THE DARK KNIGHT is not only my vote for best movie in the series, but is also my personal favorite Batman story ever told, surpassing all the other films and all the classic Batman graphic novels.
It achieves this by putting all the right elements in play that to me have made Batman go beyond “comic book pulp” and given the character literary merit. These include: moral ambiguity, paralleling Batman with his villains, realistic depiction of crime and detective work, and a large cast of equally compelling characters.
The story of THE DARK KNIGHT isn’t entirely about Batman, nor is it entirely about the Joker. It’s about Harvey Dent.
This isn’t your typical Good vs. Evil or Batman vs. Joker story. It is Batman and the Joker fighting for Gotham City’s soul…and the soul of Harvey Dent. In the end, the story is a tragedy.
The film’s narrative brings the character of Batman into a moral philosopher. Yes, we’ve seen Batman as an outcast and angry vigilante before. Here we see him at his most human, questioning the ethics of his job every step of the way (this is slightly different from the hero we saw in BATMAN RETURNS, who was so human that he was generally a failure). Is he really doing the right thing; is it moral for Bruce Wayne to be Batman? Good and evil are not so black and white. Likewise, we had seen the Joker and Two-Face many times before; here they retained some of their pulp nature but became symbols.
As happy as I was with this film’s success, I was slightly disappointed that most of the acclaim went solely to Heath Ledger. His performance is great, but once the buzz died down it seemed like Ledger’s makeup-splattered face had become the film’s lasting icon. I wish the film’s screenplay and direction had gotten the credit they deserve as well, and so I hope with this essay to bring to light much of what this film was able to achieve.
As with my BATMAN RETURNS article, I will go through the film, split into three acts, and put my commentary in parenthesis. Since this is a considerably longer film with a more complex narrative, there is a lot more to say, and so I’ll jump right in:
The film opens with a BANG as we swoop over Gotham City in a helicopter shot.
A strange new criminal named the Joker has hired five criminals in clown masks to rob a mob bank. This entire sequence is shot and edited in a style reminiscent of Michael Mann’s HEAT or other crime films, rather than the usual Spider-Man 2 fare. Each criminal systemically kills off one another until only one is left. The fallen bank manager lambasts the remaining robber for lacking any principles and asks what he believes in. The robber removes his mask, revealed to be the Joker himself (it also is a unique way of introducing the character; his face is only a continuation of his mask. He has no “real” face). He pops a canister in the manager’s mouth. To our surprise, the canister doesn’t explode, but instead releases a strange gas. The Joker’s comment “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stranger” implies that this gas will likely have nasty consequences to the bank manager and turn him into a fellow freak. Riding off in a yellow school bus, the Joker gets away with the loot of $68 million.
[Of course there are many contrivances in this opening scene. We have to believe that the Joker would be able to predict all would be killed except him even when things don’t go exactly according to plan, that he could trust all his goons to do everything just right, and that when one turns on him, he could easily maneuver him to be in the right position to crushed by the bus, which was expected to arrive at the exact time. Yes, the entire heist is so meticulously planned to a convoluted extreme. And you know what, that sums up the Joker perfectly].
A short montage goes by introducing us to all of the characters. The plot of the film is so intricate that often two or three things are happening in the same scene. A brief clip of Gotham’s mayor being interviewed by reporter Mike Engel on Gotham Tonight introduces both characters and establishes the setting a little bit. Gotham City is still reacting to the arrival of Batman. The crime rate is lowering and criminals are afraid, but the public is also unsure of how to treat this figure. We also briefly meet Det. Wuertz, who is assigned with trying to find Batman’s identity. The fact that his list of suspects are Elvis, Abe Lincoln, and the Sasquatch, suggest he is a curmudgeon and apathetic towards his job, foreshadowing his later actions. Furthermore, as the entire force is aware that Gordon communicates with Batman, this assignment is a bit of a joke. Finally, we meet Lt. Jim Gordon on the roof of the Gotham Major Crimes Unit building standing by the lit Bat-signal. He chats with Det. Ramirez, which simultaneously also reveals to the audience that her mother is in the hospital, foreshadowing her own actions as well.
The Chechen, a Gotham crime lord from Chechnya, is having a meeting with a drug dealer in the upper level of a parking garage. The dealer is revealed to be the Scarecrow and their dialogue only further reveals how handicapped Gotham’s criminal empire has become: the Scarecrow is the only drug dealer in the city not scared of Batman, and as his toxins have unpleasant effects, the Chechen’s clients are not pleased. Suddenly the meeting is interrupted by several “wannabe-Batmen;” it appears that an unfortunate side-effect of Batman’s campaign is that it has inspired imitators with makeshift costumes to try and be fellow vigilantes, though with inept results. Their use of gunfire makes it clear that they are not the real Batman. Eventually the Tumbler crashes in, but it is empty and only programmed to shoot in order to cause a distraction. Finally the real Batman makes his entrance in the film, thwarting the gunshot of one of the imitators and fighting with the various henchmen. While the Chechen is able to escape, Batman goes after the Scarecrow, and carefully times his jump to land on the Scarecrow’s van as soon as it passes the lower level of the garage. Dr. Jonathan Crane is caught and tied up, along with the imitators, and left for the police; Batman never kills anyone. This scene introduces us to our hero and makes one thing clear: he may have a lot of imitators, but Bruce Wayne is the only one who can do it right.
