The Dark Knight part 3

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At the end of Act II, Bruce Wayne was ready to reveal himself to be Batman, only to have his decision yoinked away from him by Harvey Dent. At the beginning of Act III, Bruce is forced to continue on as Batman in order to capture the Joker, the key representative of the new breed of criminal class Bruce has created by trying to clean up Gotham. Although there is some question as to whether Bruce’s heart is really into giving up Batman — which Rachel will address later in Act III.

At the top of Act III, Rachel goes to see Alfred. She’s angry about Bruce’s decision to let Harvey take the fall for Batman’s vigilante crimes, so angry that she has apparently decided to give up Bruce forever and marry Harvey (although we don’t know that quite yet). Rachel is, it seems, the only true-blue force of good in The Dark Knight. The other good guys understand that it’s sometimes necessary to lie to defeat evil, but Rachel cannot let a lie stand. Alfred argues that Bruce is actually more than a hero for his actions — he’s already sacrificed his life to fight crime in a mask, now he’s willing to give up the mask as well, to let Harvey take Batman from him. At this point, Harvey is really more Batman than Bruce.

Rachel goes downtown to see Harvey as he’s being loaded into a SWAT van to be taken to the county lockup. They have something of a goodbye scene (appropriately enough, as we will see), where Harvey winks to Rachel that he knows what he’s doing and everything will be all right.

Before we continue, behold the structure of Act III of The Dark Knight. It begins with a smashing chase scene, then moves straight into an extended multi-threaded suspense sequence, which culminates in the death of one character and the transformation of another. It delivers the narrative low-point for the protagonist, then kind of goes on for another ten minutes or so. This odd little post-climactic interlude between Act III and Act IV, a little mini-act of itself, maps out Harvey’s transition from Harvey to Two-Face and includes the end of the Joker’s relationship with the "establishment" (hint: the split is not amicable) and his nurturing of Harvey’s transition from white knight to villain. During this interlude, Bruce acts as a superhero without putting on his mask (unless you count behaving as a dim-witted billionaire playboy a mask), and the Joker destroys a hospital in order to cover up the disappearance of Harvey.

Now then: Harvey’s transfer to the county lockup has generated a lot of confusion among fans of The Dark Knight, so let’s see if we can sort out what exactly happens here. The plan appears to be Harvey’s: he knows he’s not Batman, and the SWAT folk seem to understand that he’s not Batman (Harvey’s awfully open about it when he talks to Rachel), and, as we will find out, Jim Gordon is the non-talking SWAT guy driving the van next to the chatty SWAT guy. (Chatty SWAT Guy is so engaging, such a good distraction, that I had to learn that Jim was driving the van from — horrors — the internet.) So it’s Harvey’s plan to set himself up as bait to draw out the Joker, but Jim — unbeknownst to Harvey — is driving his van. (Jim, like Bruce, understands that, for justice to prevail, it sometimes must wear a mask.)

So Harvey’s plan is: claim to be Batman, which will get him arrested, which will then get himself transferred to the county lockup, which will lure the Joker out of the shadows, which will then prompt the real Batman to come forward to arrest the Joker, and poof! Justice will be prevail in Gotham and everyone’s problems will be solved. Jim’s plan is auxilliary to Harvey’s, and is this: capitalizing on his "death" in Act II, go under cover as a SWAT guy and be on hand to arrest the Joker when he makes his attack and Batman captures him. Harvey does not know about Jim’s plan, although Jim must know about Harvey’s, but I see no indication that Batman knows about either — as far as he knows, Harvey is still sacrificing himself for the good of the city.

Now: what is the Joker’s plan? The Joker’s plan, we will learn, is: attack the SWAT caravan, knowing full well that Harvey is not the Batman, but knowing that by attacking the caravan he will draw out Batman. His plan then is either: get Batman to kill him, or to get himself captured by Batman and then arrested by the police (although not by Jim, who the Joker thinks is dead). "Could you please just give me a minute?" he asks Jim politely as he prepares to "put a smile" on Batman’s face — he’s perfectly okay with getting captured, but he wants to know who Batman is first. Not out of any kind of Caeser-Romero-Joker-style desire to "unmask Batman," but because when Batman is unmasked, the fabric holding Gotham City together will unravel.

(Although I sometimes wonder about this. Mid-way through Batman and Robin, Batman participates in a celebrity charity auction, bidding an extraordinary amount of money for a date with Poison Ivy. I got the feeling while watching that movie that the Joker of Dark Knight could hold a press conference, announce that Batman is Bruce Wayne, and the people of Gotham would just look kind of embarrassed and say "Um, yeah, we had all figured that out already. Thanks anyway." The idea that the people of Gotham know that Bruce is Batman and let him run around punching criminals anyway is one that has yet to be explored in the Batman mythos.)

