An anatomist on The Dark Knight


After seeing The Dark Knight, I had one burning question (sorry): were the depictions of Two-Face’s injuries anatomically accurate?

To answer this question, I turned to anatomist, choreographer and Bentfootes creator Kriota Willberg.  Kriota is the only person I know who has actually dissected a real live — er, I mean, real dead — human body.  This is what she had to say:

Harvey/Two Face’s anatomy seems pretty accurate, of course, and I liked the ooze that had seeped onto his pillow in the hospital. That was a nice touch. He probably would have been a bit more scabby and cracky and oozy, but it’s a family show, so I can forgive that. All in all, they did a great job (it reminded me of The Mummy a little in the way they rendered the face) but the problem of course was in the sound of TF’s voice. Frankly, if you have no lip on half your mouth, your pronunciation is going to be slurry. You won’t be able to hold air behind your tongue and lips and it’s going to present a problem. If you think about what it’s like to talk after dental procedures and anesthetic, you only have a partial inkling of how difficult TFs speech would be, unless the dentist accidentally removed one of your cheeks. Speaking, eating, drinking all get super difficult.
Speaking of cheek removal, salivation would be an issue and TF’s mouth would be pretty dry on the left side due to the lack of the left parotid. Of course, he’d still have use of the submandibular and sublingual glands, but there’d still be that wind whistling through the left side.
Speaking of salivation, I couldn’t tell if TF’s lacrimal glands were intact or not. The way the medial canthus of the eye was scarred up, I bethe couldn’t use the lacrimal canals of that eye in any case. This means that that left nostril, sucking up all that unfiltered-by-nose-hair-air wouldn’t be getting any moisture to it from tear drainage, which would make TF more likely to get nose bleeds and possibly infections. (Wait, if half his nostril is missing, would he still get nose bleed? How high up do those usually occur? I’ll ask a colleague.) So his eye could be as wet as it appeared, but it would be kinda drippy, or his eye would be pretty dry. Either way, w/o tearing or just w/o a lid, he’s going to be much more vulnerable to infection of the eye as well. Moving it might be pretty painful, too.

There you have it. Subtracting the pain and shock that would naturally occur in such an instance (or, as my wife put it, “you’d go insane” — to which I reply “well…”), The Harvey/Two-Face look is perfectly plausible (and, I’m sure, somewhere in this world there is someone, right now, surgically adapting their face to look more like Harvey Dent). Now, just imagine the final act of The Dark Knight with Aaron Eckhart not only looking like Two-Face but sounding like him too. With the uncontrolled saliva constantly roping off of his open jaw cavity. He’d have to wear a bib. I wonder if the Dark Knight folk considered addressing these issues, or if that would have made the movie a little too horrifying.


26 Responses to “An anatomist on The Dark Knight”
  1. faroffstar says:

    good to know. i was really curious about that as it didn’t seem plausible and i thought his face should be more…gooey or something. Also I had doubts about the eye working or even still being there.

    • Todd says:

      In a follow-up conversation, Kriota did mention that it was highly improbable that his eye would survive the experience. Also, it’s unclear from the narrative whether Harvey’s flesh was entirely burned off or if doctors removed some of it surgically.

  2. planettom says:

    How about that scene in FACE OFF where Nicholas Cage (or was it John Travolta) wakes up in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages, presumably undoes them, reaches up, and discovers…hey, no face!

    Then, in the next scene, in shadow, he’s on the phone, smoking a cigarette. With no lips. Hard to puff!

    I began to doubt the medical accuracy of the movie at that point.

  3. mitejen says:

    I’m thinking he’d sound all ‘Enraged Elephant Man.’

    Or like Sloth from the Goonies, and would lose some of that necessary eloquence of speech that made the character so riveting.

  4. Anonymous says:

    He did have a bit of a dribble when he took the shot at the bar.

    • mitejen says:

      I did notice that, his dribbling at the bar. I was glad it was in there but that it wasn’t played too much for laughs.

  5. pirateman says:

    One moment I loved is the delay in showing the audience Harvey’s scarred half when we first see him… The tension was almost unbearable!

    • swan_tower says:

      And then what they showed us was so much worse than I had been expecting. (My knowledge of Two-Face consisted entirely of Tommy Lee Jones.)

      • sbrungardt says:

        I almost couldn’t look at the screen. The tension of the scene, paired with the sheer gruesomeness of his face, was very nearly at my limit. I recoiled visibly, reeling back in my chair when it was finally revealed. Ugh. Terrifying.

  6. black13 says:

    Actually, the look of Two-Face reminded me slightly of another DC character, Jonah Hex.

    • Todd says:

      I would have paid twice as much to see The Dark Knight if, after his accident, Harvey put on a cowboy hat and said “Look at me! I’m Jonah Hex!”

      • curt_holman says:


        I laughed out loud at that.

        I actually wondered, since Harvey is apparently missing an eyelid, whether he has an eyedropper of saline solution and is dousing his “bad eye” every time he’s off camera to keep it from drying out.

        One of my theories about the success of The Dark Knight is that people come to see The Joker, and come back to see Two-Face. In retrospect, the promotional campaign of showing off the Joker make-up while keeping the Two-Face make-up a secret paid off brilliantly.

  7. popebuck1 says:

    From what I understand, the border between PG-13 and R often hinges entirely on how “gooey” the filmmakers were willing to get with the bodily fluids.

    Just one instance – in the Mummy pictures, there are whole armies slaughtered on-camera, and yet there’s no blood, so they’re allowed to keep a PG-13.

    (BTW, count me as another on the long list of people mystified that The Dark Knight was able to get away with a PG-13, “visible bodily fluids” or no. For sheer darkness of theme, it’s not just an R, it’s a hard R. I can only assume payoffs were involved.)

    • Anonymous says:


      Then Nickelodean with all that sliming on the kids awards – and in fact as part of their overall brand – should be xxx

    • I dunno, you seen more blood in LotR, the creatures are pretty slimey and gruesome some of them too. I think if they’d made Joker’s killings any more graphic it would earn an R.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I would have loved to see the character without the make-up effects, that’s all so 50s/80s…. at least can’t audiences finally get to the 90s/10s and expect some more play with it like Amenabar did with the character’s face in “Open your eyes”, which was disturbing because of p.o.v. as well. And yes, I would “have paid twice as much to see The Dark Knight if, after his accident, Harvey just looked the same but whenever he looked in the mirror…etc… and Penelope Cruz was included in the deal. “

  9. Anonymous says:

    My vote goes to “that would have made the movie a little too horrifying.”

    I liked his working googly eye, even though my first reaction on seeing it was “How the heck did that survive? It should just be a blob of charred goo.” And both of the friends I saw the movie with (at different times) said they particularly liked the ooze on his pillow.

    Also, for the record, I’ve dissected a real dead human brain.


  10. Anonymous says:


    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  11. You know, the Two-Face from TAS sounds a lot like he’s actually keeping one side of his mouth constantly open.

    If he shows up for a sequel, the opening scenes could be him scraping the face off a lookalike for transplant…

  12. mikeyed says:


    My one burning question about the Dark Knight has to be: how does batman, when Harvey Dent is interrogating the goon in the random alley, come in from out of nowhere? It just seemed too much like a chance encounter, but my only real answer to this is that he was already using that tracker of his.