Gordon is chatting with Ramirez about the Joker and the bank heist when Batman appears in the room, almost magically [This is really stretching it. I can believe Batman appearing on rooftops unnoticed, but that he’s able to enter buildings and just appear in closed rooms is a bit hard to swallow. This is another occasion where a film that’s generally trying to be realistic reverts back to the comic book logic of its origins. In any case, Batman will continue to do this several times throughout the film]. Batman reveals he has been giving Gordon dollar bills marked by irradiation that undercover detectives have used to purchase drugs. Now they’ve been able to trace the mob’s funds to five banks and all Gordon needs is to get a Search and Seizure warrant approved in order to perform a bank raid. Batman asks if the new district attorney is trustworthy and Gordon simply acknowledges that the DA will want in. He also comments “He’s as stubborn as you” setting up a parallel between Batman and Harvey Dent that will last the whole film. The moment Batman gets his answer, he is gone. With Wayne Manor being rebuilt after the events of BATMAN BEGINS, Bruce Wayne now lives in a penthouse and Batman’s base of operations is a bunker under a shipping yard. His butler, Alfred Pennyworth, visits him in the “Bat-Bunker” and offers the sarcastic dry remarks that are the trademarks of his character, disapproving of his master’s reckless lifestyle while at the same time showing admiration for what he’s doing. Noticing Bruce’s scars and wounds, Alfred advises him to be aware of his limits. Bruce initially states that Batman has none, but also acknowledges he may meet that day soon.
[This sets up one of the film’s central themes: the limitations of Batman. It also establishes that Bruce Wayne is just a man, flawed like any other. A life as Batman has its repercussions. Can Bruce continue living this lifestyle?]
Gotham’s new district attorney is Harvey Dent, a man so beloved by Gotham that he is called “the White Knight.” He is dating his assistant: Rachel Dawes, who is Bruce’s old girlfriend and is aware of his secret identity. Dent has a laid-back, entertainer’s personality. He comes into court late, jokes with the concerned Rachel, and offers to flip a coin to decide who will lead the case. He claims to use a coin toss as a deciding factor for everything, including having gone out with Rachel. A coin toss is a symbol of blind chance and would appear to indicate that Dent lives life arbitrarily. The scene that follows pays homage to the traditional comic book depiction of how Dent became Two-Face. He prosecutes a hostile witness in order to incriminate mob boss Sal Maroni, who has taken over the Falcone criminal empire. However, rather than throwing the expected acid at Dent, the wiseguy pulls out a gun, which ends up misfiring with a pop and so he is instantly caught. Maroni ends up walking, but regardless, Dent’s popularity with the public has been cemented and Rachel asserts that the assassination attempt is a sign they are making progress. Dent then meets with Gordon over the warrant issue. As predicted, Dent figures out that Batman is involved and wants involvement. He also mentions that he has caught every single money-launderer in the city, and so these mob banks will be the fatal blow to what’s left of the criminal empire. He reluctantly agrees to issue the needed warrant. Over at Wayne Enterprises, a scene occurs that, as usual, has three different purposes: we are reintroduced to Lucius Fox and Bruce’s day job in the corporate world; we also meet the suspicious Chinese businessman Lau who is proposing a joint venture with Wayne Enterprises; finally, we meet employee Coleman Reese, a surly accountant who is dissatisfied with his job and his current assignment of investigating the books of Lau’s corporation. When Fox tells Bruce that he suspects Lau and his corporation are guilty of illegal “off the record” activities, Bruce reveals he already knew this and was only pretending to go forward with this deal to take a better look at Lau’s books. Later, Dent and Rachel run into Bruce and his date at a fancy restaurant and so dine together. Bruce, continuing his public image as a billionaire playboy buffoon, is dating a gorgeous Russian ballerina who he does not seem to be really interested in. The group discusses the ethics of Batman’s vigilantism, which Dent surprisingly approves of, comparing the situation to ancient Rome suspending democracy so that one man could protect the city. Rachel points out that this is how Caesar became emperor. Dent agrees and states the central theme of the film: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Batman’s heroism does have limits: he must eventually retire from being the city’s Official Protector once justice is served, or else a reign of vigilantism without rules or observance of the law will lead to totalitarianism, and “might makes right.” Bruce likes Dent and sees in him the ability to legitimize his campaign by handing the protector’s mantle over to this idealistic White Knight. He offers to throw Dent a fundraiser party.
[It is worth noting that Harvey Dent physically resembles Bruce Wayne, and the many things they share, from ideals to love of Rachel, make them “opposite sides of the same two-headed coin.” Batman’s goal throughout the rest of the film will be the protection of Dent’s legacy for the sake of Gotham. However, in addition to Dent, Batman has another doppelganger, whom we are about to meet.]
The next scene is perhaps the signature scene of the film, and the one in which we REALLY meet the character of the Joker. Gotham’s crime lords are having a meeting in the kitchen of a hotel to discuss the problem of their money. The group includes Maroni, the Chechen, another gangster named Gambol, their associates, and a strange businessman via satellite, who is revealed to be Lau! Lau explains that, as the cops have become aware of their banks, he will protect all their funds for them at a hidden location. As he is on his way back to Hong Kong, Dent will not be able to prosecute him and he will be protected by the Chinese government. Finally, he reveals that he has in fact already taken the mob’s money without their permission in order to beat the police. This is played over footage of Gordon leading a SWAT team on the bank raids, and discovering the vaults completely empty, aside from the marked bills. This meeting is interrupted by a creepy sarcastic laughter of “Hee-hee-hoo-haw-haw” and the Joker enters the room. He is a tiny, scrawny man in a purple suit and leather gloves, his face splattered in white makeup with black grease around his eyes, and his frizzed hair died green. Worst of all are the scars giving him a permanent grin. Rather than a traditional evil genius, the Joker comes off as socially awkward and even a little nerdy, speaking in a nasal Chicagoan accent. It certainly takes a lot of guts to walk into a room of gangsters you have just stolen from, but he knows they are desperate. He performs a “magic trick” with a pencil and kills one of Gambol’s henchmen in a single swoop without batting an eye (I still remember the shock, laughter, and applause this got in the cinema on my first viewing). He awkwardly explains to the mobsters that Batman has been the sole cause for the rise of cops and lawyers, taunting them by saying “Did your balls drop off?” Furthermore, Lau’s plan is flawed because, the Joker correctly predicts, even in Hong Kong, Batman will be able to find him and do what Dent can’t. Therefore, the only option the mob has for its survival is to kill Batman, which the Joker offers to do for half their funds. Fed up, Gambol pulls out a gun, but the Joker reveals he has explosives in his vest, the trigger tied to his thumb [Again, as much as this film tries to be as realistic as possible, little moments like these are reminiscent of classic comic book pulp]. Gambol still puts out a bounty on the Joker’s head, so our villain decides to exit, but leaves a Joker playing card as his “business card.”
