Further thoughts on The Dark Knight


Well, as good as it is, it’s better on a second viewing. I went on a double-date with a screenwriter pal and our wives. Screenwriter joked, “I liked the first three movies, but the last two I thought were a little too much.” By which he meant, there is enough plot in The Dark Knight to fuel five summer blockbusters.  No one could possibly walk out of this movie and complain they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth. It seems like every fifteen minutes or so there is one blockbuster sequence or other that would have been the climax to any other movie, but The Dark Knight just keeps going and going and going, more surprises up its sleeve, more betrayals and double-crosses, more reveals and reversals. It makes The Departed look somnolent, it makes Heat look like a comic book and it makes Tim Burton’s Batman look like Leslie Martinson’s Batman.

For me, I’m still a little stunned, and intimidated, by The Dark Knight‘s screenplay. Plot is one of the hardest things to manufacture, and as I say, this movie has more plot than any five given movies. It’s a relentless, non-stop plot machine, and it handles all of it while still delivering the stunts, action and spectacle expected from the genre. Sometimes it does both at the same time. I’m comfortably accustomed to sitting down in a movie and knowing my way around a narrative, and the idea that a so-called “superhero movie” would have one so complex, compact and intense, challenging and troubling that I give up keeping track, even on a second viewing, is, frankly, kind of blisteringly fantastic.

My wife is something of a plot-nazi. Often, we go see some well-turned-out spectacle or other and I sit through the whole thing with a big goofy grin on my face, wondering at all the color and texture, and afterward I’ll turn to my wife and say “Well, what did you think?” and regardless of whatever pleasures the movie has to offer, she’ll zero in on one fault in the plot that ruins the entire narrative and the movie’s pleasures will immediately evaporate. For The Dark Knight, she had exactly one question on the way back to the parking garage. That question answered (it regarded how the Joker was financing his operation), she declared that the plot was air-tight. So you can take that as a strong recommendation: Todd Alcott’s wife finds the plot of The Dark Knight air-tight.

Heath Ledger’s performance on a first viewing I foolishly just kind of accepted as a given, but on a second viewing I’m fully confident that this is a bad-guy performance to stand alongside Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Javier Bardem in No Country, and Robert DeNiro (or Mitchum) in Cape Fear. Ledger’s Joker is grand and simple, bigger-than-life and frighteningly real, full of bold choices and yet detailed and human. I think it’s safe to say that it’ll be hard to watch Caeser Romero in the part for a while. Ledger’s Joker is both so mesmerizing that you can’t look away, and yet so horrifying that you feel you have to, for fear of catching his eye. Whatever is wrong with him, you know you don’t want to catch it.

A full analysis will have to wait for the DVD release probably, but one of the things that struck me on a second viewing was the sheer number of echoes, parallels and mirror-scenes, one character doing something that is then answered or repeated by another character in a different context. For instance, I was admiring the way Bruce Wayne was able to dismantle a shotgun while not looking at it, and then remembered that Harvey Dent does the same thing with a handgun earlier on. There are dozens of little moments like this but I prefer to keep this spoiler-free for now.

Some have responded to the complexity of The Dark Knight‘s plot by saying it is an ensemble drama. I myself felt pretty strongly that it had three protagonists. On a second viewing, let me just say: make no mistake, The Dark Knight has one protagonist and it is Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne, through his decision to end crime in Gotham City, creates a situation where, as Alfred puts it, the worried gangsters of Gotham turn to a man they don’t fully understand. That is, if Bruce Wayne did not create the Joker, hecreated the situation where the Joker could flourish. He set the plot of The Dark Knight in motion. His actions inspired the Joker to his mayhem, and inspired Harvey Dent to be Super DA, to be the man who would do, legally, what Batman can only do illegally. Everything that happens in the movie leads back to Bruce Wayne’s actions, his attempts to make Gotham City a better place to live. The Joker is his chief antagonist and Harvey Dent is his friend, the man who symbolizes the Gotham he wants the city to be — everything the Joker wants to happen to Gotham, happens to Harvey.

A note on Harvey: Two-Face is my favorite Batman villain, and without giving anything away, let me just say that the treatment of his character in The Dark Knight is the most full-bodied, complex, sympathetic, heartbreaking and horrifying we are likely to see in a generation. My only real sadness about The Dark Knight is that I would like to see a whole movie just about Harvey Dent. My wife, who is familiar with Two-Face through Tommy Lee Jones’s screaming, cackling camp-fest in Batman Forever and Bruce Timm’s thoroughly horrifying interpretation on the Batman Animated show, had forgotten that Harvey Dent is Two-Face, and, during The Dark Knight found herself thinking “I like this Harvey Dent character, he’s interesting and new, I wonder where this is going.” And then, upon realizing who he was, and what modern movie-making technology is capable of, spent a good portion of the movie in a state of sickened dread.


