The Dark Knight part 3
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.