Dent, Gordon, and Batman meet on the rooftop of MCU. Dent is furious that Lau has gotten away with the money [though it’s never explained how they are aware that Lau is the culprit. Didn’t the earlier scene make it clear that Lau was generally seen by the public as a legitimate businessman unless one took a close look at his company’s books?]. Clearly the mob, specifically Maroni, has undercover men working in their offices, but Gordon and Dent fight over whose office it is. Interestingly, Dent correctly calls out Wuertz and Ramirez, the two individuals who will be responsible for his transformation into Two-Face, as traitors, though Gordon refuses to consider them the problem. Batman only asks one question: if he catches Lau for them, will Dent be able to bring the mob to justice? The moment he gets a yes, he disappears. Gordon simply tells the confused Dent “He does that” [This scene is taken from The Long Halloween].
Gambol is shooting pool at his headquarters when several thugs come in, claiming to have killed the Joker. He inspects the body and falls for it; the moment he turns around, the Joker jumps up and holds him defenseless. Likewise, the thugs all manage to overpower Gambol’s men. The Joker tells a possible story of his origin and says his catchphrase “Why so serious?” before murdering Gambol [The Joker taunting us with conflicting origin stories pays tribute to his various origin stories in the comics. While Two-Face is always Harvey Dent, the Penguin is always Oswald Cobblepot, and Catwoman is always Selena Kyle except in the Halle Berry movie, the Joker is unique in never having a consistent identity. This particular Joker is one big mystery]. He then announces to Gambol’s three bodyguards that one of them may join his group, and throws a broken pool cue on the floor, for “try-outs.” The scene is ambiguous, but implies that the winner will be the one to kill the other two with this savage weapon.
The capture of Lau is a spectacular sequence. Bruce goes about preparing the effort with the amount of planning and diligence expected for a CIA sting operation, not a superhero. Fox enables him with a new Bat-suit as well as knowledge of skyhooks. Alfred then helps him secure a plane and a flight crew, and Bruce sets up an alibi by going on a publicized cruise with the entire Russian ballet, thus cancelling the performance that Rachel and Dent mentioned earlier that they were attending. On the boat, Bruce leaves Alfred with the ballerinas so he may fly undercover to Hong Kong [This alibi is pretty filmsy. The ballerinas are obviously going to figure out that their patron has disappeared for several days while they are at sea]. Once in Hong Kong, Fox visits Lau on the pretense of continuing their negotiations, and leaves a sonar cell phone in the building. He also equips Bruce with another cell phone that creates a sonar of the inside of the building. That night, the planted phone knocks out all security in the building, giving Batman enough time to swoop down from a high building, break through the window, fight off guards, capture Lau, destroy part of the building with a planted bomb, and escape the local authorities via his skyhook. The plane flies Batman towards Gotham, and Lau towards justice.
[Lau’s capture marks the end of the film’s first act and is notable for several reasons. It is a perfect example of something that Dent and traditional means of law could not accomplish and so a vigilante who follows no rules was necessary. Thus, Dent needs Batman. It also represents Batman driving the final blow to the pre-established criminal empire. Having now lost their banks and all other options, Maroni and the Chechen have nowhere to go. The only possible way they can survive is to turn to the Joker. However, the Joker, as we have seen, has just taken out Gambol and gained his muscle, and once unleashed, will only continue to grow in power. Lau’s defeat will be the fall of the mob and the rise of the Joker, and Gotham’s fate is uncertain.]
Lau is left on the doorstep of Gotham MCU with a note, asking he be delivered to Gordon. Once in custody, Lau makes a deal with Rachel and Dent. He won’t disclose the location of the money, knowing as long as it remains a secret then no one can kill him, so instead offers the names of his “clients.” Dent realizes that if he has their names, he can charge them with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (in other words, a RICO offense). Just as Maroni and the Chechen are meeting at a restaurant, discussing hiring the Joker, Gordon walks in and surprisingly arrests the entire mob, all on racketeering and conspiracy charges. Gordon is joined by his assistant, Det. Stephens, and Commissioner Loeb in bringing the large group of inmates to court, before Judge Surrillo. Going through the court papers she comes across a Joker playing card, and shrugs, putting it aside [Two other things are revealed upon a closer examination of the papers: Gotham City is indicated as being in Gotham State, and furthermore the story is dated as taking place in July 2008, around the time of the film’s release]. Dent meets with the Mayor who reprimands him for such an insane arrest; however, Dent points out that while the bosses will make bail [indeed, it seems that the Chechen and Maroni have already gotten out by the time this scene is occurring], the majority will be forced to cut deals to avoid prison, and in any case, the streets will be cleaner for at least a little while. The Mayor hesitantly agrees, but again points out that a lot is riding on Dent’s legacy as Gotham’s White Knight. The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of a corpse hanging from the rooftop. It is one of the wannabe Batman we saw earlier, tied to a Joker playing card saying “Will the real Batman please stand up.” Over at Wayne Penthouse, Bruce and Alfred are chatting when Engel appears on TV to reveal the videotape found with the corpse. The imitator had been captured and apparently tortured by the Joker who sadistically laughs at him. To give the imitator credit where it is due, he is brave up to the end, calling the Joker “scum” to his face. The Joker announces to his shaky handheld camera that until the real Batman reveals himself, people will be murdered daily. Bruce is unsure how to deal with this turn of events: now Batman has been turned into part of the problem.
