In the first two movies of Nolan's trilogy, fear has always been detrimental to the one experiencing it. The entire first film was Bruce overcoming his fear and as a consequence becoming stronger and able to overcome Scarecrow. Then the second film dealt with fear indirectly with the Joker inciting panic and terror into Gotham through terrorism. And in all films, Batman literally terrorizes criminals into not being able to coherently fight or conduct business.

It could basically be said that Batman's "superpower" boils down to him overcoming his fear and using it against others.

For reasons I don't entirely understand, though, fear is switched around to being a good thing in The Dark Knight Rises. As in, Batman fails to punch Bane well because he wasn't scared of dying, he fails to jump out of a pit because he's not scared of dying, then the third act of the movie is built around Batman literally jumping and punching better by being scared of dying.

I don't entirely understand where this mindset is coming from. Fear obviously didn't make any of the inmates better at fighting in Batman Begins, nor did it focus Gotham in The Dark Knight. Following the third movie's logic, Batman should have been an incredible fighter under Scarecrow's fear gas and the training montage with Ras encouraging Batman to overcome his fear wouldn't make sense.

Why the switch?

  • 1
    fear is a good thing....actually depends on how you look at it.....if you are afraid of fear, you panic, but if you accept fear, it releases adrenaline and heightens your sense...thats how Bruce was able to jump across the ledge, without the rope, he knows that he would die if he falls, adrenaline kicks in and he jumped further.
    – j4rey
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 6:01
  • 1
    "Fear is bad" has never been some kind of central axiom in the Batman series. Fear is something that exists, and is looked at the same way as in real life.
    – Misha R
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 15:49

4 Answers 4


It's not a duality

From the script for The Dark Knight Rises:

Blind Prisoner: (cracked English) You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. This makes you weak.

Wayne: Why?

Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit? The fear of death. The will to survive.

(Wayne gets up onto his elbow, looks at the Blind Prisoner)

Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns. There's no one there to save it.

Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.

Wayne: How?

Blind Prisoner: As the child did: without the rope(dry laugh). Then fear will find you again.

(Wayne considers this)

The point is that gives one the dedication to do what is necessary. Or perhaps more accurately, that fear can give one the dedication to do what is necessary.

Fear can be a potent tool—if used properly. If one allows fear to be all-consuming, on the other hand, it can become a detriment.

Most emotions are like this: hatred, anger, even happiness. Any one of them can distract one from one's goals—or provide the motivation one needs to succeed. Fear is simply the most powerful. That is, indeed, the evolutionary reason for fear: to provide us with the motivation to flee, to "run faster than possible," or otherwise take action to avoid an unpleasant outcome.

Note that Batman has not stopped overcoming his fears in The Dark Knight Rises:

As Wayne hoists himself up onto the precipice, something
EXPLODES from the cliff face. Wayne flinches - BATS... they
circle up to the opening above...
Wayne closes his eyes. The chant RISES. Wayne takes a
breath...opens his eyes...looks down at the drop...up
again...then he jumps.

He still has to overcome his fears, both of bats and of heights, in order to jump. But that's the lesson. Fear is both an obstacle and the means of overcoming that obstacle. The other prisoner believes that without the fear of death, Batman will not have the motivation to overcome Bane. Batman corrects him: His fear of what will happen to Gotham without him allows Batman to overcome his fear of what will happen if he tries to escape, or if he faces Bane again.

You're right. The Dark Knight trilogy is primarily a movie about fear. It only makes sense, then, that if the first two movies show how fear can make one weak, the final one shows how fear can make one strong.


I've recently read about the differences between "weakness" and "vulnerability." I've always believed them to be the same. I have felt to be vulnerable is something to avoid at all costs. The book, "Daring Greatly" is causing me to change my perspective and I immediately thought of TDKR and this scene concerning fear.

Vulnerability: capable of being wounded; open to attack or damage

Weakness: the inability to withstand attack or damage

In Batman Begins, Wayne states he is frightened of bats and wishes to share this fear with his enemies. His encounters throughout the film (i.e. fear toxin) makes him realize he is vulnerable to the fear toxin. He sought to minimize his weakness against his enemies but understood/acknowledged his vulnerability.

