Andrew Akler: Patient Zero (Part 1)
My name’s Daniel Ranalli and I’m a screenwriter. I started writing when I was just 7, and now at 23, I continue that with this blog about the entertainment industry, which I strive to someday be a part of.
In trying to break in, I went on a site called Stage32 back in January to look for someone who wanted a script-writer and came across a man by the name of Andrew Akler.
He was looking for someone to help him write his first feature length script (having only written shorts before). So I applied and after he had read my scripts, I got the job.
When we talked on skype, though, we learned of our mutual love and fascination for Batman. In fact, he revealed that he had even written, directed, and composed the soundtrack for a short about the Knight of Gotham titled “Batman: Patient Zero.”
Around this time, I was also starting up this blog and knew that I wanted to bring fellow writers on as guests and thought that Andrew would be perfect.
I watched the 17 minute video and later figured that this would be the subject of our collaborative article. If you haven’t seen it, here’s another link.
Spoilers lie ahead, so you really should watch the short first. Also, most of this is just me paraphrasing what he said.
Question 1) Why did you want to make a short about Batman? Why not Superman, Flash, etc.?
It turns out that Andrew’s favorite superhero is actually Spiderman, and Batman ranks as his #2.
Andrew says that Batman’s storylines have always had a more interesting take on psychology and sociology, and that the writers strive to weave these themes into the writing, especially in the Dark Knight Trilogy (DKT).
Andrews adds that he also loves what Batman stands for and what the character represents.
Watching “Spider-Man: Homecoming” for the first time, (the night before I typed this up, actually) reminds me of why he’s my favorite Marvel superhero; he just fights in such a unique and awesome way.
Nevertheless, Batman is my #1. He’s had a psychology to his methods since the beginning, but that method didn’t come into its own till the 70’s, when DC transformed Batman into the gothic character he is, not to mention the advancements made by Frank Miller in the 80’s.
This is where Batman’s use of striking fear into his enemies really started — the writers used the knowledge that something —
lurking in the shadows
— would make Batman more than a man in the hearts and minds of criminals. They and Batman know that this would allow the Knight of Gotham to control criminals.
Fear has been used to do so by politicians for millennia, only politicians often use fear for different, and less altruistic reasons. DKT carries on this methodology of using fear, especially in “Batman Begins” (BB).
Follow-Up Question: Why do you love DKT?
Each DKT film explores a different theme; they each choose an emotion and show how each character would react to the stimuli of that emotion. The best one would be the theme of fear in BB.
BB starts with Bruce Wayne wanting to overcome the fear of failing to live up to his parents’ legacy. This pushes him in the direction of becoming Batman and a symbol of fear.
BB takes the stimulus of fear and says that Batman doesn’t want to feel fear, and instead wants to become a symbol of it. He’s trying to become the thing he wants to escape — he’s embracing what he’s trying to run away from.
What I already knew is that each DKT movie does have a different emotional theme: Fear in BB; Chaos in DK; and Pain in DKR.
What I never really considered, though, was that each makes a point of showing how each character would react. I guess Alfred, especially in the latter 2 movies, serves as a good example.
In DK, looking at the big picture, he reacts to the Joker’s promise of killing people until Batman unmasks himself by telling Bruce to not give in and keep his mask on.
And although Bruce getting over his fear of bats is apparent in BB, I never thought that he’s also getting over the fear of not living up to the legacy of his parents and that that pushes him to become Batman as well.
But it makes sense; what was Thomas Wayne’s ultimate goal? To help the city. So Bruce eventually resolves to do the same, but in his own way.
In the same film, Alfred wants to live up to the Wayne’s legacy by protecting Bruce and fears not fulfilling that expectation.
I never really thought of this either, at least not in BB. However, I do remember how mad he got in BB after Batman wrecked a bunch of cop cars in a chase and put many lives at stake, including his own.
Of course, what Alfred didn’t know was that Rachel had been poisoned by Scarecrow and needed help.
The thing that drew Andrew in the most was how the films went into the psychology of each character; how they play on psychology by giving them emotional stimuli and showing how they would react.
I think DK does this best since it showcases the emotional reactions to 2 characters besides Batman, whereas the other 2 movies focus on him most of all (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
In DK, we see the gradual breakdown of Harvey Dent and the aftermath of whatever happened to the Joker. Though ideologies create conflicts in the other 2, it’s psychology that creates it in DK.
The Joker does have an ideology, but it is 1 born out of madness. However, it is Dent’s psychology that receives the most attention as we witness his gradual breakdown.
Question 2) What inspired you to write that ending?
The premise of the film is “what-if?” Batman actually being insane gets touched on in “Batman: the Animated Series” (BTAS), as well as in a book called “Batman and Psychology” that Andrew skimmed through.
It talks about how each character in Batman’s universe embodies a different mental illness, and that Batman actually embodies a whole bunch.
The Bat-verse definitely includes psychology more than most other superhero stories. Whereas most of the villains and heroes elsewhere usually get created thanks to a freak accident or biology, most of the heroes and villains of Gotham get born out of real events, if you will; not events that have actually happened, but events that could happen.
That’s why they embody mental illnesses, it’s their traumas that make them do what they do, as opposed to receiving powers. And in superhero stories, catalysts for conflicts really boil down to these 2 options.
Also, since Batman embodies many illnesses, it’s almost as if he’s fighting a part of himself with each criminal; and that’s what “Batman: Patient Zero” is all about.
Andrew also says that he wanted to take the extreme aspects of each character’s personalities for this short and show how they reflect on Batman, because what you find out in the end is that he’s projecting his issues onto these doctors/villains. He sees 1 flaw in each of them, and “amps it up to 11.”
For example, he personifies Nygma as Riddler since he asks him a lot of questions; the head doctor gets personified the Joker since he’s “the puppet master,” and also because he administers most of the treatments.
I think Andrew wanted to do it this way since the villains are actually projections, individual personality traits that Bruce has and is projecting onto them based on a small but distinguishable part of their personalities.
And if Bruce can only see this individual trait within them, it is only natural that he sees them personifying the extreme forms of each trait — if a real person had only 1 personality trait, it means that it has consumed them, hence it has taken an extreme form.
So if Bruce thinks that each of them only has 1 personality trait, it makes sense that he sees each trait in their extreme forms.
For example, Dr. Nygma has a telltale curiosity. Bruce has probably inferred that this is what has given Dr. Nygma his intelligence, and since Bruce can only see him as a villain, he chooses to view Dr. Nygma as someone who uses intelligence for evil — the Riddler.
This is also part of Andrew pushing the “what if?” question as far as it can go. By showcasing the extremes of each character, he showcases the individual mental illnesses that Batman is projecting onto each of them.
If you accept the theory that Batman’s the embodiment of many illnesses, then putting the audience in his shoes and having him then project these illnesses onto others gets this point across like in no other way. This makes the twist-ending both a great reveal and a great metaphor.
If you want to read more, the second part in this 4-part series should go up soon, probably the week of April 2nd.
If you want to read more of what I think about some of my fellow wordbenders, click here.
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Until next time, never stop wordbending, my fellow story-tellers.