70 Responses to “Further thoughts on The Dark Knight”
  1. craigjclark says:

    I liked the treatment of Dent’s character as well, and I credit a lot of its success to Aaron Eckhart’s performance. Since he first caught my attention in Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men, he’s shown himself to be capable of adding a necessary element of gravity — and unpredictability — to every role he’s played.

  2. gilmoure says:

    Todd Alcott’s wife finds the plot of The Dark Knight air-tight.

    Ya’ll got a t-shirt there.

  3. shocka says:

    I hate to be so lowbrow, but I haven’t read anything focusing on how incredibly horrifying Two Face actually looks. The audience gasped and jumped when he turned his face in the preview screening I was at – even having seen the artwork of Two Face, I was stunned and put off by how terrifying that looks. Nightmarish and awesome!

  4. perich says:


    she declared that the plot was air-tight

    A friend of mine actually pointed out to me that the entire sequence from Harvey Dent getting into the prison transport van, to the underground car chase, to Harvey Dent being dragged out of a burning building must have been, of necessity, planned out in advance. None of the parties behind it get a chance to talk at any point throughout. And it requires a level of contingency that I think even Bruce Wayne would arch an eyebrow at.

    I had no problem with it because the movie is deliberately ambiguous about who masterminded the whole thing (Dent asks four people and gets a different answer every time). But there is a lot going on there.

    • Todd says:

      Re: SPOILERS


      Well, let’s see if we can work this through.

      1. Harvey declares himself Batman, and is arrested.
      2. Harvey has himself transferred to County, knowing there will be an attempt on his life (and assuming Batman will rescue him).
      3. The Joker obliges by trying to kill Harvey. However: while the Joker intend to kill Harvey, he does not believe that Harvey is Batman. His attempt on Harvey’s life is undertaken in the understanding that, in the end, he will be arrested, either by Batman or by the police.
      4. Harvey, his life saved, gets in a car driven by one of the detectives working in league with the Joker (who Harvey later kills in the bar). It seems pretty obvious to me that the detective has the detective kidnap Harvey while he is in custody.
      5. Who kidnaps Rachel? The Joker says “Moroni’s people,” and I see no reason to doubt him — but Moroni’s people are also working for the Joker at that point.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: SPOILERS

        5. Who kidnaps Rachel? The Joker says “Moroni’s people,” and I see no reason to doubt him — but Moroni’s people are also working for the Joker at that point.

        The female detective was the one who kidnapped Rachael. Harvey confronted her but she got the benefit of a positive coin flip.

      • markteppo says:

        Re: SPOILERS


        Having only seen it once, I’m not entirely sure of this: but doesn’t Batman say he is going to rescue Rachael? Or is he replying to Gordon’s question of who he (Gordon) should rescue?

        I think the Joker’s assumption is that Batman would save the one more beneficial to the city; though, he does also seem to know something is up with Rachel and Batman, so it doesn’t strike me as being beyond his level of psychological warfare with Batman to put that choice on him, to really see how he performs; if Rachel dies, then Dent has a reason to hate the police and Batman for not saving his girl. By telling them the wrong location, the Joker discovers who they find more important and also gets to kill that person.

        Dent’s transformation is his own fault for when he knocks his chair over, he spills the gas. And I think the Joker simply takes advantage of that. I don’t recall anything in his bedside conversation that indicates the disfigurement as planned, though he certainly likes the two-sided coin. And it’s also Gordon who names him, and in a clever reveal, it’s the name he’s had all along.

        And, back to your point about mirroring and the rolling consequences of Wayne’s actions, Dent is just more of that. What struck me about this film is that Batman is almost entirely reactive. He’s playing catch-up the whole time, and it does seem to be a constant shitstorm rising out of his initial choice to become Batman, and I think the resolution in the end points Batman toward a necessary “matchless knowledge of the city” if he is going to continue to thrive. He can’t be reactive any more.

        • brandawg says:

          Re: SPOILERS

          I always got the impression that Joker switches the locations just to mess with Batman all the more. Consider at first that he wants Batman to reveal himself but after figuring out how much fun it is to play with Batman, Joker changes his mind. He very well has all of the tools in front of him in this film to know who Batman is, and even hints at knowing in the interrogation room. In fact, I think he knows and deliberately doesn’t do anything about that because Batman is way more of a hoot than Bruce Wayne, but it gives Joker a bit more of a leg up on his adversary.