Harvey, who has spent the last two acts of The Dark Knight becoming Batman, now looks visibly relieved to announce that it was all a ruse — like a bad dream. Harvey, like Hockey Pads, is not, and cannot be, the "real" Batman. Batman may have begun as a symbol, but The Dark Knight insists that only one man can truly be Batman.

The Joker is taken to the MCU, where the second half of his plan comes to light. And as long as we’re here, let’s work this through as well. The Joker, sensing that Harvey is not the Batman, attacks Harvey’s convoy knowing that it will lead to his capture. He knows that attacking the SWAT convoy will land him in the MCU (or get him killed, which is okay with him too), so he has contrived to have one of his crazy minions locked up with him. (The minion, let’s call him Phone Minion, has killed a policeman, thus guaranteeing his delivery to the MCU rather than some other police department.) Then, the Joker’s only plan is to be taken to the phone-call place within the MCU and call Phone Minion from there, which will blow up Phone Minion and destroy the MCU, which will allow him to free Lau, the Mob banker, thus re-gaining the status quo for Maroni and the other crimelords — or so they think. In order to keep the police distracted, he has also contrived to have Wuertz and Ramirez kidnap Harvey and Rachel and deliver them to a pair of abandoned warehouses, where they are wired up to a whole bunch of oil drums. The Joker most likely does not know that Jim is alive, and he seems surprised that Batman shows up to interrogate him, but that’s okay — he’ll get what he wants anyway. He doesn’t need Batman to show up to interrogate him, he knows that Batman is around somewhere and will try to rescue either Harvey or Rachel, and that one of them will die. Although it does turn out handy for the Joker that the Batman does show up, as it gives the two of them some valuable face-time with each other. (Hey — I notice that SAG has nominated Heath Ledger for Best Supporting actor for his performance in The Dark Knight, even though his role is clearly a lead. They did the same thing with Dev Patel for Slumdog Millionaire. What’s up with that, SAG?)

But before all that happens, we spend a little time with Jim Gordon, the latest addition to the Masked Justice fraternity and, until recently, dead. Jim is given a promotion to Commissioner by the Mayor, then checks in with his wife and son (but not his daughter, who will, of course, one day go a little overboard in trying to get his attention). He goes to interrogate the Joker about the sudden disappearance of Harvey and Rachel (The Joker turns his argument back on him — Harvey and Rachel were abducted by Jim’s people, not the Joker’s), then, having had his little narrative moment in the sun, turns the story back over to Batman for his big scene.

"There’s no going back, you’ve changed things" says the Joker to Batman. By deciding to take out the Mob, by upsetting the status quo, Bruce has created a far more unstable environment. The Joker also hints at his ultimate endgame — he doesn’t want Batman dead, and never did, despite what he told the mobsters back in Act I. He needs Batman alive to provide a dramatic contrast that will make him, the Joker, more powerful. "You have nothing to do with all your strength," he laughs — if Batman kills the Joker, he’s admitting that he’s a failure and that his notions of justice are a fraud. Lecter-like, he tries to get inside Batman’s mind, warning him that, despite the support of the police, there will come a time when Gotham won’t need him — especially if he does his job well — and will cast him out. He tells Batman where Rachel and Harvey are being held, forcing Bruce to make a choice between the two. Harvey is the public face of good in Gotham, he’s Daytime Batman, but Rachel is Bruce’s ticket out of Batworld altogether. Under pressure, Bruce doesn’t think and chooses to save Rachel over Harvey, not realizing that the Joker has given him bad information — he’s mixed lies with truth to confuse him, and succeeded.

(Again: the Joker does not need Batman in the interrogation room to fulfill this part of his plan — the Harvey-Rachel crisis will empty out the MCU just as easily, allowing him to make his phone call and get to Lau.)

So Bruce, thinking he’s being selfish and saving Rachel, instead saves Harvey (half-way) while Rachel gets blown to bits. The next morning, Alfred reads a note Rachel gave to him to give to Bruce. It’s a "Dear Bruce" letter, telling him that she’s chosen to marry Harvey after all. Rejecting one Batman, she’s chosen another. Bruce may be the "real Batman," but Harvey can be Batman without a mask — or at least that was the case when Rachel wrote the letter. Further, Rachel seems to understand that there will never be a time when Bruce cannot be Batman. The note doesn’t explicate, but she could mean two things here: either she means that there will never be a time when Gotham doesn’t need Batman, or else she means that Bruce will always find an excuse to keep being Batman. I’m inclined to think the latter, since Bruce’s non-confession at the end of Act II is what prompted Rachel to write the letter in the first place.