At the party that evening, Dent and Rachel arrive to a penthouse filled with the wealthy elite, and finally Bruce arrives with several supermodels as his dates. By now, despite his heroic actions and ambitions, Dent has begun to show signs of his “two-faced-ness” in his aggressive attitude, and even more so, seems uncomfortable and anti-social in the crowd. Bruce gives a short speech for his honoree and states “I believe in Harvey Dent” (another reference to the comics). Afterward, Bruce spends a quiet moment with Rachel, confiding in her his hope that soon Gotham will no longer need Batman and he may retire to be with her, but she correctly feels that this is all a pipe-dream and she cannot be asked to wait. To Bruce, Rachel is not so much a love interest as an icon of the life he hopes to have. Dent pulls her aside and begins to propose to her, but she is unsure; she also has feelings for Bruce, but doesn’t know if he will ever stop being Batman. This is interrupted as the film begins jumping between parallel plotlines. Three traces of fingerprints have been found on the Joker card on the corpse: Loeb’s, Surrillo’s, and Dent’s, three victims whose deaths would surely put a stop to the current trial. Gordon quickly tries to prevent the assassinations, but fails. Surrillo is killed in a car bomb while on her way to a safe house and Loeb is killed when taking a sip of whiskey that turns out to be acid, confirming that there must indeed be a mole at MCU. Wuertz is sent to the party to escort Dent to safety, but arrives held at gunpoint by the Joker and his thugs [Though as Wuertz’s true allegiance is revealed later, perhaps he was never actually overpowered]. As the Joker crashes the party and begins his mayhem, Bruce quickly knocks out Dent and hides him: again, Dent is Batman’s top priority at the moment. He also passes by a couple making out and enters a secret compartment, appearing to them to be a coward. Back outside, the Joker terrifies everyone, eventually beginning to harass Rachel, and tells her a story of his origin, considerably different than the one he told Gambol. It is heavily implied that the Joker has no real origin story, but just simply exists as a symbol; perhaps inventing origin stories at will to satisfy his own sadism. Eventually Batman arrives and confronts him and fights off the thugs. The Joker retaliates by dropping Rachel out the window and Batman jumps out after her. Falling hard, he is able to catch her and the two slam hard into a taxi, very much alive.
[One consistent criticism of the film that most people had, including myself, is the way this party fight is resolved. A damsel in distress being thrown out the window and Batman jumping out to rescue her isn’t exactly new ground; in fact it has a lot of resemblance to the climax of Tim Burton’s first film on the character. But secondly, and more notably, is the fact that the scene just ends, leaving the Joker and his thugs in the penthouse with the guests. It does seem odd that they would just leave without causing any more mayhem, but the original screenplay does not reveal anything more to the scene, other than an extra short scene of the Joker riding off in his car and telling his thugs that he will get Dent later. So, as clumsy as it may seem, the answer is: yes, the Joker just leaves the party and all the guests alone].
The next day, Gordon and Stephens debate how the prosecution can continue when Dent surprises them by walking in as determined as ever [What happened to Dent after Bruce knocked him out and hid him in the apartment? Did he come to in his own apartment later that night? We’ll never know]. Meanwhile, at the Bat-Bunker, Bruce shares his worries about the bizarre criminal with Alfred. The Joker is a terrorist, unlike any criminal force Batman has yet dealt with. The mob is responsible for setting him loose, yet Alfred correctly suggests that the mob was unaware of what they were doing and turned to a man they didn’t quite understand and neither does Bruce. Batman “crossed the line” long before the Joker did. Most cops work for paychecks and must follow rules and procedures. Thus most criminals can simply bribe them or avoid them or find ways around them. Because Batman follows no rules and only has the incentive of justice itself, he has been able to do things cops cannot do (such as capture Lau) and destroy the entire mob system of Gotham. But now the Joker has come along and done the exact same thing in reverse. Criminals are also expected to follow certain rules: normally their crimes involve money or revenge, and they can be stopped or intimidated. Maroni and the Chechen are both examples of men who aren’t so much evil as just greedy and exploitative. The Joker IS evil and an agent of chaos, making him a super-villain, and the anti-Batman. Alfred compares the situation to a jewel-thief he encountered in Burma who stole for sport rather than profit, and thus he could not be caught or bullied. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
A lonely Batman stands atop a skyscraper, listening in to police transmissions. Eventually the Joker’s voice reports a crime scene. Batman arrives, along with Gordon and Ramirez, to see two corpses of anonymous men, whose surnames are Harvey and Dent. Ramirez shows her frustration with Batman and with Gordon for insisting on speaking with him alone. Batman retrieves a shattered bullet from the wall of the crime scene while Gordon soon discovers that the Joker has left a clue for his next victim in the form of a newspaper clipping: the Mayor. Over at Wayne Enterprises, Fox is confronted by the disgruntled Reese, who reveals that in continuing to look through the books, he has uncovered Batman’s identity. He reveals all he knows about the corporation funding Batman’s Tumbler and gadgets, as well as the R&D department working on a new government project, and finally attempts to blackmail the company. However, when Fox brings up Batman’s financial power and fighting ability, Reese wisely changes his mind and leaves the room.