In The Dark Knight, Batman meets the Joker. The Joker frequently uses chaos, fear and vulnerability against society. When Rachel dies, Wayne is grieving and pushes himself to become invulnerable. He believes this will reduce his weaknesses. Alfred even counters with:

"Don't you think there might be some casualties?"

Alfred understands no matter the situation there are vulnerabilities. At the end of the movie, The Joker succeeds in cementing Wayne's belief he must become completely invulnerable. "Batman has no limits"

In The Dark Knight Rises, Wayne states has no fear of death which he mistakenly believes makes him more invulnerable. Wayne has, like most of us, misunderstood the difference between weakness and vulnerability.

Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness and can be your greatest strength. “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. ... Everyone is vulnerable, no matter how much they try to avoid it.

The doctor in the prison tells Wayne this. I replaced "fear" with "vulnerability" to demonstrate this point.

Doctor: You are not vulnerable to death. You think this makes you stronger? It makes you weak.

Wayne: Why?

Doctor: How can you move faster than possible? Fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the experience? The vulnerability of death.

Wayne has fought to be invulnerable. This has made him weak in reality. Climbing up and readying himself for the jump, Wayne finally understands/accepts his vulnerability. Without the rope, Wayne is forced to acknowledge he is capable of being wounded; open to attack or damage. He learns the difference between weakness and vulnerability.

Weakness stems from a lack of vulnerability. When we don't acknowledge how and where we are tender (vulnerable), we are more at risk of being hurt.

There is a conversation between Wayne and Blake(Robin) concerning masks.

Batman: If you're working alone, wear a mask.

Blake: I'm not afraid to be seen standing up to these guys.

Batman: The mask is not for you. It's to protect the people you care about.

Batman is teaching Blake the difference between vulnerability and weakness. Strive to be strong and harden yourself against weakness. But never at the expense of acknowledging vulnerabilities. Always respect and understand them.


You have to fear in order to survive. You can see it in nature

A typical example of the stress response is a grazing zebra. If the zebra sees a lion closing in for the kill, the stress response is activated as a means to escape its predator. The escape requires intense muscular effort, supported by all of the body's systems. The sympathetic nervous system’s activation provides for these needs.

Example from Wikipedia entry for Fight-or-flight response

Drug addicts lose their fear and start prioritising alcohol and drugs (e.g. the fear of not getting the hit) over all other fears, like relationships, a job, school, persona health, taking care of a kid/pet, clean environment.

Addiction changes your priorities. You lose interest in the things you use to enjoy.

Similarly Batman lost his fear and his priorities are not in line with the goal of getting out of the pit. He thinks of the end result but not the steps to get there. When you have fear you become obsessed with one thing. Like an animal in fight or flight, running from a predator, its full focus is on escaping. It is not thinking of food or where it will escape to. It is just pure thinking of what you need at that moment.


Fear is batman's super power. As much as his money is. His money is simply the blade that allows him to exercise his fear freely.

That is why a normal human can go toe to toe with literal gods. Paranoia- an irrational fear and suspicion- defines his character. When he makes a plan, he doesn't think 'yeah, that is good enough', he KNOWS it isn't enough, so he is mentally prepared for it to fail and he has to respond to that.

He also prepares 50 backup plans, and he keeps dossiers on how to systematically murder every one of his allies if they turn rogue. He doesn't trust his super powered allies because he FEARS what they would do if they went off the deep end.

This also extends to his investigations- he never rests easy with any solution, since he FEARS the criminals that would remain at large if he made a mistake. So he analyzes and reanalyzes looking at every angle for his mistakes.

Fear is his superpower because it keeps his mind sharp and his eyes open. Fear is only a weakness (at least in a fight; we know it ruins his social life) when you allow it to stop you from acting. Batman faces his fear, and then asks 'so what do I do about it? How do I solve the problem?'

  • Not murder - incapacitate. Also, that could benefit from referencing. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:14

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