Alfred is about to deliver this letter to Bruce when Bruce, at his narrative low-point, mentions that he acted to save Rachel because he believes that Rachel had decided to choose himself over Harvey. Alfred then decides not to hand over the letter after all — another lie to serve a greater good, something especially poignant as Rachel would have felt bitterly betrayed by the action.

The action-packed entre-acte begins, almost a prologue to Act IV: Jim goes to see Harvey in the hospital. Harvey, in his agony, has refused medical treatment for his horrible, horrifying wounds, and vows revenge on Jim, who he feels is partly responsible for the death of Rachel.

It’s not an entirely bad day for Jim, though — no sooner does he get condemned by Harvey than he gets saved by Maroni, who turns up outside Harvey’s hosptial room, repentant, wanting to turn in the Joker. It’s as though Maroni, being a man of honor, after all, wants to make amends for his role in all this mess. He knows that he’s upset the status quo too, and he addresses Jim as an equal in the world of crime — almost a kind of business partner, which is how the Mob felt about the police in any case.

Across town, the Joker meets up with the Chechen. Maroni is supposed to be there as well, but we know that he’s across town giving the Joker up to Jim. The Joker now has Lau and half of all the Mob’s money — he should now be the crime boss of all Gotham. Which makes it all the more shocking when he burns the money — and Lau — and then kills the Chechen. The Joker, we learn, has no endgame. There’s no point where he’s going to say "Okay, I’m done, good job." For the Joker, the whole point of his enterprise is that it goes on and on and on. This is a radically new concept in superhero movies, where the "bad-guy plot" always culminates in some bizarre, colorful, impossible scheme that the hero has to foil. How can Batman foil the Joker’s bad-guy plot when he doesn’t have one?

(thevoiceoffate informs me that the Joker is, in fact, burning all the Mob’s money — the idea that he’s only burning half is a joke — yes, he’s only burning his half, but the fire will then proceed to burn the rest.)

Meanwhile, the Coleman Reese plot plays itself out. Reese, who knows Bruce is the Batman, has seen enough destruction that he’s going to abandon his blackmail plot to expose Bruce for free on live television. While Jim takes his men to wherever Maroni told him to go (I’m assuming the boat with the burning pile of money, although we never see them arrive), the Joker sets another plot into motion: he heads over to the hospital where Harvey is, turns him evil, then blows up the hospital to cover Harvey’s escape. The Reese aspect of his plan is mere happenstance — the Joker was going to blow up the hospital in any case, to get Harvey out.

In any case, the Joker calls into the TV show where Reese is and puts a price on Reese’s head. He doesn’t particularly care about whether Reese lives or dies, but Reese’s TV appearance gives him a chance to stage a massive diversion as the city goes crazy.

He goes to Harvey’s room, and, in spite of being responsible for killing his girlfriend and sending the city Harvey loves into chaos, the Joker is able to convince Harvey that Batman — and the police who back him up — are the real villains in this story.

Which, well, he has a point, although he stretches the truth when he tells Harvey that Batman and Jim are "schemers" while he’s a mere "dog chasingcars." Batman and Jim have plans, it’s true, and so did Harvey once, but the real difference between them and the Joker is that their plans have ideal outcomes, whereas the Joker’s plans just go on and on forever. This, for me, is a signature aspect of the Joker character presented in The Dark Knight, a criminal with no goal, just a perpetuation of anarchy. The fault in Batman and Jim, says the Joker, is that they’re all about control, whereas he’s an "agent of chaos." That’s as close as the Joker comes to a statement of purpose in The Dark Knight, especially when he backs up his point by talking about the everyday barbarity of society, the way that society is completely tolerant of death and destruction, as long as it happens to the right people. To seal the deal in Harvey’s mind, the Joker happily includes his own probable death into Harvey’s notion of justice.

The Joker’s plan, Jim’s plan and Bruce’s plan all come crashing together, literally, as Bruce heads into traffic to stop a Gothamite from killing Reese. It’s interesting and compelling to see Bruce act as a superhero without a mask, and it reinforces the extent to which Bruce has turned his life over to that mask — his daytime persona is more of a mask than his actual mask is.

Bruce’s bold decision to step out unmasked is dramatic, but again, he has played into the Joker’s hand, heading to save the wrong person as the Joker blows up Harvey’s hospital and makes off with a busload of hostages (the same bus as from the heist prologue?). Despite Bruce’s sacrifices and best attempts, the city is now in dramatically worse shape than before, in a state of emergency in fact, and the day isn’t yet over.


