Looking for a Hero

Catching up with The Batman this weekend – a film that was finally released theatrically in 2022 and promptly became the highest grossing movie so far this year with about $750,000,000 in worldwide ticket sales– was long overdue.

Ostensibly this is because I teach screenwriting and try to assign my students an old or new movie to see most weeks so storytelling and structure in different genres becomes second nature to them.

But truly – that’s merely the surface reason.

OK so this is the reason, right?

The real one is that I believe watching the top-grossing movie of any year allows you to stay informed

But also this..

What this means is that, like it or not, the film the most people go to see in any given year tells you quite a lot about our world — whether you want to know it or not.

So, here’s what I know after watching three hours of The Batman.

1. Robert Pattinson is a finer actor than you think and possesses great hair and seductively angular features.

2. Prosthetics have gotten to the point where, if Warner Bros. demanded it, the technical geniuses behind Hollywood moviemaking could make even ME look like The Batman.  Or Selena Kyle.

And, most importantly –

3. We live in a time where there are no SUPER heroes anymore.

But somehow we managed to have three Spidermans?

In writing classes we teach that no one is 100% altruistic.  Meaning every hero has a little bit of villain in them and every villain has a touch of a hero lurking somewhere in their souls.

The key to villains is they believe deep down what they’re doing is right and justified.

The path to a hero is that the vast majority of the world think their actions are right and justified. 

In our world there are no actionable super majorities to anything anymore.  Certainly not heroes.   I doubt even Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky would get a supermajority worldwide vote if we had a global lie detector.  Nor would Russian President Vladimir Putin achieve worldwide super villain status.

It’d be close for Zelensky

The 2022 probing portrait of Batman tells us everything about our lack of true SUPER HEROES.  It takes the moral ambiguities of the franchise, the conceit of most superhero franchises, and gloomily plants a barely faux hero – our hero – smack dab into heroic territory.

But because the bar is sooo low we think nothing of it.

we did finally see Batman’s makeup, so we’ll give it points for that

He’s an avenger/vigilante with a personal agenda so internal and so intense that he barely feels human.  Certainly he’d have a less than zero potential by the standards of any other era to become anything even approaching a valiant do-gooder.

More importantly, no one around him has much of a moral compass.  And the few who do are either operating with their own secret personal agenda or have not received enough screen time for any real them to properly emerge.

We think Gordon’s good??

This weekend I went to the annual TCM Film Festival in Hollywood and rewatched the 1978 classic Warren Beatty film, Heaven Can Wait.  It was a fantasy comedy remake of the 1941 movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was based on a 1938 play of the same name.

And it shows – in all the best ways.

The late seventies were enough of a post Watergate time and pre-Ronald Reagan 1980s ME era for the world to still believe that a real life good guy could achieve hero status, inspiring others without giving into temptation himself. 


Sure, it helped that Warren Beatty at his most handsome played Joe Pendleton, a lifelong second-string quarterback for the L.A. Rams, who mistakenly dies and is escorted to a weigh station to heaven due to his incompetent Guardian Angel.

But when Joe is given a second chance and gets temporarily dropped into the body of a rich, unscrupulous industrialist, who among other things gleefully runs a conglomerate that thinks nothing of drilling oil and polluting entire small towns of people to slightly increase his profit margins (Note: Yes, this film was made in 1978), it seems a recipe for disaster.

Clearly, the good guy will be corrupted by all this money and power.  Because let’s face it, no believable good guy could ever be that heroic with all the oil and money in the world at his personal disposal.  At the very least he’d have to launch his own rocket ship to take him to the edge of outer space or perhaps invent his own super electronic auto before dropping back down to earth to help all the rest of us little people. 

I mean the guy already dresses like a supervillain

He’d have to become a bad guy who takes a stroll on the dark side, before rejoining the merely human race and inspiring them.

Because that’s the only way we’d believe it.

Except, well, no – not in the late 1970s.

Joe never succumbed to darkness.  In fact, he is nothing but good, well intentioned, hard working, loyal and kind, even to the two people he lives with who are trying to kill him in.

His everyman morality wins the day – a morality not born of some past traumas he has overcome but springs from the plain yet solid nice guy that Joe apparently always was.

