The Dark Knight part 4

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At the end of Act III, Bruce, despite his best efforts and his bravest sacrifices, has pretty much screwed up everything in Gotham City.  In the act of cleaning up the Mob, he’s created the Joker, and in the act of making his act legitimate (shades of Michael Corleone) he’s created Two-Face.  By upsetting the status quo, he’s gotten his girlfriend killed and turned her new boyfriend insane.  In Act IV, he will do his best to defeat the Joker — and fail, forcing him to face the consequences of the decisions he’s made.

As the act begins, the Joker has created a siege situation in Gotham.  His relationship with the Mob has reached its, um, conclusion, he now controls all the crime in Gotham.  Now he seals off the entire city, using nothing but fear and paranoia (as far as we can tell) to close the bridges and tunnels.

Back at Wayne headquarters, Lucius Fox is alerted to a break-in in the R&D department.  The "break-in," of course, is just Bruce’s way of getting Fox’s attention.  It’s a tiny beat, but ties in thematically, as so many things do in The Dark Knight, of the idea of the forces of justice needing to pose as a criminal in order to achieve their goals.

Detective Wuertz now takes the spotlight for a moment, as he comes face to face (to face) with Two-Face, who inaugurates his new notion of justice, which he has taken from the Joker (chaos being the only answer to the world) and given his own spin (yes-and-no chance is the only fairness in a chaotic world).  curt_holman mentioned the other day how well The Dark Knight balances and interweaves a two-villain storyline, something done well for the first time ever in a superhero movie, and I’d like to take that thought further.  For the people who feel shortchanged by the Two-Face storyline, think about this: the entire movie is about him, the struggle for his soul, which represents the soul of Gotham City.  Bruce Wayne has sacrificed everything he has (except, of course, all his power and wealth, obviously) for the "good" part of Gotham, the Joker keeps aborbing more and more of the city’s power and wealth and then squandering it, and the two of them literally tear Harvey Dent in half.  When folks complain that Two-Face isn’t in the movie enough, I think what they mean is that the cool special-effects makeup isn’t in the movie enough, and that Two-Face doesn’t have any kind of outlandish, colorful scheme to implement.  Well, that’s too bad, but the Joker doesn’t have a scheme either.  There isn’t any "end" to this for the Joker, he wants to take the whole world and send it down the toilet — an endless project of disorder to match Bruce’s endless project of order.  Whereas Two-Face has the opposite of a grand scheme — he wants to kill the people who made him suffer, and then kill himself.  The folks who pine for a "bigger" Two-Face story, one to match the one in, say, Batman Forever I guess, where he teams up with the Riddler to build a giant mind-control ray, miss the great tragedy at the heart of The Dark Knight — they want a supervillain, whereas the Nolans have imagined him as a human being.  In any case, Wuertz loses his coin toss and Harvey kills him.

Next we have the scene where Bruce explains his crazy cell-phone sonar device to Fox, the science of which I’ll just go ahead and accept somehow.  The thing that interests me about the scene is how the same people who reject The Dark Knight as absurd fantasy because the Joker blows up a hospital on such short notice, have no trouble accepting that Bruce Wayne designs, engineers and builds the gigantic cell-phone sonar device, based on an idea he only learned about a few days earlier, entirely by himself.  In any case, Fox’s response to the device is "This is wrong," which points to the complex nature of Batman’s existence in Gotham: in order for there to be a masked vigilante dispensing justice, he needs an interweaved set of checks and balances, Gordon and Fox and Dent, to oversee his work and do the things he cannot.

Meanwhile, Gordon confers with the mayor, outlining the scope of the terror that’s about to unfold.  Compare this Commissioner Gordon to the Gordon of the Burton and Schumacher Batman movies and The Dark Knight stands out in bold relief.  Gordon in the earlier movies was a patsy, a bumbling fool who couldn’t catch a criminal to save his life, but in Nolan’s script and in Gary Oldman’s performance you can feel the soul of a man caught in a vast web of conflicting responsibilities — he must be a politician, a father, a cop and an action hero, he must be loyal to his friends but also enforce the law, and he has the family that Bruce gave up to fight crime, so the danger he faces, the sacrifice he makes, is that greater.  Bruce risks nothing but himself when he goes out to fight crime, but Gordon risks everything he’s worked for, the lives of his men and the lives of his family.

Two-Face now catches up with Maroni, the next guy on his list of grudges.  Maroni wins his coin toss, but Two-Face kills him anyway by killing his driver.  It rains on the just and unjust alike in Two-Face’s world, or maybe Two-Face is just as much of a liar and prevaricator as the Joker.  (Since we’ve been told that Two-Face is dead, dead, dead at the end of The Dark Knight, maybe Chigurh from No Country For Old Men can sub as a replacement — he’s got the same coin trick, after all.  Has anyone ever asked Cormac McCarthy if he’s a Batman fan?  And isn’t it weird that the Coen Bros turned down the first Batman movie in 1989, only to win an Oscar twenty years later for a movie featuring a Batman villain copycat?)