Bruce has gone through an exaggeratedly-complex and meticulous effort to trace the bullet: he tests different kinds of bullets with sample bricks in the Bat-Bunker and using sonar is able to deduce what kind of bullet was used. He then uses Fox’s sonar to help visualize the bullet and find the fingerprint on it. Fox at this point questions Bruce about R&D being reassigned to a government project, but Bruce does not want to reveal too much. He then traces the fingerprint to a man named Melvin White who lives over the parade route that the mayor will be taking that day. He rides off the address. The parade is a funeral service for Commissioner Loeb [apparently Judge Surrillo is not important enough to get any kind of public memorial service] and is being heavily monitored by security on all sides in case of the Joker or any snipers. The Mayor begins his eulogy just as Bruce arrives at White’s apartment and discovers the honor guards from the ceremony are tied up and that a timer has just gone off, opening the shutters and distracting all security outside. Right at this moment, the “honor guards” in the ceremony, revealed to be the Joker and his men, open fire on the crowd. As usual, the Joker’s schemes are always puzzles outside the box; everyone is so concerned with how he will attack the ceremony, no one ever realizes he has managed to infiltrate the ceremony itself [This scene is notable in that it is the only time in the entire film we see the Joker without his clown makeup. It is also noteworthy that we never discover who Melvin White really is. It is possible that it is the Joker’s real identity, or that it is the name of one of his thugs whose apartment he used, or that it is someone else altogether, but the Joker simply used both his identity and apartment]. In the mayhem that follows, the crowd runs in wild panic and chaos, the Joker escapes, one of his goons goes down, the Mayor is protected, and Gordon is apparently killed. This is a fatal blow to all our characters and each one is pushed over the edge:
-Stephens must break the news to Gordon’s wife, who correctly guesses before he even says anything. She breaks down in sobs and blames the death on Batman, who listens solemnly. Later Stephens stands by the Bat-Signal, but it is clear Batman will not answer.
-Batman traces Maroni to a local nightclub with his mistress. He fights his way through bodyguards, far more violent and aggressively than normal, and captures Maroni. He attempts to torture Maroni by dropping him off a building, low enough so that the fall will not kill him but will fracture his legs. However, Maroni honestly knows nothing about the Joker or how to call him off, and even seems somewhat remorseful of having turned to him. The only option truly is for Batman to turn himself in.
-Dent carries the fallen goon to an ambulance, but rather than wait for the paramedic, drives off with him. Identically to Batman, he attempts to torture the goon, albeit mentally, by flipping his coin, asserting he will kill him if it comes up “tails.” Here, Dent is truly showing “the ugly side of his face.” Make no mistake about it; for all his idealism, here is a man who could truly be a villain under the right circumstances. And while we later find out that the coin is two-headed and so he is not seriously planning to murder the goon, this scene still shows that the idea of abandoning justice and leaving life and death up to chance has occurred to him. The goon is terrified but is unable to reveal anything. Eventually Batman arrives and reveals that the goon is a schizophrenic from Arkham who knows nothing.
[Although some criticized the film for having a supposed conservative agenda, this is untrue. While both Batman and Dent are both shown torturing captives to get information, both instances are shown as failures and the torture ends up revealing nothing.]
Batman is disgusted by how low both he and Dent have sunk, and realizes he cannot continue this way. He will, as Rachel said earlier, end up becoming like Caesar; the heinous acts that the Joker is pushing him to do, even if they are for the greater good, are turning Batman into a villain. Furthermore, the Joker is doing the same thing to Dent, his doppelganger. He again stresses the importance of Dent having a clean and honorable legacy so that he may be the White Knight. With no other alternative, Batman asks Dent to call a press conference where he will turn himself in. That night, he chats with Rachel, who has been urged by Dent to stay at his penthouse as the only safe haven in Gotham. Bruce reflects that turning himself in is in a sense a way of reaching his ultimate goal of retiring and letting Dent be his legitimate successor; yet ironically, being in jail will keep him from being with Rachel, the person he wanted to retire for. Rachel gives him a hesitant kiss, but is unsure if she wants the responsibility of being his hope for a normal life. The next morning, Bruce chats with Alfred, who advises against this. He reminds Bruce that Batman’s role is to be an outcast rather than a hero. He should be feared and hated by the people if it that’s what it takes to mean he is doing the right thing. This sets up the idea that Batman stands for something that is “beyond heroism.” However, Bruce insists that he cannot allow people to die and he has indeed reached his limits. Together they burn all the paperwork and evidence of the Batman campaign, trying to eliminate anything that would lead back to Fox or Rachel, then leave the bunker, preparing to face the music.
[Of course, Bruce is currently unaware of Coleman Reese. If Bruce had indeed turned himself in, Reese may have stepped forward with his evidence and revealed Fox’s involvement. Also, I am curious if Bruce would really have let Alfred go to jail with him. Most likely he would have used as much of his power as he could to make sure Alfred got off lightly.]
At the press conference, Dent stands before an angry and frightened crowd who demand Batman show himself (clearly they have come to blame Batman for the Joker’s crimes). Dent again stresses that they need to have faith in the good Batman is doing and that “the dawn is coming.” He also points out that Gotham’s citizens were more than happy to let Batman clean their streets and do their dirty work, and only now after the Joker’s terrorism are they asking him to pay for it. However, as the crowd still demands Batman, Dent agrees to have him arrested…and turns himself in. The crowd is shocked at Dent’s “confession” and begins to show signs of remorse. Perhaps it dawns on them that Batman was someone who really cared about their well-being, and they have just tossed him away. Bruce simply stands in shock and does nothing. Back at the penthouse, Rachel confronts Alfred about this turn of events. Though Alfred is himself surprised, he again states that he feels Batman should not be sacrificed for the whims of a terrorist. By remaining silent, Bruce is allowing Dent to get the credit of heroism while he himself is in the shadows; again, what Batman does goes “beyond heroism.” However, Rachel simply interprets Bruce’s actions as cowardice and a refusal to let go of being Batman, and so she leaves a note for Bruce with Alfred, and says her final goodbye to the old butler [Bruce’s inaction does come as a bit of a surprise, but we as the audience know that it is not due to cowardice at all; Bruce was perfectly willing to turn himself in. Perhaps we can conclude that once Dent turned himself in, Bruce quickly realized that to step forward would have just confused the situation. He also no doubt correctly realized that Dent’s ultimate goal was to lure out the Joker for capture, and that he as the real Batman would be needed in this]. Rachel meets Dent at his holding cell where he admits he has planned this to set himself up as bait for the Joker. As they are led through the building by cops, we see Stephens applauding at what he believes is Batman’s capture. Rachel tries as hard as she can to talk him out of it, pointing out Batman’s consistent failure against capturing the Joker, but he does not listen and simply flips his lucky coin, claiming to use the toss as the deciding factor. Rachel catches it and finally learns that it has always been a two-headed coin. She watches as Dent is led into an armored truck and taken off to central holding.
