Beyond Heroes and Villains

Investigating the nature of good guys and bad guys in fiction and real life

The Dark Knight Rises: What Motivates Bane?

How Do Needs for Achievement, Power, Affiliation Shape Batman's Back Breaker?


The Dark Knight Rises (2012 motion picture)

When I've given talks on the psychology of Batman this year, audience members keep posing two questions about 2012's blockbuster motion picture The Dark Knight Rises: (1) Do I think Bruce Wayne, after spending his life training to fight crime, could really give up being Batman? (2) Does Bane's motivation in the movie match that of the character as depicted in the comic books? My answers: (1) Yes. Batman in the comic books has periodically demonstrated a willingness to ditch the cape and cowl if he can find a better way to keep his mission going as he grows older. (2) No. Bane in the movie is a blend of two comic book characters: Bane (obviously) and the al Ghuls' loyal servant Ubu. Comic book Bane is not loyal. If comic book Bane likes you, he is, in fact, more likely to kill or otherwise remove you from his life so you can't be used against him.

In the book Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight, which came out two months before the motion picture's release, I pulled a quote from the movie's trailers but otherwise stuck to analyzing Bane as depicted in comic books. Whereas the movie version of this villain commits every crime and is ready to die for the sake of a paternal sort of love for (spoiler alert - even though you should have already picked up on the fact that this article is going to spill some plot points) Ra's al Ghul's daughter Talia, comic book Bane is looking out for number one, himself.

In the comic books, Bane lives for challenges. His need to beat Batman for the sheer sake of beating Batman illustrates his strong achievement motivation, Need for Achievement as biochemist/psychologist Henry Murray[1] called it, the need to overcome obstacles, to attain a lofty standard, and to rival and surpass others. Murray identified a variety of needs that motivate and direct human behavior. Not everyone has every need. Over a lifetime, a person might or might not experience them all. Following up on Murray, psychologist David McClelland asserted that three dominant needs comprise human motivation: 

A boy and his teddy bear (inside which the boy hides his knife).
http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100512172421/marvel_dc/images/a/a3/Osito_001.jpg
Need for Achievement (NAch), Need for Power (NPow), and Need for Affiliation (NAffil).[2][3] A person could feel driven toward achievements unrelated to power and affiliation. Bane yearns for power too but belittles affiliation. He understands strength in numbers and can enjoy a few people’s company, but as he lacks incentive to maintain that enjoyment, he has little Need for Affiliation, the need to belong with others. Those who value affiliation most, requiring approval and interpersonal connection, make good team members but poor leaders. Reflecting on his few tentative attachments makes him decide they put him at risk because enemies could use those bonds against him and any desire he might feel to protect someone else would give his enemies an advantage, so he parts ways with a group called the Secret Six. They fare better than the priest who educated Bane and gave him his teddy bear when Bane was a child stuck in a South American prison. Bane killed that priest.

Subsidiation refers to situations in which one need activates to satisfy another. Bane’s Need for Power, secondary to his Need for Achievement, supplements that greater motivation. Power helps him achieve. Personal power, power over himself, he believes helps him attain power over others. The everyday management of any criminal organization would leave him dissatisfied if that power posed insufficient challenge. He weans himself of Venom, a source of physical might, when he decides addiction to Venom would be weakness, and yet he risks addiction again at times when the Venom offers him an advantage in pursuing a valued goal.

Like the Riddler, Bane came to Gotham City specifically because the challenge of facing Gotham's Dark Knight attracted him. Not only does Batman inspire some of his city's criminals to become more colorful, he draws a few there. In Christopher Nolan's movies, however, Batman did not directly attract these criminals to Gotham. Ra's al Ghul (a.k.a. Henri Ducard, played by Liam Neeson) had decided on his own to destroy the city, and his daughter Talia later carries on with his legacy. Movie Bane comes to Gotham for her, not for Batman. Comic book Bane would sneer at movie Bane.

Is this woman's love really enough for Bane to die for? Only in the movies!
The Dark Knight Rises (2012 motion picture)
 

Related book excerpt: "Batman's Case Files: Bane, the Man Who Broke the Bat." 

[1] Murray, H.A. (1938). Explorations in personality. New York: Oxford University Press. 

[2] McClelland, D. C. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton: Van Nostrand.

[3] McClelland, D.C., Atkinson, J.W., Clark, R.A., & Lowell, E.L. (1953). The achievement motive. Princeton: Van Nostrand.

 

 

 

Travis Langley, Ph.D. is the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.

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