57 Responses to “The Dark Knight part 3”
  1. swat guy? really?

    What a great, great read!

    “Chatty SWAT Guy is so engaging, such a good distraction, that I had to learn that Jim was driving the van from — horrors — the internet.”

    Jim was driving the van?! well, i’ll be damned. After seeing the movie three times, i was still unaware of this.

    Can’t wait to read your opinions about act IV, since it’s an act that in my opinion (and i believe many others)had some weak points.

    • Todd says:

      Re: swat guy? really?

      Well, think about it — The SWAT van trundles along, the Joker picks off the other van, all the police cars, and then the helicopter — the only other law-enforcement officer in the area can be the masked guy driving the van with Mr. Chatty. It’s brilliant, and the movie doesn’t even point to it.

      • swan_tower says:

        Re: swat guy? really?

        It points just a little bit, in the way it doesn’t show you the driver’s face. It snagged on my subconscious, but not hard enough for me to know it was Gordon.

        • Re: swat guy? really?

          It’s an element strongly informed by the endgame of The Long Halloween, in which there’s a prisoner-transfer sequence which involves the Batman disguising himself as a SWAT officer to lure a murderer out into the open.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: swat guy? really?

            When I first saw the masked-up driver I fully expected him to have clown makeup under his goggles, or at least be one of the crooked cops we would probably have been expected to recognise.

            • Anonymous says:

              Re: swat guy? really?

              ditto on this one here: by this point, fully expecting corruption and infiltration at every turn, I’d been assuming that the Joker’s crew had gotten into this plan as well – especially given the vocal unresponsiveness and visual masking of the character – and was dreading the worst.

      • therrin says:

        Re: swat guy? really?

        I always find it interesting to see what some people catch in a movie, and some people miss. When it comes to Nolan’s Batman movies, I seem really good at catching the minutia and absolutely terrible at catching the ultra critical point that makes the movie that much more incredible.

        In the first movie I completely missed that Liam Neesan was always Raj Al-gul. I thought he’d merely been appointed to be the new one.

        In this movie, I completely missed that Bruce went to save Rachel, not Harvey. I thought he’d gone for Harvey and completely abdicated his self needs. That’s an amazing difference. Wow.

        What I did however catch though, and which completely changed the scene for me was that the driver of Harvey’s SWAT van was someone to care about, someone who mattered. From the very first time with “Chatty guy” I realized that chatty guy was there so you’d realize the guy next to him was refusing to say a word. As the scene went on, and dark and brooding never said anything, I began to suspect that Jim was a henchman and an intricate part of Joker’s plan. You focused on chatty guy, I completely tuned him out and focused on the guy who was going to do something that “mattered.” (Besides possibly killing chatty guy.) The revelation that the character the movie was putting two dozen red flags on “look at me, look at me, I’m not doing anything!” was Jim meanwhile, took me pleasantly by surprise.

        • crypticpress says:

          Re: swat guy? really?

          I had this same reaction to Chatty Guy/van driver. The moment Chatty Guy gets in that van and says to Masked Driver “I hope you’ve got some moves” I knew something was up.

          Chatty Guy was a SWAT guy we haven’t seen before. He wasn’t an already established MCU cop who could’ve been good or bad. He was there to establish a character’s presence in a scene long before we’re actually supposed to know the character is there.

          For my taste, they cut back to him way too often. I knew Masked Driver was going to be someone of import off the bat. But I also knew Chatty Guy wasn’t important at all, so cutting from the action to show so much of him just became annoying. None of his dialog contributes anything to the scene (Joker pulls out a bazooka, Chatty Guy says “What is that, a bazooka?”) I recognize the need to cut back to them during the chase to establish the vehicle hasn’t blown up, what its location is, and so on, but since Harvey is in the van, more cuts to him and the cop with him can establish that just as well.

          Each time they showed Chatty Guy my response was “I get it! Masked Driver is important! Cut back to the action!”

          • Todd says:

            Re: swat guy? really?

            The Jim revelation took me by surprise, but I knew something was up in the cab of the SWAT van because of the casting — Chatty Guy is played by NickyKatt, an actor too important and too recognizable to simply show up in the middle of the movie without having anything better to do than run color on the chase scene.

            • crypticpress says:

              Re: swat guy? really?

              Crazy! I love Nicky Katt, I totally did not recognize him in the SWAT uniform! He even has a pretty distinct voice, I can’t believe I didn’t notice it was him. Do we ever see him elsewhere in the film?

