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Batman, the Riddler, and Borderline Personality Disorderaltruism psychology

Batman, the Riddler, and Borderline Personality Disorderaltruism psychology

Batman, the Riddler, and Borderline Personality Disorderaltruism psychologyTHE BASICS What Is Personality? Find a therapist near me Key points The Riddler in the films "Batman Forever" and "The Batman" may show signs characteristic of borderline personality disorder. The Riddler in "Batman Forever" reveals an unstable, incomplete identity characterized by chaos in his moods, actions, and self-concept. In "The Batman," the Riddler's hopes for a friendship with Batman are dashed upon their first meeting. He rages, and deems Batman a foe.

Wiired magazine recently asked me to discuss “each and every” live-action Batman movie villain for its YouTube channel. (In case you’re wondering, I do not make a cent for telling you that.) Because of the video’s fast pace, a lot of my elaboration wound up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. That’s to be expected. I remain pleased with the experience and grateful for the invitation to talk.

Still, I’m always wary when I discuss psychological topics that may be poorly understood by the public. Although using fictional characters as examples for explaining real human nature spares us the complications of discussing living, breathing human beings, any public discourse on a specific mental illness or personality disorder nevertheless raises issues that touch the lives of living, breathing human beings.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the Riddler is usually depicted as one of the most narcissistic of Batman’s foes (Langley, 2012, 2022). In the version of the character in the film Batman Forever, though, he seems closer to displaying borderline personality disorder. While the 1995 film’s psychologist character suggests that the Riddler may fit a fictional diagnosis (it was not in the diagnostic manual DSM-IV at the time, American Psychiatric Association, 1994), she does describe some aspects of borderline personality disorder. (Can’t a screenwriter call a professional or at least open a DSM?) Previously (Langley, 2022, p. 320), I’ve written about that character depiction:

[Batman Forever’s Riddler] appears to have borderline personality disorder, an unstable, incomplete identity characterized by chaos in one’s thoughts, moods, actions, and self-concept… Edward’s [the Riddler] specific symptoms include splitting, categorizing people in positive and negative extremes, switching abruptly between idealizing and demonizing the same individual as indicated by his vacillating views toward Bruce Wayne. ‘You’re my idol,’ he tells Bruce at their first meeting, where Edward initially impresses Bruce with his inventive ideas, only to press too hard and blow his chance to get the multimillionaire to fund his research. Hero worship inverts into dangerous obsession. Eddie stalks Bruce, anonymously leaving him riddles with sinister overtones.

Riddler cosplayer at San Diego Comic-Con International.Source: Travis Langley

To some degree, this description may also fit the character’s incarnation as played by Paul Dano, less chaotically but more devastatingly, in this month’s blockbuster motion picture The Batman.

Batman Forever’s Riddler, Edward Nygma, idolizes Bruce Wayne. The Batman’s Riddler, Edward Nashton, (Nashton may be an alias) idolizes Batman. Each Edward imagines that the connection he feels to Bruce/Batman must be reciprocal. He fantasizes that they will hit it off well, bond, and become friends when they finally meet, only to find that his idol rejects both him and his grand plan. Crestfallen, upset that the meeting does not live up to expectations, Edward rages. If they cannot be buddies, they will be foes.

Does any of that fit Batman himself? Batman Forever’s Bruce Wayne (played by Val Kilmer) may be a whole person, fairly well-adjusted and in control, as he manages the balancing act of maintaining a life as Bruce Wayne and nocturnal activities as Batman.

In The Batman, however, his life is far from fulfilling, and his own identity does not seem whole. As Bruce Wayne, he barely exists. He neglects the public facade altogether, sometimes to his own detriment, and to the point of failing to maintain the inherited business that funds his mission.

Throughout the 2022 film, the Riddler, Catwoman, and others will force Bruce to face his privilege and to realize he needs to take greater responsibility in other areas of life. While the Riddler and Batman both have incomplete lives and show little concern for who they are as Edward and Bruce, the film’s eponymous hero at least seems to show that he can learn to expand his life’s roles.

THE BASICS What Is Personality? Find a therapist near me


American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.

Langley, T. (2012). Batman and psychology: A dark and stormy knight. Wiley & Sons.

Langley, T. (2022). Batman and psychology: A dark and stormy knight (2nd ed.). Wiley & Sons.

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altruism psychologyBatman, the Riddler, and Borderline Personality Disorder

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