[We don’t see what happens to Rachel next, but presumably it is at this point that she is given a ride by Ramirez. The revelation that Dent’s coin is two-headed completely alters much of our perception of the character. It reveals that, despite being constantly told he is leaving major decisions to chance, he actually leaves nothing to chance. Everything in his life is planned out so that the outcome will always be in his favor. This is why he is such a diligent lawyer and has been so successful: every time he gambles, he can only win. This makes him the perfect symbol of order and balance…but that’s about to change.]
The armored truck is led by several police cruisers through Gotham. As with the parade, the police go to every possible measure they can to prevent an attack, but the Joker will trick them all by thinking outside the box. A burning fire truck forces the procession of cop cars to take a detour down an exit ramp where they are easy targets. A trash compactor arrives and begins knocking the squad cars off the road. Just as the SWAT team begins to prepare for backup, they too are knocked off into the river by a mysterious truck. An S on the side of the mysterious truck turns the word Laughter into Slaughter. The Joker reveals himself inside the truck and begins shooting at the armored truck, first with a regular handgun, and then with an RPG. Eventually the real Batman arrives in the Tumbler, jetting down the parkway and successfully putting the trash compactor out of commission. Just as the Joker shoot another RPG, the Tumbler comes riding up and “takes a bullet” for the armored truck, which leads it to crash. The armored truck manages to escape, the mysterious truck, now with the Joker in the driver’s seat, chases after it, and Batman comes flying out of the Tumbler on his Bat-Pod, leaving the car to self-destruct behind him. Now out in the open air, the Joker has his goons knock out a police chopper, which lands right in the middle of the street, but the armored car manages to survive. Meanwhile Batman cruises on his Bat-Pod through the streets, destroying cars and property, and even taking a detour through an indoor mall in a scene reminiscent of The Blues Brothers [Normally I hate it when action movies have heroes that randomly destroy public property without concern for others simply for the sake of an action scene, as is common in Michael Bay films. However, here it can be explained as being part of the recklessness Batman has to deal with, and thus continuing the theme that the Joker is bringing out the worst in him]. Eventually, he is able to shoot his cables at the mysterious truck, causing it to flip over. The Joker emerges from the wreckage and stands tall, playing a game of chicken with Batman on his Bat-Pod. Sure enough, Batman swerves at the last minute, crashing and being knocked unconscious. His refusal to kill his enemies has literally brought him down. Before the Joker can execute him, the SWAT team has descended upon him…led by Gordon! Gordon reveals he staged his death in order to protect his family, though it is left unclear how many people were aware of his deception [Of course no serious Batman fan could possibly have thought Gordon was really dead. Jim Gordon is a major character in the Batman canon and to kill him off so early in Batman’s career, before he’s even been made commissioner, would have been too heavy a departure]. Meanwhile, the Joker and his cronies from the truck are captured and taken in. Although he did intend to kill Batman, the fact that he chose to do it in the way he did, when the situation would be so heavily monitored by cops, suggest that the Joker had planned all along on getting caught. Dent is released from the armored car and, as it is now pretty obvious to every witness present that he is not the real Batman, he is released. He is applauded, as popular as ever, and led to a car.
[And so it now seems that we are at the polar opposite of where we were 24 hours earlier in the story: the Joker is caught, Gordon is alive and well, Dent is a hero, and Batman is off the hook with his secret identity in tact. But things are just too good to be true. As Dent gets in the car, one can see that Wuertz is the driver and that Ramirez gives him a signal. As they drive off, the camera closes in subtly on Ramirez’s guilty face].
At MCU, Gordon and his men use every possible safety precaution in dealing with their precious arrest, and as usual, this only foreshadows how much the Joker will inevitably outsmart them all. With no fingerprints on record or any form of identification, the Joker appears to have no secret identity; he is not a civilian, he is simply the Joker. The Mayor congratulates Gordon on his capture, promotes him to commissioner, and sends him home, where he is affectionately slapped by his wife. However, Gordon is given only a few minutes to reveal to kids he is alive before being called back in. He meets with the Joker in an interrogation room and questions him about Dent’s disappearance, and the Joker playfully reveals that perhaps Gordon’s unit is not as trustworthy as thought. “Does it depress you to know just how alone you really are?” he says gleefully. Seeing this is getting him nowhere, Gordon leaves the room and Batman, whose magical powers at entering rooms have become quite proficient, takes over and beats the Joker savagely. Batman displays a level of aggressive violence never seen before in the character, surpassing even his torture of Maroni. It is again a sign that, like Caesar, being a vigilante without rules will lead to him being a villain himself. However, the Joker appears to view Batman as his colleague and does not wish to kill him (even though he was trying pretty hard in the previous scene, but then again, maybe the Joker doesn’t really need a consistent plan). He predicts that the system of cops vs. mobsters is over and a period of pure chaos and disorder is starting. Similar to Satan in the Book of Job, he bets with Batman that he can show him the average man is basically savage and evil, like him. Throughout this scene, his makeup has begun to fade and he is seen for the first time without gloves, giving him a certain vulnerability. Growing restless and needing to know Dent’s location, Batman continues to beat up the Joker, until it is progressively revealed that Rachel has been kidnapped as well and only one of the two will be saved. The Joker inflicts one of his trademark moral dilemmas on him: Batman’s one rule is that he never kills anyone, yet because he can only save one, he is forced to have to indirectly murder the other. He continues to beat up the Joker, but as the Joker is a masochist who doesn’t fear death, he laughs and explains “You have nothing you can threaten me with.” Finally, he reveals the two addresses, and Batman runs off to save Rachel while Gordon and his unit head to find Dent [Despite being able to magically appear inside rooms, Batman still needs to run out of the room when there is an emergency. In any case, this scene again shows the folly of torturing prisoners, as physically abusing the Joker did not ultimately help Batman or give him information he wouldn’t have gotten anyway].
