How Heroic is the Lego Batman? A Psychologist’s Answer
Like a large segment of the global population, I enjoyed The Lego Batman Movie. Although it is unmistakably a spin-off of The Lego Movie, I was surprised by how much of a Batman film it was. Case in point- Lego Batman dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from the murder of his parents. This theme is toned down and palatable for children (I had my six-year old son with me, after all). So rather than flashbacks of the Waynes being gunned down (and Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace snapping), we get Lego Batman avoiding relationships so that he never again loses someone close to him. He even keeps the Joker at arm’s length (“There is no US!”). The arc of the movie is driven by how he gradually allows connections to form, which affects his Heroism Quotient.
In a previous post I defined my Heroism Quotient (HQ) and Villainy Quotient (VQ). I rate pop culture heroes along five factors (0-20), yielding a Heroism Quotient (HQ) with a maximum score of 100. The higher the HQ, the more heroic the hero. The factors are inspired by the thinking of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who has explored heroism following his ground-breaking work on the roots of evil with the Stanford prison experiment. Here’s how I rate Lego Batman on the HQ factors:
1. acting in service to others in need, or in defense of an ideal: There is no question that Lego Batman acts to help crime victims and those in distress, and he abides by his own dark code of justice. But I docked him some points here because part of his motivation is revenge. He has a huge chip on his little plastic shoulder and he likes to take out his anger on the bad guys. Factor score = 12.
2. serving voluntarily: Lego Batman maxes out here with a 20 because, as a very rich dude, he could decide to lead a life of extreme luxury in his big mansion (that is made of little bricks). Instead, he dons the cowl and kicks butt on a nightly basis.
3. recognizing possible risks/costs: At first it would seem that Lego Batman would also max out on this factor. After all, courage is one of his defining personality traits. But his caped crusading often swings into thrill-seeking, which to me is more about denial of risk than acceptance of it. So I’m giving him a 14.
4. accepting anticipated sacrifice: Lego Batman had to accept a lot of sacrifices when he became a vigilante, perhaps the most significant being that he could not have a normal family life. But here is where his PTSD is noteworthy- he doesn’t just sacrifice relationships for an ideal, but also because he is afraid to have them. By the end of the movie he starts to show the same courage with connections as he does with villains. I’m going to grade on a curve, though, to give him a 16.
5. anticipating no external gain: As was the case with The Lego Movie, post-modernism rules and social commentary abounds (I can hardly wait to see it again to catch all that I missed in the initial avalanche of gags and references). One very funny slant is that this particular Batman loves him some Batman. Especially at the outset, he comes off as a pampered pop star or jock, lapping up fame and taking great umbrage at anyone who doesn’t think he’s awesome. As a result, his score on this factor takes a major hit- 5.