          • markteppo says:

            Re: SPOILERS

            And it was that comment about Batman being fun (and the context thereof), that really drove home the point of just how terrifying this portrayal of the Joker is. And how psychotic his and Batman’s relationship is. EVERYTHING from this point forward will be a direct result of neither yielding and all collateral damage will be have to be meaningless (emotionally and psychologically) in order to retain their respective principles. As a man on the street, I’d be moving out of Gotham City. Like, yesterday.

          • jestermotley says:

            Re: SPOILERS

            And yes, the Joker was evil and switched the locations.

            Batman clearly tells Gordon he’s going for Rachel when they leave the building. When Batman gets to the warehouse he’s shocked for a moment to find Dent.

            The film leaves it to us to realize just how sick the joker is. He knew Batman would go for Rachel, so he kills her because then Batman will be crushed. It is absolutely perfect.

          • cdthomas says:

            Re: SPOILERS

            Joker could have guessed solely by knowing who Reese worked for, then observed All The Wonderful Toys Batman has used as coming from a defense contractor source. Since this movie established Joker as the smartest man in Gotham (in the *first six minutes*, no less), it wouldn’t faze him to be confirmed in a guess of Wayne from the day Lau was snatched out of HK. Hell *Joker predicted* Batman would violate who knows how many extradition treaties and land Lau on GPD’s doorstep.

            Yep, I think if Joker was smart enough to orchestrate his delicate risk-taking in killing Dent, and coming out of it alive to steal Lau back, get his cash for burning, and set up the ferry game, well then, he’d have a hunch Batman was Wayne before putting on his grenade overcoat to visit Moroni.

            Also, if Joker didn’t know who Batman was, why didn’t he call out for *Bruce fucking Wayne* at his own party?

            You know — the man who could order a wire transfer for gajillions of dollars, with his party guests held for ransom? Did Joker mention Wayne’s name at all at the party? Hmmm.

            His secret knowledge, and his reticence to harm Batman, is like Lecter: Clarice, the world is more interesting with you in it.

        • chronoso says:

          Re: SPOILERS

          this bothered me for some time, but i have sort of come to terms with it because a) i believe there are about 40 minutes of this movie sitting on the editing room floor due to trying to meet a time limit and a rating (please give us a 3+ hour, unrated dvd?) and b) these are the guys behind Memento and The Prestige, so “the old switchero” seems like something they’re required to do, like an star wars reference in a kevin smith movie

      • perich says:

        Re: SPOILERS

        4 & 5: If these are done by two separate parties, who sets up the phone call between Harvey and Rachel?

        (I like your answer, BTW, and wasn’t so thrown while watching it – either time – that I needed an explanation)

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: SPOILERS

          Detective Martinez (I think that was her name) admits that her motivation was money. She may have been initially corrupted by Moroni, but ultimately she’s working for the Joker. The Joker clearly set up the phone call, who also switched their locations so that Batman would wind up saving his rival and not his loved one. This was part of his plan.

          The Joker’s great brilliance is that while he professes to not having a plan, he is the best planner of anyone in the story. He comes up with his plots very quickly in response to changing circumstances, but he’s able to see the likely results — most of the time.

          The crucial scene with the two ferries (another mirror) demonstrates the blindness of the Joker’s evil — that is, his limitation. His love of mayhem stands in the way of his predicting the outcome of this particular scheme, because he can’t envision people choosing to do the right thing under such circumstances.


          • Todd says:

            Re: SPOILERS

            The ferry sequence is also Batman’s triumph. What the protagonist wants is to inspire a city to step up and make itself better, which he hopes to do through supporting Harvey. Harvey meets his end, but the people on the ferry, even in the face of imminent death, refuse to fulfill the Joker’s plan.

            • Re: SPOILERS

              Plus, I’m willing to bet, if either ferry had pushed the button, they’d have blown up their own ferry. Joker would do something twisted such as that…

              • Todd says:

                Re: SPOILERS

                Are you saying you don’t trust the word of a homicidal maniac who covers his face in sloppy clown makeup?

                • cdthomas says:

                  Re: SPOILERS

                  I submit that the Joker’s plots in this movie will be studied in business schools across this country as an example of supple and dynamic planning that adapts quickly to a chaotic work environment. No, I’m not kidding.

                  Batman should have continually thwarted the Joker in any other well-written version of this story. That’s what he did in Martinson’s, Burton’s and Timm’s versions. He has the resources, tacit backing of the government, incredible military-level intelligence at his fingertips. But with the Joker running a year-long game (assuming the snippet I heard about the Narrows/Batman’s activities is true) of co-opting nearly every important public space and institution in this city — or at least knowing the leverage points in order to set things up quickly — the Joker did the one thing a terrorist is supposed to do to his subject population: Make them deform their own principles, to stop him. The same effect occurs with non-violent resistance; wonder how many memorials to peace activists exist in Gotham’s cemetaries….