Now the screenplay heads into the big ferry sequence.  The Joker has rigged two ferries, one carrying ordinary "good" Gothamites, the other carrying hardened criminals — the same criminals Harvey Dent put away at the beginning of Act II (again, an unintended alliance).  Batman heads out to search for the Joker while Fox locates him via the big cell-phone sonar thingy.  Batman informs Gordon of the Joker’s location, and now the sequence becomes a three-way fight between Batman, the Joker’s forces and Gordon’s forces.  Gordon, a lone good detective in Batman Begins, is now the police commissioner, with "henchmen" of his own, and Batman must fight his own ally’s forces in order to achieve his goal of capturing the Joker before the ferries blow up.  Batman panicked when the Joker fed him the bad information about Harvey and Rachel and made a mistake, but Batman — finally — has his act together now and it is Gordon’s turn to panic.  He thinks the Joker has taken Harvey hostage, and he’s acting on a rash impulse to right what he feels is wrong.

About those ferries: setting aside any possible tricks up the Joker’s sleeve (ie, each ferry blowing itself up instead of the other), to me the morality of the situation breaks down like this: the "good" Gothamites and the "bad" Gothamites have been given the opportunity to kill each other, and who will pull the trigger?  The "good" Gothamites (represented by Average Guy on the "good" ferry) all want the "bad" Gothamites dead, but they don’t have the strength of will to actually kill (which is why they need a justice system).  The "bad" Gothamites, meanwhile, have killed, they’ve faced that choice and know what it means.  ("Killing is making a choice," says the Joker to Batman in the interrogation room, and the reverse is also true — when people in power make a choice (and everyone is a person in power), they are, on some level, choosing who will live and who will die.  Bruce’s idealism and the Joker’s nihilism meet — half-way — in the person of Two-Face.)  In the end, the "good" Gothamites don’t have the will to defend themselves (which is why they need Batman), but the "bad" Gothamites have the strength to not kill, which calls all the way back to what the bank manager says to the Joker at the end of the heist sequence — criminals in Gotham used to have honor and respect, and here we see those qualities in action.  It’s not just that Big Scary-Looking Convict conveniently grows a soul when faced with the opportunity of cold-blooded murder, it’s that he, and not the "good" Gothamites, and not the National Guardsman holding the detonator, has killed, and thus understands the strength it takes to have that will — and refuse to act on it.  When Big Scary-Looking Convict throws his detonator out the window, he is risking his life but saving his soul, but when Average Guy gingerly puts his detonator back in its box, he’s admitting that it is not the responsibility of a citizen to mete out justice (the breaking of which rule is what sets the narrative of The Dark Knight into motion to begin with).

Meanwhile, Batman, the Joker and Gordon’s SWAT forces all collide in a three-way action sequece across the way.  Having fought off his allies in the police department, Batman now gets attacked by the Joker.  The dog motif begun in the Chechen’s meeting with the Scarecrow back in Act I now comes to a head.  The Joker now has those very same dogs, which Batman must now fight.  Why dogs?  Well, as several folks have pointed out, the Joker is referred to as "a dog off its leash" and "a dog chasing cars," and we’ve seen him hang his head out a car window.  And maybe its nothing more than a visual pun, that Gotham City is, literally, "going to the dogs."

In the midst of this, Two-Face arranges to have Gordon’s family kidnapped through Detective Ramirez.  Ramirez wins her coin toss and receives only a punch in the face for her crimes against Gotham.  (Chigurh differs from Two-Face, in that he insists that the victim calls the toss.  Which is why the ending of No Country is so powerful, when Moss’s wife refuses to play Chigurh’s game.  In the Ramirez scene, I wondered how it would go if Ramirez made the same moral stand as Moss’s wife.  Moss’s wife refuses to play and gets killed anyway, but at least she doesn’t buy in to Chigurh’s twisted sense of morality.)


Across the way, the Joker is disappointed that neither the good nor the bad of Gotham could kill anyone, so he goes to his backup plan of doing it himself.  This is enough of a distraction for him to allow Batman to get the drop on him, and the Joker plunges down the side of the building — and is saved by Batman.  (Which points to one of the key rules of the superhero genre — in a superhero story, the villain wants to kill the hero, but the hero wants to save the villain, not kill him.  Bruce, even after everything that’s happened, cannot, will not, kill the Joker.  And I thought this was supposed to be a conservative wet-dream narrative.)  As the Joker dangles helpless, he tells Batman that the stunt with the ferries is — yes — only a distraction, something to focus Batman’s attention while the real event, the real crime, is happening elsewhere — the self-destructive rampage of Two-Face.  If the ferries had blown up, Gotham City would recover, but if they knew that their white-knight DA was a murderous madman, the whole system of justice would fall apart.  (Kind of like when you find out your gay-bashing senator elicits sex in airport mens’ rooms, or your law-and-order governor gets caught soliciting prostitutes.)