The film frantically cuts back and forth between about four different scenes. Dent is revealed to be tied up in a basement apartment filled with diesel fuel while Rachel is tied in a similar warehouse. Both are connected via speaker-phone and try to talk each other through this, but not before Dent accidentally trips the chair backwards and gets the left half of his face covered in gasoline. Meanwhile, the Joker has been left in the interrogation room alone with Stephens [Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have just put him in a padded cell or even a straight jacket? I realize Gordon and his men left in a hurry and so didn’t have much time to think what to do with the prisoner, but if Stephens is still in charge, surely he could have come up with somewhere better to keep him]. The Joker successfully manipulates Stephens into giving him a beating, overpowers him, and uses his hostage as leverage to make a phone call, which sets off the cell phone-bomb inside one of his henchmen. The explosion knocks out the remaining force. The Joker then lets Lau out of his cell and escapes with his prey. Back at the warehouse, Rachel tells Dent she loves him and finally answers his proposal with a yes, just as Batman arrives at his destination to discover the Joker’s hideous prank: the addresses were switched and he has instead arrived at Dent’s location. Hence the Joker not only forced Batman to choose between these two captives, but to then lose the one he chose. Regardless, Batman still rescues Dent, who all the while screams in outrage that Rachel should be saved, not he. The look on Rachel’s face, thinking Batman has chosen Dent over her, and accepting her death will occur within seconds, is truly heartbreaking. Gordon arrives outside, but it is too late. Both buildings explode, the half of Dent’s face covered in fuel is quickly burned away, and Rachel Dawes is killed.
[And so things are now at their polar opposite once more: the Joker, having clearly wanted to get caught all along so he could kidnap Lau, is again on the loose, Dent has been incapacitated, the case for his entire prosecution has fallen apart, and Bruce’s love and icon of a possible stable future has been killed. This is a crushing blow to everyone, and Batman has truly failed.]
At dawn, Alfred reads Rachel’s letter, in which she openly states her choice to marry Harvey Dent. She voices her doubt that Bruce will ever give up being Batman, and even if he does, makes it clear she will only ever be his friend. The letter is heartfelt and poignant to hear having just seen her death. This footage is intercut with Batman going over the wreckage and finding Harvey’s two-headed coin near Rachel’s body. He sneaks into Dent’s hospital room and leaves it with him. Back at the penthouse, Bruce mopes in silence, guilt-ridden with all that has happened. Has creating Batman ultimately killed his beloved? Alfred tries to cheer him up and stresses that Gotham still needs him right now. Rachel’s death ultimately motivates Bruce to continue his fight, and thus Alfred quickly snatches up Rachel’s letter from view. Bruce, believing that Rachel would really have chosen him once he retired from being Batman, decides that Dent must never know this shattering truth, ironically making the same decision that Alfred is making for him. Meanwhile, Dent awakens in his hospital room and finds the coin beside him. Despite Batman meaning well in returning it to him, seeing its scared side ends up being a painful reminder of her fate. Soon Gordon comes to visit him and learns Dent has refused skin grafts and is choosing to remain in his deformed state [In reality, immediate surgery would be needed for Dent to still be alive and under no circumstances would he be able to speak as clearly as he does or make certain facial expressions, but hey, this is a comic book movie]. Gordon is unsure whether or not Wuertz is a traitor and has no idea who it was who picked up Rachel [Okay, seriously? No one on the force noticed how Rachel left the station? There’s no record of it at all?] but Dent is bitter and insane and has no interest in helping him. He also embraces his nickname “Two-Face” and luaghs at the poetic irony that his “two-faced-ness” is now open for the world to see. Upon leaving the room, Gordon encounters the handicapped Maroni who, knowing things have gone too far, offers to turn in the Joker. Now that he has Lau, the Joker finds where the money has been hidden over at the docks. He takes his half and prepares to meet with the Chechen. True, his original deal was to kill Batman, but given that he knows where the money is, he has the power to negotiate a new deal. In any case, the Chechen doesn’t seem to mind Batman still being alive as capturing Lau and incapacitating Dent has been good enough of a favor. However, the Joker berates the Chechen for caring only about money, and thus burns his half of the money, in the process murdering Lau, and takes the Chechen captive. When the Chechen states that his men will not work for a freak, the Joker makes a great analogy by feeding him to his own dogs, stating “See what loyalty a hungry dog has.” And so, with his original clients disposed of, the Joker has now inherited their muscle and is the most powerful man in Gotham.
Meanwhile, Coleman Reese has agreed to appear on Gotham Tonight to publically reveal the identity of Batman in a much hyped interview [If Reese had been smart, he would simply have tipped the media off anonymously in exchange for a large sum and gotten out of Gotham. True, the Joker might have caught him anyway, but it certainly would have been better than appearing on a major television show with a lot of hype]. The Joker calls the show during a live promotional interview and, contrary to his previous demand, now states that he wants Batman to continue his campaign, and so puts out a public bounty for Reese’s life, or else a major hospital will explode. This call ends up diverting Gordon and his unit, who were in fact about to lead a SWAT team to capture the Joker. Pandemonium ensues as citizens on all sides try to kill Reese, proving that people are indeed uncivilized once the chips are down. Gordon escorts Reese into a cruiser, but not before being fired at. Meanwhile, Bruce speeds down in his Lamborghini, correctly assessing that the men in Gordon’s unit who have family members in hospitals may not be trusted. This is in fact the case with the officer sitting across from Reese. As Gordon asks him for his gun, he begins to panic. At just the right moment, Bruce drives his Lamborghini in front of another driver and would-be assassin, thus simultaneously saving Reese from two separate attempts. Gordon thanks the seemingly-hapless Bruce who has no idea what’s going on. This scene is a nice reminder that, despite all the time they have spent chatting together, Gordon really has no idea who Batman’s secret identity is. Reese comes out of the car and recognizes his savior. Interestingly, we never see Reese again in the film, but given that he was aware Bruce Wayne saved him, he most likely abandoned his attempt to expose him.