                  Take Joker’s henchmen. By far, they’re the scum of the earth, but they’re also mentally damaged. How in the hell does a manager reach out to each one of them, to not only get them to do his bidding, but to *look normal*, while doing it? How does he keep all the chess pieces from running away, or getting caught and telling all? How does he keep all the planning in his head, so no one knows anything to confess to?

                  How many men did it take to get all those drums of accelerants into at least one hospital, two warehouses and two ferries? IN THE AGE AFTER 9/11? During a city emergency when they know criminal terrorists will retaliate, due to their brothers in prison? How does Joker know his dirty cops will stay bought, even when Dent, of all former rat-squad prosecutors, puts the pressure on?

                  Batman tries to compensate by taking away the pissed-on and bloodied bits of the fourth amendment we diffidently held on to, with his cellphone sonar application, but even that fails him at the crucial moment. He can see through buildings, but he can’t see what’s in front of him — Joker’s asymetrical warfare fist.

                  I’m pretty sure that if a passenger on the ferry pushed a button, *both* ships would blow up — the Joker could easily get a tape released, and preach a long sermon on how both ferries had people who couldn’t take Gotham forward, due to their own weakness.

                  Then, from jail, Joker would announce his candidacy for mayor. And the destruction of one school per day, until elections were held.

                  And the game continues.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: SPOILERS

            But even there, he’d covered his bases… he was going to blow both ferries up at midnight in any case.

      • faroffstar says:

        Re: SPOILERS

        my assumption was just that every plan the joker had also had a slew of back up plans, even though he later says he planned nothing (or something like that to batman while they were fighting over the detonation button…which is kind of ironic since him having a detonation button was a back up plan). Therefore, if he hadn’t gotten caught by Batman, they would have succeeded in kidnapping Harvey and Rachel must have been kidnapped sometime before that by the Ramirez (the female police detective). Then, just in case he did get caught, he had the guy with the cell phone in his belly also in the jail. As a bonus, if he did get caught he could also kidnap that accountant guy who was going to testify against the mob. I kind of think that at any time the Joker could have gotten into the police station and taken that guy and so despite Gordon saying that was what he wanted to do all along, it just kind of worked out that way. Throughout the movie The Joker seemed like an unstoppable force… (meeting an immovable object)

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: SPOILERS

          Ramirez — I should’ve looked it up.

          • Todd says:

            Re: SPOILERS

            The strange thing about Ramirez is that there is a hispanic female detective that Bruce Timm created, Renee Montoya, who is much beloved, and I couldn’t figure out why Ramirez was not Montoya.

            • Anonymous says:

              Re: SPOILERS

              People would probably be pissed if Montoya turned out to be a betrayer.

              • chronoso says:

                Re: SPOILERS

                i was certain that it was montoya until it turned out that she was a betrayer and was named. i was also certain that the officer who ends up in the holding cell with the joker was harvey bullock, simply because he’s a semi-overweight cop working for gordon who seems semi-partnered with montoya/ramirez and because i not-so-secretly want everything to reference back to the DCAU.

                • aelfsciene says:

                  Re: SPOILERS

                  That was exactly my reaction, in both cases (though I couldn’t remember Bullock’s name at the time). And I felt like a dork because none of the friends I saw it with watch the Animated series, while I totally adore it. Of course, I also wanted to answer “Kevin Conroy” when a pre-show trivia question asked people to name other people who played Batman.

                  Glad to hear I wasn’t the only DCAU-obsessed one!

                  • chronoso says:

                    Re: SPOILERS

                    in my head, kevin conroy is voicing this batman instead of deep-raspy-scary-voice christian bale.

                  • cdthomas says:

                    The One True Batman, people

                    Did it the longest
                    Did it the best
                    Did *Bruce Wayne* in and out of costume the best

                    Worked the hero with moral ambiguity angle whilst Master Bale was singing in NEWSIES.

  5. cyberpilate says:

    My only real sadness about The Dark Knight is that I would like to see a whole movie just about Harvey Dent.

    Would that be something? Heck, I’d be happy just to see him again in the third movie, let alone some serious face time (HAHA FACE TIME) where he could actively call Batman on dual morality or some other really awesome thing. I know people are nudging Oscars Ledger’s way but I really thought Aaron Eckhart stole my show. =)

  6. chrispiers says:

    I agree that Harvey Dent got the best story he’s likely to get for a long time. I liked that the filmmakers made him this object that both Batman and the Joker decide they want and they pretty much literally pull him in two.