Having saved the Joker, Bruce must now race off to save Two-Face.  Two-Face has decided to punish Gordon not by killing him but by killing his son.  Batman shows up for a three-way conversation between himself, Two-Face and Gordon, where they sort out who did what to whom and why.  Batman feels that, even after killing three people, Two-Face is still Harvey Dent, and deserves to be saved.  Harvey wants justice for those he feels are responsible for Rachel’s death, but Batman tells him that it’s not that simple — Rachel is dead because Bruce, Harvey and Gordon all acted, together, to clean up Gotham City.  "Then why was I the only one who lost everything?" wails Two-Face, and Bruce holds his tongue — not only has he lost Rachel too, but he’s lost his parents and his normality into the bargain.  He’s sacrificed more than Harvey could ever imagine, and he doesn’t bring it down to chance — he brings it down to choice.  He chose to act, setting all the events of the narrative into motion, including the death of Rachel and Harvey’s disfigurment.  When people complain about Batman being foolish in The Dark Knight, they’re wishing for the strong, always-right, never-wrong Batman of their imaginations.  But the greatness of The Dark Knight‘s narrative lies in how it shows that Batman is often wrong, and completely helpless when dealing with a criminal like the Joker.  There is no defense against evil, only the strength to not give in to it.  "If Batman has limits, I can’t afford to know them," says Bruce in Act I, and here he’s confronted with the folly of that headstrong philosophy — Batman is all about limits, and the narrative of The Dark Knight is, in large part, an examination, and definition, of those limits.

Finally, some folk don’t buy that Batman has to take the fall for Harvey’s crimes.  Why not tell people the truth, they ask, or, if Gordon absolutely must lie, why not pin the crimes on the Joker?  And yet, in Bruce’s philosophy, he is responsible for themHe inspired Harvey to run for DA, he set into motion the bold stroke of rounding up all of Gotham’s gangsters, he gave the big party to ensure Harvey’s power, he set about making Harvey Daytime Batman so that he could stand the hope of giving up his burden and stealing Rachel away, he created the power vacuum that gave rise to the Joker.  He tried to make Gotham a better place, and failed, in every conceivable way.  The Joker wins at the end of The Dark Knight and now it’s Gordon’s dogs who chase him.


46 Responses to “The Dark Knight part 4”
  1. It’s Batman about failure! Like the Venture Bros, except Batman accepts responsibility at the end (and thus there can be an end).

  2. crypticpress says:

    I definitely find Dark Knight to be a superior film than Begins, but I do think Begins was successful in balancing and interweaving its three villains (Falcone, Scarecrow, and Ra’s). Each villain has a good confrontation scene with Bats, and the film didn’t feel as crowded as some other comic book movies with fewer villains.

  3. crypticpress says:

    Regarding Batman taking the blame for Two-Face’s killings: I agree it does make some sense. Think about who Harvey killed: corrupt cops and gangsters. What the Joker says earlier in the film about people accepting anything if it fits their perception of how things should be fits here. For the public to be told that a bad man like the Joker killed bad men, it has no concern to them. That won’t make them sit up and think about it, to think about whether there was justice to it or any sort of rhyme or reason. A crazy guy did something crazy is basically the message. And to be told Harvey killed them would destroy their trust in the system. But to learn that Batman is responsible sends this message that Batman really won’t tolerate any kind of corruption in Gotham, even if he has to go to extremes. He’s like the old school scary Santa Claus that not only knew which kids were good, but would whip the kids who were bad.

    Batman taking responsibility for Harvey’s killings is the only option that gives weight to what Harvey’s done. Batman taking the blame turns acts of revenge into vigilante justice, whereas if they blamed the Joker they would just be the act of a madman.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There is no defense against evil, only the strength to not give in to it.

    If only the people ruling our country for the past eight years had realized this.


  5. Those last two posts were GIFtastic, friendo.

  6. adam_0oo says:

    Phenomenal post, this makes me want to go out there and buy this twice.

  7. “When folks complain that Two-Face isn’t in the movie enough, I think what they mean is that the cool special-effects makeup isn’t in the movie enough, and that Two-Face doesn’t have any kind of outlandish, colorful scheme to implement.”

    I’m not sure if this is true. In my case it isn’t anyways. I absolutely loved how Harvey Dent was presented. He’s without a doubt the center of the story and i loved every minute of it.
    The thing is that the whole ferrier scene felt a bit too much for me, and when that’s over you get the whole Two-Face conclusion on top of that. I understand the whole ferrier thing, but to me it wasn’t nearly as exciting as any other scene. A bit more Harvey/Two-Face and a bit less ..well, something else..would make it just a little bit more interesting for me.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Awesome …

    Simply awesome breakdown / analysis, outstanding … Just wanted to add, that Big Scary Convict on the Ferry, who makes the decision no one else has the nads to make, that is Tiny Lister, the actor.

    Great cameo. And it’s one of my favorite moments in the film.

  9. swan_tower says:

    they want a supervillain, whereas the Nolans have imagined him as a human being.

    I wasn’t familiar enough with the film to marshal the textual evidence myself before, so thanks for doing it for me: I am now confirmed in my belief that the Nolans decided Harvey Dent, not Two-Face, was the truly interesting character, and the one they wanted to write about. Two-Face is the apotheosis of the whole struggle over and with Dent, but the story is about the man, not the freak.