            • Re: swat guy? really?

              Wow, Nicky Katt, really? I usually recognize him straight away and I’ve seen the film now three times and never realized it was him!

    • Re: swat guy? really?

      Strangely enough, I spotted the “mystery SWAT driver” the second he appeared. My guess was that he would turn out to be one of the Joker’s henchmen.

      It was fun being wrong.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: swat guy? really?

        Me, too.

      • travisezell says:

        Re: swat guy? really?

        Same. It was the fact that he had some kind of skimask dealy on over his face to drive a SWAT truck, and he was the only one who did. And he was so quiet next to Chatty Man.

        But I didn’t call Gordon’s return; merely that this guy was going to be key. When Gordon did return, it was easy for me to piece together how he got there.

  2. mattyoung says:

    “Harvey, in his agony, has refused medical treatment for his horrible, horrifying wounds”

    Which are horrifying, and a good reason for Two-Face to be in this movie and not the star of his own in the future. I love how close this Two-Face is to the cartoon version, but I don’t know if a guy with no skin on half his face and a completely exposed eyeball (that, lets face it, is going to dry out and go blind soon if it hasn’t already) is going to live long at any rate.

    These posts are fascinating. Thanks so, so much for doing them (as someone said about the last post). They’re great reads and I really want to see them again now. Have people approached you about publishing these? I imagine Popmatters would be jumping at the bit for these essays.

    At any rate, thanks again!

  3. perich says:

    It’s interesting and compelling to see Bruce act as a superhero without a mask, and it reinforces the extent to which Bruce has turned his life over to that mask — his daytime persona is more of a mask than his actual mask is.

    I took it the opposite way, actually. It’s a refutation of Rachel’s accusation (which Bruce will never read) that he will never stop being Batman. That is to say, he will never stop needing a mask to do good, whereas Dent can put himself in the mob’s way without wearing a mask.

    Bruce could have saved Reese while dressed as the Batman. And that might have been a compelling symbol in and of itself – Batman holds human life so sacred that he’ll save a man who’s threatened to ruin his crusade, etc. Instead, Bruce deliberately remains in his “normal” costume.

    • Todd says:

      Well, but Bruce couldn’t save Reese as Batman because it’s daytime, and Batman doesn’t go out in the daytime — which is why Bruce needed Harvey to begin with.

      • Yes, that’s actually a strong rule – “Batman only comes out at night”.

        Bruce wears a motorcycle helmet when he goes to the apartment during Commissioner Loeb’s funeral, but he doesn’t try to conceal his identity much beyond that – I mean, sure, the honour guard cops are blindfolded, and he takes advantage of that, but he didn’t know what he was going to find.

  4. amanofhats says:

    I love the Joker line about “Do I really look like a guy with a plan?” because he isn’t saying he doesn’t have one. Instead, he’s addressing the fact his appearance is disarming, distracting, and that people are likely to assume that this crazy man in make-up is merely joykilling.

    Agent of chaos or not, possessing an endgame or not, he not only has a plan, he has a whole lot of contingency plans and backup plans. So many that the police, Batman, the criminals, and the citizenry can’t tell which direction he’s going to come from next.

    The question that kept coming back as the scenes played out was “Which contingency plans did we not see? What other rooms with other victims with other evidence did they not find?”

    • Todd says:

      One question that does haunt me, though, is why the police at the MCU don’t wash his makeup off during his booking. Surely he’s had his mugshot taken by the time we catch up to him? Why would they leave him like that, especially since his identity is such a mystery?

      • amanofhats says:

        That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because he’s more identifiable with the make-up? The script makes note that his “makeup has run” and his “clothes are a mess” so perhaps they tried and he fought it?

      • yesdrizella says:

        I’m assuming they might have let it slide for whatever reason. Paris Hilton was allowed to keep her blue contact lenses and hair extensions for -her- mugshot, after all.

      • My guess would be that no one in the station house was gutful enough to do so.

      • Anonymous says:

        If the makeup hadn’t been running throughouth the movie, it would have been a great place for a shout out to the old Joker origin – have some cop say something along the lines of “We tried to take the makup off – I think that’s his skin.”

    • crypticpress says:

      “Which contingency plans did we not see?”

      It’s interesting to try to piece together Joker’s contingency plans if things hadn’t gone the way they did in the film. For instance, say during the SWAT chase, the Joker does kill Harvey and gets away. Phone Minion would still be arrested, so Joker can still set off that bomb from anywhere. And Rachel can still be abducted, and maybe he’d take the Mayor since Harvey would be out of the picture. With the cops distracted, Joker can still blow up Phone Minion and rush in to get Lau. What if Phone Minion’s bomb doesn’t work? Well there would only be a few cops in the place anyway, Joker could just rush it with guns.