    Gary Oldman provides the moral center. Fantastic performance.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I loved this movie through and through. I was particularly mesmerized by The Joker as this was the first time (at least in my adult life) where I felt like the villain of a movie was a legitimate threat and not merely a strawman for the hero to take down. Ledger’s performance and the Joker’s introduction (in the gang conference scene with help from a pencil) had me completely creeped out and disturbed.

    I see a lot of indirect and direct praise for Heat. I watched it a couple of years ago and I remember loving the action set pieces but I also remember the movie being way too long and filled with seemingly pointless melodramatic scenes between the action. In particular the story of the black guy who was the short order cook and his relationship with his girlfriend or wife seemed to have no particular reason for being in the movie. Do I need to re-watch this movie?

    • craigjclark says:

      Like a lot of Mann’s work, Heat does merit multiple viewings. Of course, the only problem I really have with the film is the way Pacino overacts in his scenes with his family. Mann definitely should have reined him in a little.

    • ogier30 says:

      I think that scene had to be in the movie because HEAT is about relationships. The cook trying to go straight was another piece to the puzzle of how men and women deal with work.

      HEAT is one of my favorite films, so all this comparison to it has raised my expectations for TDK.

      • chronoso says:

        i remember hearing that comparisons to Heat were the main motivation behind the casting of william fichtner as the bank manager.

    • Todd says:

      There’s nothing wrong with Heat, except that it tends to take itself a little too seriously. I enjoy it immensely, and Pacino’s performance is a constant joy — in spite of, or perhaps because of, its outlandishness.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon is the reason I didn’t leave the movie absolutely depressed. He’s the One Good Man in Gotham, even more than Harvey Dent. He doesn’t have Bruce’s riches and training, or Harvey’s eloquence and charisma. He’s got a great big vulnerable family, and he’s often visibly frightened, for himself and for them. Yet when the chips are down, he still does the right thing. He never gives in to anger or despair — even when he’s upset with Batman in the movie, it’s only because he’s an even firmer believer in law and order than Batman is. When the twist regarding Gordon hit in the middle of the movie, I was crushed and saddened, and when that twist untwisted, I felt a wave of reassurance. As long as Gotham’s got Gordon, I feel like it can never be completely doomed.

    Also, after all the yammering I’ve done in these comments, I feel I’d be rude not to note that I’m in awe of Mr. Alcott’s writing and analysis, and that his Spielberg and Screenwriting 101 series have changed the way I think about writing, and inspired me to work harder, and think harder, in my own efforts.

    — N.A.

    • mr_noy says:

      I couldn’t quite believe that they would kill Gordon off (especially since he hasn’t become Commissioner Gordon yet) but it’s a testament to how tough Nolan and company are willing to be that it seemed totally plausible that even Gordon could die. His coming back got the biggest cheer from the audience I saw it with.

      For me, the biggest relief was when the people on the ferries defy the Joker and can’t bring themselves to kill one another. In a way, the convict played by “Tiny” Lister is the biggest hero in the movie. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of the weasely guy on the other boat who, at the end, simply can’t bring himself to become a monster. In the first movie Batman tells Ra’s that “Gotham isn’t beyond saving. There are good people here.” I love how, one movie later, Batman’s belief in the people he protects is finally justified. Every reviewer who complains that the movie is cruel, depressing and cynical consistently forget to mention the decision these frightened minor characters make.

      • chadu says:

        For me, the biggest relief was when the people on the ferries defy the Joker and can’t bring themselves to kill one another. In a way, the convict played by “Tiny” Lister is the biggest hero in the movie.


        There’s a whole story there, in, what — two minutes?

      • chrispiers says:

        I agree. Gotham is brutal, but there are good people. The folks on the ferries, Alfred and Lucius, Gordon. I was surprised that the Mayor didn’t actually appear to be corrupt.

      • Todd says:

        As my wife put it, the convict finds that he’s brave enough to not kill, and the civilian discovers he’s not brave enough to kill, and both of them make these decisions while not knowing if Batman will save them or not.

  9. mr_noy says:


    I agree, it’s better the second time around but the things that bug me still bug me and all the moreso given how incredibly tight everything else is. One of the complaints I keep hearing is that the film is too long. I disagree, if anything it’s too short – which, paradoxically, could explain why some people felt the pacing was off.