    If the ferries had blown up, Gotham City would recover, but if they knew that their white-knight DA was a murderous madman, the whole system of justice would fall apart. (Kind of like when you find out your gay-bashing senator elicits sex in airport mens’ rooms, or your law-and-order governor gets caught soliciting prostitutes.)

    Except that in the real world, American culture is much readier to forgive sins of violence than those of sex. So we’d probably get over the murderous DA way faster than the prostitutes, let alone the (quel horreur!) gay sex.

    • Todd says:

      My wife told me that, while she was watching the movie, she found herself really liking Harvey Dent and really caring about his problems, and then, about half-way through the picture she suddenly thought: oh wait — Harvey Dent, doesn’t he become — oh no… And then she spent the rest of the movie in a state of horrified dread. Which turned out to be justified.

      • swan_tower says:

        Which is exactly what needs to happen. I think they did an excellent job of getting the audience to invest in Harvey; even if you think he’s a little full of himself (which he is), he’s still somebody to root for. If they hadn’t achieved that, with the script and the performance and everything else, the downfall would not have meant half so much.

        (Contrast with, say, the Star Wars prequels, where everybody I knew wished Anakin would just turn evil already and stop whining.)

  10. charlequin says:

    Not only does the script work with the relationship you describe (Batman and the Joker representing the two influencing sides of Two-Face’s personality) — it makes the character work in a way it never did before. The classical origin of the character calls for a treatment like The Long Halloween — a Dent who’s never that good a person to begin with, whose monomaniacal action as a villain belies his fundamental emptiness as a person. Having this good, effective Dent become Two-Face because, unlike Bruce, he can’t cope with the sacrifice that he’s been forcibly called to make, is much more (satisfyingly) tragic.

  11. perich says:

    It’s not just that Big Scary-Looking Convict conveniently grows a soul when faced with the opportunity of cold-blooded murder

    I forget who observed this – I want to say – but it says something of Chris Nolan’s talent as a director that, in a film with Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger and Gary Coleman, he trusts the heaviest moral scene in the movie to relatively unknown character actor Tiny Lister. That’s faith in your cast right there.

  12. yesdrizella says:

    I haven’t seen the movie since it came out (I know, I should have the DVD, but I need to spend the money on presents for others instead), but reading your review over, I’m continually amazed by how Batman shoulders the blame for everything, whether it’s his fault or not. How he has yet to attempt suicide or at least sink into a months-long depression, I’ll never know. His discipline is freakishly inspiring.

    • jvowles says:

      There is some therapeutic value, I suppose, in beating up deserving baddies every night, and as you rightly say, he has massive reserves of discipline. And “Why do we fall, Master Bruce?” every night reminds him to pick himself back up.

  13. sean_tait says:

    Taking the fall

    Sorry I’m late to the party on this one. I’ve obsessed ver several details of the film myself, and would love to have added a bit more to the conversation.

    It seems to me that Batman’s choice to take the fall for Two-Face’s murders is a practical decision as much as a moral decision. Maroni laughs in Batman’s face (before getting dropped off the building) because he’s wised up to the fact that Batman doesn’t kill people. In another morally gray decision, it helps Bruce fulfill his role as the Dark Knight to be feared again by the criminals of Gotham.

    (Of course, this raises my only complaint about the movie. Maroni also says that “a fall from this height won’t kill me.” How far did Bruce and Harvey fall? Shouldn’t Two-Face have a pair of broken legs? Maybe Nolan will remember this little twist and — with Heath Ledger no longer available — decide Bruce and Gordon conspired to whisk Harvey off to some Swiss sanitarium.)

    Also, is it me or is Nolan actually seeding the eventual introduction of Robin into these films? First there’s the inexplicably British kid living in the Narrows in “Batman Begins” and then there’s the playful brothers in the back of the car in “Dark Knight.” Batman practically needs a brightly-colored symbol of hope to come into his life if he’s going to survive the next film…

    • Re: Taking the fall

      i believe Noland said he wasn’t interested in Robin? Or maybe that’s just my hope talking.

      ‘to the batcave, Robin!’

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Taking the fall

      I presume that Harvey landed on his neck or skull, whereas Batman a) hits a couple of timbers on the way down to slow his descent and b) lands full on his well-armored back, distributing the force of the impact much more evenly.

      I definitely think Robin would be a good thematic fit for the next movie. As would Catwoman — the temptation, once you’ve gone rogue in the eyes of the world, to begin to slip away from your initial good intentions.

      — N.A.

    • Weakens the system!

      Remember, Two-Face suffered massive burns a day ago, and hasn’t had much bed rest since then.

  14. marcochacon says:

    So this is an epically great write up–as most of yours are (but maybe this is a little more epic). I love your stuff. Keep it coming.

    I will note that in the book Moss’s wife did flip and lost–and died. The movie improved on it (rare!).


  15. Anonymous says:

    The Joker wins?

    I’m not so sure that the Joker wins in the end. To the extent that his endless plans can achieve a concrete victory, it would be defined by his little monologue to Harvey about showing people just how fragile and useless their sense of control is. The Joker’s victory conditions are nothing less than a complete breakdown of social order, “everyone [losing] their minds!” By that measure, I think Batman taking the blame for Dent’s crimes completely derails the Joker’s heretofore unstoppable momentum and shows him up. That act strengthens social order by reinforcing Batman’s power and fearsome reputation as a vigilante without limits, while Dent’s White Knight image becomes perhaps even more powerful in martyred death than it ever could have been in his life.