      But since Joker planned everything so well, I have to wonder what his plan was for after the ferry bombing. Since he had a contingency plan for everything else, it seems a little shortsighted on his end that his only contingency, should neither Ferry blow the other up, is that he must manually trigger the detonation. Why not ALSO have that on a timer? Or ALSO have another minion with their own detonator? And then what? Did Joker have an escape plan, or another plan to get out of jail, like with Phone Minion?

      I was half expecting Joker, while strung up by Batman, to reveal how things were going to play out. Since no one got to see it he needs to tell someone about it, like reveal that the detonators on the ferries were actually wired to their OWN bombs. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, Joker’s been misleading about everything else, and he doesn’t care who kills who, really. But I’m glad they didn’t go that route. Maybe the villain’s compulsion to tell the hero how everything was supposed to work would be more of a Riddler trait.

      • ogier30 says:

        Remember that The Joker was also counting on the SWAT team to have gunned down the hostages, while being vulnerable to the ambush by the “doctors and patients”… so that would provide him cover for an escape.

      • black13 says:

        “reveal that the detonators on the ferries were actually wired to their OWN bombs”

        That was what I was thinking when I saw the movie: “Why take Joker’s word that the detonator blows up the other boat? It might not!”

        That is one of the two things I found problematic in the ferry set-up: one, that nobody brought that point up (okay, maybe they didn’t think of it under pressure) and two (and worse), that the people in charge of the respective ferries brought the actual detonators to their passengers.
        If I were in charge of the prisoner boat, the last thing I’d do would be to give the prisoners access to the detonator — or, yes, even tell them about it.

    • I gotta say, I really don’t think the Joker does have a plan, aside from short-term things. “Let’s blow up the hospital so we can get Harvey out” is really more of an action than a plan. He decides to do things then just gives all the orders necessary to do them. I don’t think he really plans; I think he’s just incredibly perceptive, and able to capitalize on opportunities as they crop up.

      Did he know that the window would get broken during Batman’s interrogation, leaving him with a shard of glass to escape when the guard refused him his phone call? Of course not, but he grabbed the opportunity immediately.

      Did he know that Harvey would be so horribly mutilated? Of course not. He was hoping to break Harvey down with Rachel’s death — the mutilation was more than he could have hoped for, and he just immediately capitalized on it.

      • amanofhats says:

        Can the man improv? Oh, with the best of them. But he can also get a couple dozen barrels of diesel and fill two different rooms with them, coordinate the kidnapping of the DA and ADA by coercing two detectives, and then get himself arrested so that Batman must choose between his loyalties. He can also kidnap six police officers and put them in a room with a rigged window so that he and five of his men can take over the honor guard and assassinate the mayor. He can put a cell phone in a psychotic man’s belly so that he can blow his way back out of prison. And he can also steal DNA from the police commissioner’s favorite drinking glass and then put poison in his drink.

        All of these require planning of a significant level. And his overall plan, breaking Gotham City in half, is at the forefront of all these actions.

        • But, really, how hard can those things be to do when you’re the Joker and you have dozens of criminally insane goons at your disposal? With that setup, you don’t have to plan to get explosives in the hospital; just get your goons, tell ’em “Rig the hospital with explosives.” They’ll go in and just do it, doubtlessly taking out anyone who gets in the way, with no reservations about being caught or killed in the process.

          To get Harvey and Rachel, he just told the mob to take care of it. They’ve got the resources, and the ability to plan. Joker didn’t even have to get his hands dirty on that one; he just knew what to do to cause it to happen, because he’s so perceptive.

          The Joker is free from planning, because of his total acceptance of chaos. He just rides the wave.

          He does create the appearance of a plan, but that’s just the classic Clown Prince showmanship (albeit expressed in a different way than we’re used to).

  5. swan_tower says:

    I frequently lose sense of actual time passing in movies; I have no idea how long I’ve been in the theatre. I measure it instead by where we are in the movie. And man, at the end of Act III, I had been through so much already that I thought it was the end of the movie, and thought the Nolans were really going to leave us in that awful, horrific, bottom-of-the-mineshaft place.

    I’m glad I was wrong, and not just because it wouldn’t have been half so good of a storytelling decision.

  6. jbacardi says:

    Damn, this is a complicated movie.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The best part of the movie in my opinion is during that interrogation scene. Specifically the lines where the Joker says that Batman “completes” him, and that he can see them doing this forever. Those few lines made the whole movie for me.