    After saving Rachel from her fall from the penthouse Batman and Rachel share a moment of levity (“Let’s not do that again”). I’ll forgive the fact that Rachel should probably be an incoherent, babbling wreck incapable of making pithy comments but at that point shouldn’t Batman be zipping back upstairs when he realizes that he just left the Joker alone with Alfred, an unconscious Harvey, Senator Pat Leahy and a hundred other terrified guests? Yet the sequence abruptly ends there. Maybe the Joker, not finding Harvey just decides to leave but it would have been nice to see how the situation was resolved. Perhaps there was a scene but it was cut for time?

    The Joker slices Gamble’s mouth open off-screen (which makes sense since they are going for a PG-13) but that alone wouldn’t have killed him and he wouldn’t die so quickly and so quietly. The first time I saw the scene where the Joker burns the pile of money I forgot that the accountant Lau was sitting on top of it. Burning him on a pyre of cash is just the kind of thing the Joker would do but the scene is shot in such a way that it’s easy to forget that Lau is still up there. I would have liked, if not a shot of him dying, at least the sounds of him screaming in terror. I’m no gorehound but seeing as how so much of the plot revolves around Lau it seems negligent to dispatch him without making it clear to the audience. I’m sure there is a longer cut of this film and if it’s ever released perhaps it will addresse the issues I brought up. It’s one thing to make sacrifices in the editing room, another to have forgotten to deal with it during the writing and shooting phase and I think Nolan is too sharp to have just overlooked those issues.

    Mind you, these things don’t bug me enough to ruin my enjoyment for what will easily be remembered as one of the best films of 2008. It just feels like there are some things that have been truncated or left ambigous, intentionally or accidentally. Is Harvey really dead? Has the Joker been taken into custody? Perhaps those are left purposefully ambiguous and hint at sequel possibilities? One more thing, if the Nolan brothers and David Goyer truly have a trilogy mapped out in their minds I hope they won’t shift gears just because Ledger has passed away. If the Joker is part of their overall plans I hope they’ll bring him back, even though they will have to recast the role. As good as Ledger is (and he’s amazing) the Joker is a much bigger part than the actor playing him and I’d hate to see the Nolan’s and Goyer compromise their vision in light of Ledger’s untimely death. That being said, I don’t envy the actor who would have to follow Ledger in the role.

    • memento_mori says:

      I loved the fact that Lau was left on the money and the Joker ignored (or forgot?) that he was there. Lau is history, the future’s a mystery, let’s live for today!

    • Todd says:

      I think Harvey is really dead, sadly. Although, as I say, I’d love to see a movie just about him.

    • cdthomas says:

      That geezer was Pat Leahy?

      You know, after the FISA thing, I don’t know if he was feeling more fanboy joy being threatened by the Joker, or daydreaming about being Joker or Batman and doing away with that pesky Constitution.

      For all Senators: No nap times, no cookies, no timeouts until you get your House in order, capish? Sheesh.

    • dougo says:

      I don’t envy the actor who would have to follow Ledger in the role.

      I’m thinking the only good choice is Jake Gyllenhaal.

  10. leborcham says:

    My detailed analysis may have to await..or never appear thanks to San Diego planning…but I need a second viewing to really come around to full religious zeal on this movie. I think the plot and acting was fantastic, but undermined somewhat by the bad editing. A great SUPERHERO/CRIME movie, not necessarily a great MOVIE. Heresy, I know, but I’m sticking by it…for now.

    Ledger reminded me of Kevin Spacey in Se7en.

    • Anonymous says:

      I actually don’t see that comparison between Ledger and Spacey at all. The most obvious reason is that Spacey used restraint and blank stares to great effect in Seven where the audience was expecting an over the top crazy man. Ledger on the other hand, uses the character and nature of the Joker as a means to go over the top but still keep it human. He’s a pile of tics and you can visibly see all of his emotions and in fact he can’t stop telling you what he thinks. I think the two performances are opposite from each other but both utterly compelling and captivating.

      • leborcham says:

        The characters were not similar at all, but both were very controlled, intelligent performances that created a true sense of evil. That’s pretty rare in a screen villain.

    • aelfsciene says:

      Random Spacey-related aside: I could swear that the topmost box behind Dent’s left shoulder (in the first scene in his office, when Gordon comes to visit) reads “Kaiser Soze.” Which thought delighted me no end, but I’ll have to wait for DVD to actually be sure.

  11. Anonymous says:

    As a fellow plot nazi, I’m shocked that your wife didn’t have more problems with the movie. While the Joker is the sort of guy who doesn’t care if his plots work out or not, he’s still successful at things that just don’t make sense. SPOILERS: His jail escape scheme simply shouldn’t have work and his ability to plant explosives anywhere is kinda crazy.