    Batman turns the Joker’s chaos against him, subverting it into a force for order in the end. Of course the power vacuum still exist and the implication that others will come to fill it is fairly obvious, but it’s just as obvious with Gordon’s final monologue that Batman will always be there to face that challenge, a “watchful protector” specifically dedicated and uniquely suited to facing those exceptional threats.

    Additionally, I feel that the rigged ferry scenario is where the Joker’s philosophy truly meets its ultimate test and is defeated. The Joker, Batman, Gordon, Dent: these people are all ultimately representatives, while the people on the ferries are those who are being represented and for whom their battles matter the most. All along the Joker wanted to prove that people would turn on each other and lose all civility when pushed to the limit, while the others essentially believe that people are good inside and only need to be protected from crime and corruption in order to express it. When both ferries finally decide not to kill the other, they implicitly reject the Joker’s outcome and cling to their humanity, even in the face of probable oblivion.

    At the end sequence of the first film, Batman reaffirmed to Ducard that Gotham isn’t beyond saving. By the end of this film, Gotham had proved that that belief is not foolish optimism, but the honest truth. If the Joker had “won”, Batman would be wrong and everything that he, Dent and Gordon had fought for would have been truly meaningless.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: The Joker wins?

      Apologies for the above reading a bit redundantly compared to your post (restating much of what you had described), I was (and am) tired and mostly copy-pasted from old posts I made elsewhere on the internet.

      But, I’ll take this opportunity to also note that even with all of the chaos and disruption the Joker had caused, I still think that Gotham is better off overall at the end of Dark Knight than it was before Batman showed up. Like Falcone said to Young Bruce in Begins, he could blow the kid’s brains out in front of a dozen judges, cops and city officials and nobody would bat an eye. As far as Bruce (and the audience) were informed, Jim Gordon was the practically the only clean, trustworthy cop in the whole city. Detective Flass takes a fistful of cash out of the falafel guy’s cart in broad… um, nighttime, and doesn’t even glance over his shoulder. After all, in a city that bent, who’d rat him out?

      The mob’s corruption in Gotham was almost absurd in its absolute extent. The message was broadcasted to us loud and clear: they ran that town, no questions asked. The mob was a cancer that had metastasized decades ago — is that better or worse than the Joker’s acute outbreak of chaotic mayhem? Personally, I’d rather weather the infrequent outbreaks of maniacs like the Joker than the suffocating, slow death of a city with virtually no line between the criminals and the civil servants.

  16. Having fought off his allies in the police department, Batman now gets attacked by the Joker. The dog motif begun in the Chechen’s meeting with the Scarecrow back in Act I now comes to a head. The Joker now has those very same dogs, which Batman must now fight.

    This bit has the only geek-reflex quibble I have with the film. It strikes me as out of character for Batman to have thrown those dogs to their deaths. Indeed, having had to deal with dogs before, it would have made more sense for him to have come up with an backup anti-dog defense (like pepper powder or some such) as a contingency.

    Like I said, a quibble, but not one outsized enough to pull me out of the narrative.

    • Todd says:

      Not only has Batman fought dogs before in the movie, he’s fought these dogs before — he should have done research on them and brought them each a nice personalized present. A guy who can get millions of bats to do his bidding at the drop of a hat shouldn’t be flummoxed at the appearance of a few dogs.

  17. When people complain about Batman being foolish in The Dark Knight, they’re wishing for the strong, always-right, never-wrong Batman of their imaginations. But the greatness of The Dark Knight’s narrative lies in how it shows that Batman is often wrong, and completely helpless when dealing with a criminal like the Joker. There is no defense against evil, only the strength to not give in to it

    QFT. Although I enjoy Batman in general, one relatively recent trend in Batman stories I’ve grown to dislike is the emergence of the BatGod — an infallible, arrogant brooding jerk who is never wrong, always lets everyone know it, and always has some obscure gadget or backup plan no matter how illogical. Batman in the TDK is a refreshing change in that respect.

    • Anonymous says:

      The BatGod came from an unfortunate conflux of bad writing during the 90s. In Batman’s series of books, oftentimes one writer would come in and perform some character growth that would result in Batman becoming closer to his “family” of allies and crimefighters, or less hard-edged in general, then another one would sweep in and undo everything with some terribly shortsighted development that would make all of Batman’s friends antagonistic again. I loved The Dark Knight Returns but the writers and editors were completely arrested by that characterization and refused to let him grow for years, except to grow more cold and aloof and “hardcore”.

      On the JLA side, the inimitable Grant Morrison initially portrayed Batman as an extremely insightful and strategy-minded individual, placing the World’s Greatest Detective as the brains behind the brawn represented by the rest of the JLA and all of their incredible, godlike powers. What Batman lacked in muscle, he made up for in mental acumen and supreme detective skills. Unfortunately, like the above case, subsequent writers ran with that characterization in the wrong direction, eventually giving us a nigh-omniscient Batman who had a gadget for every contingency and a backup plan for every conceivable threat — like Adam West’s Batman (“Gee Batman, is there anything you don’t know?” “Yes Robin… several things.”) but played completely straight.