  8. After your little mentions calling attention to it, I realize that Babs Gordon has a much firmer foot in the door for the next film, having received far more visibility (though subtle and not at all distracting) than anything Robin-related for the next one. I wonder if instead of giving Batman a Robin, they’ll work in a Batgirl instead. That’d automatically give so much more for Gordon to deal with thematically, it actually made me excited to see Oldman given even more the third go-round.

    OR, the Nolans could even go a third route, and pull a female Robin a la Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, fitting Barbara into the role. Maybe that’s too much innovation for them to get away with, but I’d totally be fine with it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “he stretches the truth when he tells Harvey that Batman and Jim are “schemers” while he’s a mere “dog chasing cars.””

    One of the things that makes that scene so compelling for me is that of all the people that the Joker labels “schemers,” he DOESN’T mention Batman. He mentions that “the Mob has plans, the police have plans, GORDON’s got plans!” but not Bats, which I thought was an excellent and subtle reference to the commonality he perceives between them.

    -Le Ted

  10. Your analysis makes me realize another nifty trick The Dark Knight pulls off. I’ve heard a lot of people complain over the years that if Batman really ought to just kill the Joker. The argument against this, of course, has always been about the purity of Batman’s motives. The Dark Knight adds the additional reasoning that if you kill the Joker, the Joker wins.

    • amanofhats says:

      “No killing” is Batman’s one rule which makes your last line doubly-true. The Joker would win not only by forcing Batman to break his one rule but in that his murder would simply stack upon the huge list of other horrible acts that are happening.

      Have you ever read The Dark Knight Returns? There’s a scene where the Joker kind of “breaks up” with Batman by doing what the caped crusader couldn’t.

      • crypticpress says:

        It still bugs me that in Batman Begins, Batman gets around his “no killing” rule with Ra’s Al Ghul.

        As the train is about to crash, he tells him “I’m not going to kill you. But I don’t have to save you.”

        His rationale is a cop out. In my opinion, he killed Ra’s Al Ghul because he chose not to save him.

        Now, I will accept that Batman needs to grow as a character and learn from his mistakes, and maybe he regrets not coming to a better resolution with Ra’s. But we never really see that. We never see him question his action, or lack thereof. So I’m still left thinking that if he let Ra’s die for the greater good, why save the Joker from his fall?

        I think the reason would have to be that you can never tell when the Joker’s plans end. Killing him could end up putting more plans in motion.

      • Oh yes, many times. I was a Marvel Zombie as a kid and The Dark Knight was the book that opened me up to enjoying DC too.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I get it every time I see it / read it, but every time I’m amazed at how complex the story is, truly … subplots within subplots … and you haven’t even gotten to my favorite part (the Ferries) yet … the nice thing is, even the smaller subplots (hockey pad batmans, reese) aren’t given short shrift … they’re as full realized as any of the larger stories …

    Great script.

    Joshua James

  12. curt_holman says:


    “I notice that SAG has nominated Heath Ledger for Best Supporting actor for his performance in The Dark Knight, even though his role is clearly a lead.”

    Oh, don’t get me started. I was involved in tallying ballots for some end-of-the-year film awards, and there was a seemingly endless back-and-forth over whether Kate Winslet gave a lead vs. supporting performance in ‘The Reader.’ (My vote: Lead!)

    More to the point, a few voters put ‘The Dark Knight’ in the original screenplay category. I can sympathize with this. It belongs in “adapted” because it uses characters from another medium, but the Nolans’ story, as far as I know, is original to them, as opposed to being based on a previous graphic novel.

    One thing that impresses me about ‘The Dark Knight’ is how much it succeeds at being a ‘two-villain’ comic book movie. Usually when comic book movies have had one hero contending with two (primary) bad guys, the villains’ characters and plots don’t easily fit together, and distract from each other more than they inform each other. (I’m thinking of Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin and Spider-man III, among others.)

    In The Dark Knight, the Joker and Two-Face stories are inextricably connected, and both of the characters function as opposites or “dark mirrors” of Batman himself. Part of the reason why I have trouble imagining a sequel to ‘The Dark Knight’ is because I have trouble imagining Catwoman, The Riddler or any other combination of Batman villains who offer such rich possibilities.