    Most of all, I couldn’t find a major story arc. What DID the protagoinst want? To end crime in the city? To have Harvey Dent “take his place? To get the girl? Because he hardly tries any of that. Batman, besides his little trip to Hong Kong, was a rather passive character: he didn’t investigate, he reacted to the Joker’s newest caper.

    • Anonymous says:

      Batman’s reactiveness was, for me, a big part of the suspense of the film. We’re used to a cool, supercompetent Batman who has all the angles figured. Seeing him completely outmatched — arrogantly underestimating the Joker for most of the film, despite Alfred’s warnings — and only vaguely beginning to understand exactly what he’s up against by the end of the film, helped keep me on the edge of my seat. I do like that after the Joker spending the entire movie being one step ahead of the game, he and Batman’s positions reverse; the Joker thinks he knows what the people on the ferries will do, but Batman’s unshakeable faith in them proves ultimately correct.

      I’d say Batman’s relative passivity is essential to the film’s story. The Dark Knight is about a man slowly and painfully learning the enormity of the evil he’s up against, and the climax of the film shows that he finally understands and accepts the sacrifice he’ll have to make to fight it.

      — N.A.

      • Anonymous says:

        The reason I didn’t find that suspenseful is that Joker doesn’t have any real over-arching plan from what I can tell besides “creating chaos.” Maybe taking over Gotham’s underworld, but we never are shown how that works besides getting his hands on their money. There was no build up, one day Joker is trying to knock off Batman, the other he gets his hand on some loot and decides to take on Gotham.

        • Todd says:

          Joker doesn’t have any real over-arching plan from what I can tell besides “creating chaos.”

          That is, of course, what makes him such a great character, and such a great foil for Batman. He wants to see the city destroy itself, he gets simple pleasure from it. And he can’t do it without Batman. They are such a beautiful dyad, and I agree with another commenter that the character is too powerful to leave on the sidelines for another movie.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s certainly how the character and the Batman-Joker relationship should work, however it doesn’t create the most drama by having the Joker pulling off five or so unrelated plots and having Batman foiling (or not foiling) them. That works better in movie serials or TV shows than in a modern motion picture.

            • Todd says:

              But the Joker in The Dark Knight doesn’t pull off five or six unrelated plots — he has one goal that is revealed in five or six separate steps. You seem to be confusing his stated intentions with his actual motivations.

              • Anonymous says:

                The hint about this is that the Joker gives us at least two reasons why he has his scars (and is about to give us a third, but Batman isn’t interested). He says what he doesn’t mean, basically.

                My assumption is that he’s planting the explosives pretty much all along, since he’s setting the tempo of events. It’s just the beauty of his plan that it all seems like it’s done off the cuff. But, just like the intricate and well planned bank heist at the beginning, this is all just so much clockwork for him… he is the Clown Prince of Crime.

              • Anonymous says:

                Well then he’s omniscient because the events at the end of the movie would be unpredictable at the beginning or even at the middle. What is his actual motivation at your reading of the movie?

                • Todd says:

                  His motivation is simply to sow chaos, to get Gotham City to destroy itself. To achieve that goal, he pinpoints the power-players of Gotham City and exploits their fears and hopes and weaknesses, starting with the mobsters and working his way up until it’s within his grasp to turn the whole city into murderers.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is partly a response to what you said, Todd, and partly to the thread just above this (if I write fast enough).

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Bruce Wayne/Batman is the protagonist, despite how compelling the Joker and Harvey Dent are as characters. The tricky part: coming where it does in the Batman mythos, it’s a transitional point in the protagonist’s development. He’s just taken on this persona (in Batman Begins) and now must figure out the implications of his chosen identity. Batman is essentially in his early adulthood, and the end of the movie is his acceptance of his role as outsider. In order to save Gotham City, he must become something other than a savior. In other words, to become truly who he is (and must be), he has to give up his ideal self. This self-recognition is the essential work of adulthood, and Batman must go through it to become the authentic Batman.

    I absolutely loved the double doubling in this movie — I started to make a list of all the double pairs, but it became too long and tedious, and I had to go back and erase it. Let’s start with Batman/Joker and Batman/Harvey Dent. Then you have to add Bruce Wayne/Harvey Dent, Joker/Two-Face. It doesn’t stop! The doubling, mirrored actions, psychological intertwining, and echoes go on and on.

    Finally, my friend and I had a long conversation about Heath Ledger’s performance, which was masterful. But I had to point out that part of what made it so effective was how well the role was written. This version of the Joker was an authentically terrifying voice of anarchy and chaos. Ledger brought the words to life in a completely convincing (and irreplaceable) way, but the words — and his actions within the structure of the plot — were not his own.