      Combine the two with a healthy dose of 90s trademark grim-and-gritty “deconstruction” of bright stand-up heroes like Superman, and you have the invincible BatGod, always ready to show up much more powerful heroes as lunkheaded fools and more powerful enemies as mere pawns in his impossibly intricate plans. Thank the heavens that the Nolans didn’t fall prey to any of this foolishness.

      • danoot says:

        The inimitable Grant Morrison appears to be both running this to the ultimate limit and detourning the very notion, in the current DC crisis event thing, and especially in the Batman ongoing he has been writing – Batman has a plan for everything, ever, including when some people know who he is and attack his brain with drugs and hypnosis and conditioning – he pulls a Bat-Backup personality out of his utility belt, then belts the badguys with the Bat-Bat.

        Then he saves the whole world by shooting death in the shoulder. And this might end up with him being a literal God (in the DC universe, anyway), to replace the old order he’s been instrumental in destroying.

        It is pretty good times!

  18. rentagurkha says:

    It occurs to me that there’s a much simpler reason Batman takes the blame for Dent’s crimes. The Joker is in custody at the end of the movie, when the entire police force is surrounding the building preparing to rescue Gordon and his family. It’s just not logistically possible for the Joker to have committed Dent’s crimes.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Very nice summary of the film, but I have to disagree. I feel that Batman won at the end of The Dark Knight. Yes, it would be an interesting spin on the superhero genre to have the villain win, but with The Dark Knight, that is simply not the case.

    Batman knew that the Joker would have won if everyone found out about Harvey’s crimes. The criminals Dent put away would go back on the streets, and Gotham would once again be, as you put it “in the toilet”.

    Batman knew this and decided to take the fall for Dent himself. With Dent regarded as the hero of Gotham, the criminals he put away will stay in jail. The citizens of Gotham will remember Harvey Dent, gotham’s true hero, and continue to have hope of a better future, like the one Dent temporarily provided. And by doing so, he truly defeats the Joker, but at a price. Batman must now be hunted and be branded a criminal himself.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Very nice summary of the film, but I have to disagree. I feel that Batman won at the end of The Dark Knight. Yes, it would be an interesting spin on the superhero genre to have the villain win, but with The Dark Knight, that is simply not the case.

    Batman spent the whole movie trying to capture the Joker, failing everytime and losing everything in the process, becuase he simply did not know who he was dealing with. By the film’s climax, Batman learned from his mistakes, and stopped every one of the Joker’s plans. He saved the hostages, not allowing the SWAT to get to them first. He stopped Joker from blowing the people up on the ferries himself, and finally, captured the Joker, leaving him defenseless for the SWATs to apprehend. Yes, He did not expect Joker’s last trick, his “ace in the hole” but managed to foil that scheme of his as well.

    Batman knew that the Joker would have won if everyone found out about Harvey’s crimes. The criminals Dent put away would go back on the streets, and Gotham would once again be, as you put it “in the toilet”.

    Batman knew this and decided to take the fall for Dent himself. With Dent regarded as the hero of Gotham, the criminals he put away will stay in jail. The citizens of Gotham will remember Harvey Dent, Gotham’s true hero, and continue to have hope of a better future, (Like the one Dent temporarily provided at the first half of the film.) And by doing so, he truly defeats the Joker. But at a price. Batman must now be hunted and be branded a criminal himself.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I wrote a fairly lengthy analysis of this movie as well, but never posted mine. I only shared with a few of my friends that are as nerdy as I am. Your review is very good though, and there were a few things you actually opened my eyes to. But, there are a few things I believe YOU missed (out of chronological order).

    (1) When transporting Harvey Dent, the unit was diverted down to lower 5th because of a barrier. This barrier happened to be a FIRE TRUCK ON FIRE. Have you ever seen one of those before. This is great foreshadowing that lets us know something is WRONG, and is also a distinct symbol of anarchy and chaos (The Agent of Chaos is lurking).

    (2) The “cell-phone-sonar thingy” is actually more thought out than what you give credit for, and was not the result of Bruce’s sole proprietorship. Originally watching this, I had a huge problem with it. It seemed to mesh with the rest of the story which was grounded in realism. But after analysis, I understand. When Fox was familiarizing Bruce with his new suit, he mentions to Bruce that he was unaware that R&D had been “reassigned.” This reassignment of R&D is what originally prompted Coleman’s snooping. Anyway, Bruce gets R&D working on this “Government Communications Project” and conveniently leaves Lucious in the dark. Obviously, he begins working on this monster tech (which is ethically/morally questionable) and he knew that Fox would never approve.

    (3) That leads to the third point (which you somewhat touched on). During that scene with Fox, Bruce tells him that he’s “playing things close to the chest.” This VERY unique phrase is used ONLY TWICE in the whole movie. It’s interesting that Batman refers to himself, and Harvey Dent attributes this to Gordon. Maybe it was used to show how unethical Batman and Gordon;s means of stopping the Joker were. Not quite sure…but I think worth the thought

    (4) Also, you touch on The Joker’s contradictory scar origin stories. This is actually an allusion to the Joker from the 1988 comic, The Killing Joke. Here, he says, “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha!” Great fan service and was done in a very practical way.

