Christian Bale: A History

Jul 20th, 2005 | By | Category: Columns

Dear Christian Bale,

Now that you are the new Batman, I know you have a lot of people admiring your work for the first time. Since most of them are women, I will assume you get approached in the street a lot, which has to be uncomfortable for you, as you are British and therefore incapable of handling any sort of flattery.

Thankfully, I have followed your career long before you deserved it (singing, dancing, preternaturally articulate newsboys, Christian? Really?), and I am willing to draw up a primer of your prior movies for the uninitiated. When approached in the street, you may now simply hand them my card and walk on, unscathed by human contact.

In addition, I will explain how each of these movies prepared you for your current role, so that you will never have to answer that question again. I know you hate that.

Empire of the Sun

See Christian be thirteen. See him be frighteningly good. See a completely ham-handed, anvil-dropping directing turn by Spielberg ruin any sort of lyric poetry the movie possesses by making sure you see it five times BECAUSE IT IS POETIC AND POIGNANT AND WAR IT IS HORRIBLE.

Preparation for Batman: His childhood horror at being separated from his parents is raw and anguished here; in Batman, he represses the horror, letting the grief surface occasionally in his more vulnerable moments.


Oh, Christian. Oh, Christian.

Please note the not-quite-pitch-perfect accent he will spend the rest of his movie career perfecting. Also please note his utter willingness to make an ass of himself in front of the camera. It’s embarrassing now, but about five movies from now it makes him a genius. Time is the great equalizer. Plus, he wears a jaunty hat!

Preparation for Batman: Wearing a stupid costume for three months.

Royal Deceit

This is a vast improvement from the camp of Newsies; unfortunately, it’s not a paragon of subtlety, because the director died, and when the movie was pulled off shelves and polished two years later, the vision was different (hint: the new one had little dollar signs floating all over it). However, it’s lovely to see Christian coming into his own as an actor, and you can see his boyish glee at playing opposite Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, et al.

(Note to history buffs: this is as accurate a depiction of the Middle Ages as you’re likely to see. Take a peek. You won’t be sorry.)

Preparation for Batman: As a young prince out to avenge the death of his father and make sure his kingdom is safe, this practically IS Batman.

Velvet Goldmine

This movie makes no sense, and that’s all right. It’s about sparkling, musical gayness. Christian plays a slightly pimply, eager young journalist. It’s a very naturalistic performance in a movie that’s largely stylistic; a bold move for the up-and-coming actor.

He needs to learn how to apply makeup, though. Just saying – he’s a genius in front of the camera, but not so much in front of the Cover Girl.

Preparation for Batman: Acquiring thousands of rabid cult fans.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

Bale took it easy after Velvet Goldmine with a small, relaxed indie in which he played The Son of God.

Preparation for Batman: Too many jokes.

American Psycho

Then he played a Yuppie serial-killer.

Patrick Bateman is a man with no goals, no purpose, and no qualms about killing hookers with staple guns. However, what makes him chilling is not his impulse to kill; it’s the fact that outside of his violent outbursts, he is a humungous nerd. This geek manner, which goes even deeper than his killer instinct, makes him human, and therefore more frightening, as the desire to think of him as a monster is too easy to fulfill, and Bale makes it hard.

Preparation for Batman: Wearing a snappy suit for three months.

Reign of Fire

Then he played a dragon hunter. No, really. A dragon hunter.

Preparation for Batman: Look, he didn’t know Batman didn’t fight dragons, okay?! Leave the man alone!


Then he played John Preston in Equilibrium, and really, if you’re going to see one of his movies, see American Psycho, but if you’re going to see two, see this one. His portrait of a seemingly emotionless law enforcement agent of a dystopian city is heartbreaking, all the more so when he goes “off the dose” of mandatory emotion-dampening medication and begins to see exactly what he’s been missing, which include women, sunrises, Beethoven, and puppies.

Preparation for Batman: Um. All of it is basically a long training sequence for Batman. Bale’s handling of the inventive gun katana is masterful physical precision, and you can see why Bale did most of his own stunts in Batman Begins: because he is some kind of mutant superhuman.

The Machinist

Okay, there’s no plot in this movie. You’re just supposed to stare at Christian and silently scream, “EAT A SANDWICH!”

Wait. There was a plot. Hang on. It was–a factory? And a waitress? Maybe a car?

Whatever. I maintain the movie exists to make you want to feed Christian Bale.

(During the brief times I opened my fingers – from behind which I watched this entire movie – in order to examine his skeletal frame, I am pleased to report that he is still the living genius of facial expression, and that he and Jennifer Jason Leigh have a truly affectionate, wonderful chemistry. You can see her silently screaming, “Eat a sandwich!”)

Preparation for Batman: Going apeshit.

Batman Begins

If, after this column, you’re still here instead of in line at the theatre for Batman tickets, I will be angry at you.

Good luck, fans old and new! Remember, it’s self-defense if you kill a man who takes your seat in the movie show!


Genevieve is a prolific writer of speculative fiction living in New York, but you’ll never find her there because millions of people live there and Genevieve likes her privacy. Examples of her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Federations, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her first novel is forthcoming in 2011. Also? She has terrible taste in movies.

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