    Story, screenplay, acting, directing, production design, photography — in a really fine movie, it all works together seamlessly. The Dark Knight exemplifies this.


    • Todd says:

      One of the strangest, most thrilling things about this whole phenomenon, for me, is to hear folks like you, and my wife, and freakin’ Andrew Sarris f’r chrissakes, seriously using names like “Batman” and “Joker” and “Two-Face” in terms normally reserved for names like “Claudius” or “Raskolnikov” or “Madame Bovary.” This is seriously freaky stuff and a real measure of the success of The Dark Knight.

    • Anonymous says:

      It occurred to me that What Bruce Wayne Wants is not necessarily to save Gotham, but to stop being Batman. Bruce wants Rachel, and he wants to believe he can be whole again and have a normal life, and he spends most of the movie trying to accomplish this. Saving Gotham is a means to an end; it means he can hang up the cape. And just as the Joker wants to tear down Harvey and disfigure him into a dark reflection, Bruce wants to lift Harvey onto a hero’s pedestal, so that Bruce no longer has to carry that weight himself. Which makes it all the more interesting and impressive that the movie ends with Bruce not only re-accepting the responsibility of being Batman, and realizing that probably will never have that normal life, but further taking all of Harvey’s sins upon himself in the process.

      Rewatching Batman Begins today, I noticed that both Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker want the exact same thing: To utterly destroy Gotham, to level its society and bring it to the ground. (Both of them also lecture Batman on the futility of having any kind of moral scruples in the face of absolute evil, and encourage him to kill.) But Ra’s has an elaborate Supervillain Plan to destroy the city, depending on a number of delicate and interrelated contingencies. The Joker, for all his apparent tactical brilliance, uses relatively cheap, random, chaotic means to accomplish the same ends — far more simply, and far more successfully.

      — N.A.

      • Todd says:

        “What Bruce Wayne Wants is not necessarily to save Gotham, but to stop being Batman.”

        I think that’s correct — he wants to inspire Gotham to take care of itself so that he doesn’t have to go on being a criminal in order to “save” it. Harvey Dent is the “face” of this new Gotham, the Gotham that no longer needs Batman, and one of the things that gives The Dark Knight its power is that, even when weighing Batman’s triumph over the Joker, it’s still a terrible tragedy — not only did Harvey die, but Bruce will never be able to hang up the cowl. He has, in fact, taken Harvey’s sins upon himself, as he feels, with some justification, that he is responsible for them.

    • chronoso says:

      what i find interesting now is the reversal of the batman/bruce wayne pairing from Begins to the end of Dark Knight. in Begins, the wayne creates two characters: the batman, to scare the criminals but to inspire the citizens to stand up and make a better city, and bruce wayne, sort of a rude bastard that he doesnt care if everyone hates (all the acting out with the models in the hotel and the druken get-out-of-my-house birthday party)

      now, to cover up two-face, batman must become the hated villian, hunted by the police (which may help lower the incidence of copycat batmen) and bruce can be a fundraiser throwing, but still outlandish member of the gentry.

    • cdthomas says:

      Bruce Wayne had to give up the promise of becoming his father

      in order to be the most effective Batman he could be.

      With his non-kill rule in open knowledge, any hood could run roughshod over him. MS13 or any other serious organization would start killing cops’ families until they killed Batman in cold blood. Batman needed the rep of being nearly a mass murderer, if people stood in the way of his definition of justice.

      Bruce Wayne had to grow the hell up, and realize that his moral stance simply placed more danger on the heads of anyone who supported him, because he would never kill to protect them, as Batman. The tragedy at the end wasn’t a tragedy to me: It was a mature compromise that defined people who could show their face in the day as non-killers, and that those people could assign that burden to cops appointed by the people to defend them, and who existed in a system of checks and balances, theoretically. Or, until the emergency was over, they could rely on the Batman to do what needed to be done, theoretically.

      Whether this distinction holds up, as Batman continues to not kill, is up to future screenwriters.

  13. marcochacon says:

    Dead on as usual–but my complaint was this: how does The Joker (even with crew) move all those giant barrels of explosive around? I mean–when he threatens to blow up something big (I’ll leave spoilers out)–I, as a hypothetical citizen of Gotham, would be like: “Okay, it takes a demo-crew a few hours to set up a building knock-down … how’s this psycho going to do it with without people noticing?”

    But regardless, yes–it’s a mesmerizing movie.


    • As it’s been mentioned, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that The Joker covertly set up those explosives well in advance of the actual beginning of the movie. He’s certainly been plotting something like this for awhile.