    (5) You also omit the fact that the “Shotgun Banker” in the heist is a Mob man. To those who analyze, it may be obvious. But I found that a lot of people actually missed this. “Do you have any idea who you’re stealing from!? You and your friends are dead!” Either the Mob is paying him, or he had his weeties that morning.

    I do not, in any way, mean to be haughty or arrogant. I thought your review was very in depth, accurate, and entertaining to read. Honestly, much much better than my own. I only wanted to maybe let you know what you might have missed. I think it takes a collaborated effort to fully dissect a good film like TDK for all it’s worth.

  22. Anonymous says:


    A couple of things in no particular order:

    Batman didn’t make the sonar machine. It is the government telecommunications contract he reassigned R&D to and kept Fox in the dark about because he knew he would object. Interesting that even that early in the movie Bruce can see he will have to step out of the lines to capture joker and has R&D begin to make this device. Fox originally tells Bruce in Hong Kong that he had R&D work it up so its understandable that they could simply make a bigger one at Bruce’s request in a few days.

    I am confused about the number of people Gordon says Dent kills. “5 dead, two of them cops.” I count Wertz as the only cop Dent killed because he only slapped Ramirez. That plus Maroni, his driver, and the other mobster Dent kills to get into the car makes 4. Who is the 5th person? Or did I completely miss this and Dent did kill Ramirez?

    I would tend to agree with those that say Batman did win at the end. He kep the Joker from destroying Dent’s public image by taking the fall for him. That was one of the Joker’s goals throughout the movie, to break Dent and show Gotham this to completely destroy morale. He doesn’t accomplish this due to Batman so how can the Joker win?

    I also really liked the quick shot of Dent and Batman laying on the ground together. It was symbolic of how far both men had fallen from the positives that had taken place earlier in the movie. It also served to further prop up Batman. If Dent represented the “best of men” we were shown just how easily he could fall into madness. Dent’s fall metaphorically and physically broke him. If Dent is the best of men, and yet Batman can fall and not be broken despite everything he has gone through, how much stronger must Batman be, both physically, mentally, and emotionally?

    ONe last thing, did Batman get stabbed during his fight with the Joker? It looks as though the Joker stabs him when he says “Oh the old familiar places.” Plus, Batman really appears to be laboring after this even when talking to the Joker and Dent/Gordon. I thought he would be stabbed as soon as Fox said his new suit was more open to knives and gunfire and we knew the Joker was obsessed with knives. Wondering what others think about this?

  23. Anonymous says:


    Your Analysis is great and I understand Batman caused everything and basically lost to the Joker, but you have to ask the nobility of Batman’s actions. Batman is human like us all and aren’t we all capable of are choice to be pure? Batman’s philosophy is right we can only control the actions of ourselves. Perhaps Batman is limiting himself, but he’s doing the right thing. Martin Luther King and Gandhi did the same thing. I believe Batman’s actions are inspiring.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Batman

      I believe the joker does not win. The people on the ferries show this by not blowing up each others boats. thus showing that the people of gotham are not beyond saving, even the criminals who may have committed crimes in the past choose not to act. hope is instilled and bruce/batman’s faith in people remains the same as rachel hoped.

      as for batman taking the fall for harvey, gordon explains it all very neat. “he’s the hero gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now.” batman can be the outcause as alfred said. he can make the descions that no one else can make. he is the good in all of us without the bad. gotham needed a strong public figure to help them deal with the joker and the fallout of the city and harvey was the hero. for the city to have its faith it must also have faith in others and harvey was proof to this. they trusted him and shouldnt know of his wrong doings.

      batman can be the outcause. he can be whatever gotham needs him to be to feel strong and to hope. without batman, there is no hope. even with harvey dent.

  24. Anonymous says:

    No Exit For Batman, No Exit For Nolan

    Here, Batman, most meticulously orchestrates (in a scale of scheming as grand as that of a villain) his way out and fails when nightmares like the Joker – coevolutionary answers to his dreams of his justice – arise with conflicting meticulous plans of their own.

    If a Batman 3 exists in the Nolan brothers brains somewhere – if an idea on where to go from what is capably a beautifully “infinitely self-converging” ending that is The Dark Knight – (because let’s face it, if it weren’t a comically theatrical comic book hero story attracting millions of fans or money – than the film could stay put quite well without a sequel and still operate as an amazing work of cinema – a la HEAT.) – then it would involve the interesting dynamics of Gotham villainizing the Batman on a level far more antagonizing than before (if they were mad and ungrateful for him as soon as cops were dead – how rabid will they get once they learn he’s killed their symbol of hope? Interestingly enough – how WILL they explain Harvey’s death to the public? It is shown at the end but it never explicitly says that Batman killed Dent – only assumed his sins as his own.)