    • Re: Two-Villain

      Good point on the possible follow up of TDK. It’s gonna be though. but you know, if this is true:

    • Re: Two-Villain

      I think Catwoman has enormous potential both as a character herself and for drawing out additional plotlines and facets for Bruce/Batman. She’s not scary in the way that Scarecrow, Joker, and Two-Face have been scary – nearly horror-movie enemies in the Nolan movies – so she may seem out of place after them, or need another villain to add the scares.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Two-Villain

      Well, but The Dark Knight, for all its originality, is still based on a previous work — in this case, “DC Comics,” that gigantic mountain of material that one has free-rights access to when one brings one of their characters to the screen. And that, of course, points back to problems within working for comics publishers — Alan Moore may be responsible for a healthy chunk of the tone of The Dark Knight, but he won’t be given any credit — Batman is merely the property of DC Comics, they are the “author” of the original work.

    • Re: Two-Villain

      Hang on there — yes, Joker and Two-Face are excellent opponents for Batman, but there are others.

      One is the Scarecrow, who’s already been used of course. He’s good because he uses fear as a weapon. Just like Batman.

      The Riddler is good because he’s incredibly intelligent, obsessive, a bit narcissistic, and hobbled by his own rules. Just like Batman.

      The Penguin is good because he backs his shadier operations with legitimate business, money, and bureacracy. Just like Batman.

      Catwoman is good for entirely different reasons — the love interest, combined with Bruce’s arrested adolescence. But this works best when Robin is in the picture.

      As for the other villains, I can’t think of any that are at that level. Mr. Freeze has always been sort of weak. Poison Ivy isn’t interesting at all without Robin around. Black Mask? The Mad Hatter? Killer Croc? Don’t see how any of them could fit into this version of Batman, really.

      I’d love to see some of the more colorful, Dick Tracy-like mob characters, though.

      And I’d really like to see Harley Quinn, for the terrible light she shines on the whole Joker situation.

      • crypticpress says:

        Re: Two-Villain

        The Mr. Freeze episodes from The Animated Series are quite good. They made him a real sympathetic villain. Still, his story was done so well there, and yet so poorly in Batman & Robin.

  13. adam_0oo says:

    I am not sure if it happens at the end of this act or somewhere in the next one, but I love how organic it is when Gordon says they will have to call in the National Guard. I truly believed it was necessary, that the police couldn’t possibly deal with this one man.

  14. The Joker now has Lau and half of all the Mob’s money — he should now be the crime boss of all Gotham. Which makes it all the more shocking when he burns the money — and Lau — and then kills the Chechen.

    That’s not half — that pile is allof the mob’s money secured by Lau. As for the Joker saying he’s only burning his half . . .

    Two drunks are down to their last bottle and they decide to split it, each getting half. The first one takes the bottle and drains it dry. The second drunk asks him why he boggarted the whole thing when they agreed to split it in half. To which the first drunk responds:

    “I know, but my half was the top half and I had to drink the bottom half to get to it.”

  15. Anonymous says:

    “for justice to prevail, it sometimes must wear a mask.”

    And honor is like the hawk: sometimes it must go hooded.

  16. sheherazahde says:

    Oh Nurse!

    You said something about the Joker “nursing” Dent through his transformation into Two Face. I had never thought how appropriate it was that the Joker dressed as a nurse for that scene. I thought you would talk more about the symbolism of that.

  17. strumglory says:

    More Than Chaos

    “…whereas he’s an “agent of chaos.” That’s as close as the Joker comes to a statement of purpose in The Dark Knight…”

    I just stumbled upon your TDK posts today, and I have greatly enjoyed them, but I have to disagree with you on this statement. In the previous Joker scene, while the money hill is ablaze and the Joker is dialing the number for the TV station, in a moment that does not require him to lie about–or say–anything, he says, “It’s not about money. It’s about sending a message.”

    To say the Joker does what he does simply because he desires chaos and anarchy doesn’t really do justice to what motivates him. Chaos isn’t an end in and of itself, but a means to something else. Yes, he is an agent of chaos, but why does he choose to be?

    In the Joker, I see echoes of John Doe from Se7en, and even Kurt Cobain (beyond the grungy, badly dyed hair, who used a medium other than serial killing to upset the status quo). In the Bruce Wayne character you have someone with a vision for a “better” Gotham, who uses the Batman persona as a vehicle to bring that vision to the masses. And the same can be said about the Joker. What his vision for Gotham is isn’t exactly clear–and perhaps the Joker doesn’t even know what it is, only what it’s not–but apparently it’s one where the current systems of order are eliminated and people are allowed to be their “true”, monstrous selves. His laughter as he plummets to his would-be death at the hands of Batman shows us he’s willing to sacrifice himself for that vision (again, like Bruce).

    And so, the “Joker” becomes as much a symbol for the faithlessness in the existing systems of order and justice as “Batman” is the symbol of faith in them.