity (which in this case amount to nothing more than a third actor in the Batman suit--George Cluny does a fine job as Bruce Wayne, proving that it really is the suit that makes the character), sexuality (Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy uses sex as a weapon, literally), neon and black lighting, rebellious youth (a gang sequence, Robin’s rowdiness and further proof of poor security at Wayne Manor as teenaged Batgirl easily learns the secret of Bruce Wayne’s alterego), urban squalor, Gothic architecture (Arkham Asylum looks like a cathedral), carnival (the formulaic masquerade party of Gotham’s rich--present in three of the films now), surrealism, and the hope of love (represented by Freeze’s love for his comatose wife). Elements of postmodern discourse also abound: power issues, marginalized voices, feminist concerns, self referentiality, and consumerism are overt. However, they are all trivialized by camp: The marginalized voices in the movie are those of plants. The masculine voice of power is reduced to the single-word parrotings of a hulking ex-wrestler named Bane. Feminist discourse becomes a series of cliches: Ivy: “It’s not nice to fool with mother nature”; “Men are the most absurd of God’s creations.” Robin: “Bruce, what’s your problem; do you have unresolved issues with women?” Batgirl to Ivy: “That passive/aggressive stuff went out a long time ago; chicks like you give women a bad name.” Batman: “Batgirl. That’s not very P.C. Why not Batperson or Batwoman?” Consumerism is openly acknowledged by humor--here, at least, the satire serves to raise audience awareness. While fighting Batman, Poison Ivy says she is not a physical person and that is why “every Poison Ivy action figure comes complete with him” (the muscle-man, Bane). And in one point in the film, Batman whips out a Bat-credit card, remarking, “Never leave the cave without it.”

The essential critique of Batman and Robin as a failure to the Punk-Gothic vision is two fold. First, the tension Punk-Gothic instills in the audience is gone because the action sequences are too unrealistic, because the editing is insufficiently disjunctive, because the acting of the villains is campy not psychotic and because the comic one-liners are excessive. More importantly, Batman and Robin fails as a representative of the Punk-Gothic sensibility because rather than expressing otherworldly alienation, it takes the audience through a series of familiar images and plot sequences (I was able to predict the scenes from Batman Forever which would shortly occur in the new film). Punk-Gothic has joined the mainstream with this movie. But such had to be the case: a genre of alienation cannot continue to produce films without becoming a familiar part of the culture’s image base. The genre’s success has defeated its message. It remains for us to wait till August and the release of Spawn to see if the genre can resurrect in us our fear of the postmodern condition.

Works Cited

12 Monkeys. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Universal, 1996.

Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott. Twentieth Century Fox, 1979.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Batman. Dir. Tim Burton. Warner Brothers, 1989.

Batman Forever. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Warner Brothers, 1995.

Batman Returns. Dir. Tim Burton. Warner Brothers, 1992.

Batman and Robin. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Warner Brothers, 1997.

Bertens, Hans. “The Postmodern Weltaanschauung and its Relation with Modernism: An
Introductory Survey.” Approaching Postmodernism. Eds. Douwe Fokkema and Hans
Bertens. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Co., 1986. 9-48. Reprinted in A Postmodern
Reader. Eds. Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon. Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1993. 25-70.

Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Warner Brothers, 1982.

Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996.

Brazil. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Universal, 1985.

The Crow. Dir. Alex Proyas. Miramax, 1994.

The Fifth Element. Dir. Luc Besson. Gaumont, 1997.

Miller, Frank. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. New York: DC Comics, 1986.

Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Ringel, Faye. New England’s Gothic Literature. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. New York: 1986.

Simson, Otto von. The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval
Concept of Order. New York: Pantheon Books, 1962.

Stewart, Marilyn. “Carnival and Don Quixote: The Folk Tradition of Comedy.” The Terrain of
Comedy. Ed. Louise Cowan. Dallas: The Dallas Institute of Humanites and Culture, 1984.

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