    In the opening of the SWAT sequence, we’ve already seen a glimpse of a far more powerful Commissioner Gordon (able to summon and command a full-fledged SWAT team where as in Begins he just joins along) coming to conflict with his theatrical ally. How can Gordon hold a gun to Batman now, without firing or shooting & missing, without conflicting his career – or will new villains and moral dilemmas make enemies out of them again through each of their diverging moral decisions. Like the Joker said, Gordon is a cop who needs Batman – but now he needs him to be the criminal, the prey. The fact that he’s different from the other cops can actually COMPLICATE the matter of their conflicting moral codes (as we’ve seen with Begins where the villain asserts for a good while a higher state of morality and code of justice (until we see that its in fact, too high) than the protagonist) because as a non-vigilante force of authority: he’s got to abide by a different set of limits that the vigilante (and now upgraded to “outlaw” status) Batman can cross freely.

    Or it can end here with The Dark Knight – and Nolan will have played it safe and sustained his position as the greatest comic book franchise director out there (Raimi, despite how corny his Spider-Man movies consistently were, (owing both to the tradition of cheese in Spider-Man comics as well as his B-movie roots) had nonetheless a good start with the first two – and then gave up to the commercial pressure at last with the third.) Nolan, from what we know in his interviews, is at least highly aware of the danger of a part three which can severely damage what has been established in the past. But… logical plotlines can perservere – and easily enough – grow on from what’s set in The Dark Knight. What will be tricky for him – if he decides to do it is – is how he’s going to (1) create a villain as memorable as the Joker (who completely usurped what little understated credit was owed to the villains of Begins (let’s face it – in the animated series Ducard was always having a hot tub party in his Lazarus pit to be taken seriously – fleshing him out to be one of the principle architects of Bruce’s Batman persona is a huge plus to his portrayal as well Neeson’s sternness) (2) create a sequel that makes more than just logical sense – but emotional sense, we understand where the characters are going and where they’ll come from.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Maniac Suicidal Realism

    As for Batman not breaking his no-kill principle with the Joker. It’s amazing how far Bruce is able to go in terms of upholding his oath to justice. Initially – he begins as the most arrogant superhero protagonist making selfish choices to preserve his way out of the inferno of his own pursuit – created out of his choice to be Batman – only to find out more and more that there can be no exit. If he killed the Joker, everything he’s sacrificed to build up not only his escape from Batman but his sense of value in justifying this persona (whether it becomes history or something that lingers), would’ve died to a wasted cause. His line in Batman Begins would no longer make any sense nor would he as the Batman of Nolan’s established universe. So even though the Joker is responsible for shutting all the doors to a normal life – locking them in a relentlessly unmerciful way (killing Rachel, deforming and corrupting Harvey) – the Bruce of The Dark Knight understands well enough the value of his moral identity – how much he’s sacrificed to sustain it – and thus has proven to have come a very long way from when he was Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins out to kill Joe Chill for the murder of his parents. (“revenge is about making yourself feel better”, quote Rachel circa Holmes)

    My favorite scene would be the last cropped scene of each of the Dark Knight trailers: “Will you be working the batpod today sir?” “In the middle of day, Alfred? A little more subtle.”

    Great commercial quip right?

    But in the movie – it’s depth is far more dramatic with the knowledge that this only a scene moments after Bruce mourning the death of his best friend and loved one. (As Rachel earlier pointed out his fault, “Don’t make me your *only* hope for a normal life, Bruce.” – and to his credit, Harvey was part of that hope as well but we all know how his end of that plan of his turned out.) Consider the quality of Christian Bale’s performance – performance within a performance – as Bruce Wayne trying to hold on to that reckless playboy persona who’s safe enough in his pretend selfish-spoiled rich boy façade to not be totally mourning away for a whole act of the movie (a la Spider-Man 3 over a break-up – several articles can be born out of how Batman completely emasculates Peter Parker) – safe or suicidal? (it is amazing performance by the way – completely against trend – to hold it together on the outside as nonchalantly almost threatening the continuity of the scenes – until we realize that Bruce is just doing the most difficult thing to do in a very short time in the aftermath of a tragedy – moving on)

    What can be seen as his comeback as Batman, his continuing pursuit as that hero, can also be seen as Tim Burton’s original interpretation of him (an interpretation which did not very well survive on the campiness of his 1989 Batman film) being a suicidal vigilante resurrect here on screen. Right now Bruce Wayne has more reasons to put himself in suicidal situations than ever – his love interest and childhood friend, worth two-movies of character development (albeit awkward character development given that the slut-meter was turned way up between the arc of the two films with the introduction of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s take on Rachel) and notice how quickly he gets into a fatal car accident – of course, from the most obvious point of view – to stop the Joker’s attempts at bringing the worst out of Gothamites – to protect his identity in chastising Mr. Reese through the act of being his unlikely savior – and to stop Gotham from tilting over the edge and allowing the Joker the get what he wants. But underlying that performance is how much more flirtatious with death Bruce’s actions are becoming. And being a one-man crime-fighter against hordes of increasingly dangerous situations and villains – with fierce black dogs being the most recent of these fatalities – it’s a sealed deal relationship with death that can only be rivaled by his commitment to fighting crime.