Not sure I would consider this everyman hair #goodhair

He’s a regular fellow whose superpower is being moral.  A hopeful idea of a movie released during a time when we still had a few smidgeons of hope.

Heaven Can Wait was one of the top five grossing movies the year it was released. Among the others were Grease, National Lampoon’s Animal House and Superman.

It’s easy to sense a pattern here because there was one. 

Even in a year when two dark and raw post Vietnam War movies, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, triumphed over Heaven Can Wait at the Academy Awards.

See, it’s not that the late 1970s were an uncynical time.  They were just, well, a little less immoral.

Bonnie Tyler – “Holding Out for a Hero”

That Person

Not gonna lie, this was not a great few weeks. 

A weekly blog that covers the intersection of pop culture and social issues is probably not the best place to tell you my dear friend of 50 plus years died quite unexpectedly two weeks ago.

But what the hell, she did and I’m devastated, angry, sad and grateful to have had her in my life at all.

And yes, to you lay therapists out there, I am feeling all of those feelings – at the same time.

Of course, those feelings won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has ever experienced the death of a loved one – be it friend, family or a little bit of both.

And my dear Deb was A LOT of both, and then some. 

Actually, she was much more than that. 

She was fun and bold and brave and saved teenage me from a life of denial, depression and, well, utter dullness.

As teenagers who would both grow up to be gay, we became best friends way back when and then, some years later, eventually… dated???

Well, sort of.

That was a teeny segment of our relationship, but one that many gay men and lesbians of a certain age will identify with.  The best friend who somehow was thought of as, or became, your “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” when you were a teenager or even in your very early twenties. 

Except that, well, a relationship that works perfectly on every level except the sexual one pretty much ensures they’re not your girlfriend, and definitely not your boyfriend. 

What they become, after some growing pains and years of therapy and a lot of luck, is that person.  Your touchstone.  The one.  That enduring extended family member who knew you then, chose to grow with you, change with you, endure you and love you in a way no one else really could (or can) because they’d never have the history and, certainly, not the context.

There’s a shorthand when you know someone this long.  Memories that ebb and flow, some really good or even great but none of them, even the most mundane or unsavory ones, ever truly bad because by this point you’ve weathered the storm and gotten through all the shit that comes at a person in more than five decades.

If you’re fortunate enough to still have that person in your life you get to laugh at the ridiculousness of what you thought so many times was the end of the world while remaining bonded in the reality of having both survived, this long, together, with any shred of sanity and humor left.

As it turns out, you realize together, you were nowhere near as insane as you both knew you were back then (and even sometimes now).  As for humor, being funny is what got you through and allowed you to survive.  What a gift it is to still be able to make each other laugh by saying so little.   The appropriate eyebrow raise or mind read at an oddly opportune moment will more than do. 

But only with them. 

The one who saw you for who you really were, long before you chose to, and decided to stay and find how it would all turn out.

Loving you for who YOU were every step of the way.

Of course, this is a two-way street.  You don’t get to have a person like that for so long unless you are willing to love them and see them for who they really were.

But that’s the easy part.

The hard part is when one day they’re not around for you to do it anymore.

Yeah, they’ll always be with you, all those memories make you one of the fortunate ones and blah, blah, blah, life goes on.

But not in the way you knew it. 

Deb and I both loved theatre and among our favorite plays was Our Town.  Yeah, we both particularly loved Albee and Tennessee Williams but there was something about that much-maligned Thornton Wilder classic that truly spoke to us and, in some hipster crowds, we took a lot of crap for it.

So it is not lost on me right now that all I can think about is the ghost of Emily, the young (Note: Spoiler Alert) dead girl in her grave at the cemetery at the end of the play, looking and marveling at her simple family and town going about their mundane tasks on a typical day in their mundane lives.

And her disembodied voice, as she asks that iconic question —

Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?

Followed by the Stage Manager answering —

No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.

And Deb taking it in, nodding along, and helping me, as usual, to make sense of it.

See, that’s the thing. At the moment, none of that makes a whole lot of sense.  Even though we talked about it a million times.

Bette Midler – “Friends”