The Joker doesn’t really care about Reese, but is just using the threat in order to have the hospital evacuated so he can see his next target. He enters Dent’s room wearing a nurse’s outfit, and lets him loose. Being in drag gives the Joker a certain effeminate charm, aided again by the lack of his usual gloves. The Joker manages to win over Dent in a seduction worthy of Richard III or even, to continue the Biblical theme, the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Despite Dent’s rage, the Joker states that life is meaningless and without rules; no matter how much we plan it, we all live or die arbitrarily. This makes sense to Dent; after all, Rachel’s death has been senseless, and despite all his efforts to bring order to Gotham, he has been the victim of chance. And so it is that THE DARK KNIGHT becomes a tragedy and Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face, an offspring of the Joker, a “Joker Jr.,” or even a “Dent-Conquered-By-Joker.” But whereas the Joker is militantly evil and inflicts chaos on everyone, Two-Face is more amoral. Now that his two-headed coin does in fact reveal two very different “faces,” he flips it for every victim, giving everyone the same 50-50 chance of life or death. This seems fair; isn’t it the same chance any of us ultimately have? He points his gun at the Joker and flips. At this point, the film cuts away to the Reese plotline and by the time it cuts back, we only see the Joker exiting the room and washing his hands. Did something more happen that we didn’t see? It does seem odd to believe that Two-Face would just allow the Joker to leave, even if the coin came up clean. Perhaps the Joker has had to do something else to him, which is why he is washing his hands. Then again, the screenplay doesn’t reveal anything more nor mention the hand-washing, so perhaps it was improvised. The Joker exits the building and, as promised, blows up the hospital behind him before driving off in a bus filled with patients who were being evacuated. He gets away with fifty hostages, including reporter Engel.
Two-Face somehow has the time to get dressed in a suit and tie and then begins his revenge. He first confronts Wuertz at a bar, who claims it’s his day off [Has he been fired? Pretty much everyone on the force should’ve figured out by now he is a traitor. The fact he was Dent’s driver the previous evening is pretty much the smoking gun]. Wuertz doesn’t know who the other traitor is, so Two-Face simply flips his coin and murders him. By chance. He next goes after Maroni, knocking out his bodyguard before entering his limo. Maroni, visibly frightened, admits that the other traitor was Ramirez. Two-Face then flips his coin and despite it coming up clean, he flips again for the driver and shoots him, indirectly also killing Maroni [It certainly is interested how these sequence of events have played out opposite the comics. The traditional story is that Sal Maroni is the character responsible for Dent’s disfigurement. In this version, it’s the Joker and men on Maroni’s payroll who’ve been responsible. Maroni himself is only partially responsible and even shows remorse. In any case, his death is the final nail in the coffin of the Gotham mob. They are now no more]. Finally, Two-Face traces Ramirez and forces her to call Gordon’s family and lure them out to the spot Rachel died. Ramirez insists that her betrayal was to raise money for her mother’s medical bills, but Two-Face doesn’t care. He flips his coin, it comes up clean, and so he just punches her out.
[By now it’s becoming clear that Two-Face isn’t exactly playing fair. Even though the coin toss came up clean for Maroni, he still flipped again for the driver, who had nothing to do with anything. Presumably, flipping for the driver was just an excuse to indirectly kill Maroni anyway. Likewise, the coin has come up clean for Ramirez, but he still punches her out. We don’t know what happened with the Joker but presumably it came up clean again. If something more happened, it might explain why he was washing his hands].
Meanwhile, the Joker announces to Gotham via video footage of the captured Engel that he is taking over the city and anyone still there by that evening will be playing by his rules. He also threatens anyone who takes the bridge and tunnel. Fox finally learns what Batman’s government project is: using the sonar technology he has turned every single cell-phone into a map of the city, and can monitor all calls. Fox is alarmed by how unethical this is, and despite Batman’s arguments, claims that he will resign after helping out this one time [Again, despite some critics feeling the film has a conservative agenda, Batman’s “need” for wire-tapping is balanced by Fox’s adamant disapproval and the fact that the Joker later seems to want Batman to come to him anyway. Interesting how in the film SE7EN, Morgan Freeman‘s character gave a speech defending similar Patiot Act practices]. With pandemonium having broken out, highways backed up, and the bridge and tunnel not considered an option due to the threat, citizens are forced to evacuate by ferries and Gordon insists that Gotham’s prisoners be evacuated as well as they would be dangerous to get stuck with, which is a bit of a contrived reason but it works as a plot device. That evening, a ferry filled with inmates and a ferry filled with civilians are both crossing the river when they lose power and discover that there are explosives on board, along with the detonator for the other boat. The Joker’s voice comes on the speakers and announces his latest moral dilemma: at midnight he will blow up both boats, but will spare one of them should that boat choose to blow up the other first [How could the Joker possibly have planned for inmates being shipped out when we saw Gordon make this decision only hours ago?]. The passengers on both boats debate what to do; the citizens, though hesitant, feel it makes no sense for them to die when the prisoners are murderers and thieves; yet if they go through with it, wouldn’t they then be guilty of the greatest crime of all? The prisoners are not directly given a choice, but it’s clear that the guards and ferrymen with them are scared of dying as well. Besides, if the inmates were blamed for detonating the other boat, it’s not like they would have anything to lose. Both sides become increasingly more terrified as they figure the other side will choose first.
Thanks to the wire-tapping, Batman has traced the Joker to the Prewitt Building and so rushes just in time find Gordon leading a SWAT team on the building, where they already have clear shots on doctors and patients being held hostage by goons in clown masks. By now Batman has figured out that there is always a twist when it comes to the Joker, and so insists on going in alone first. Sure enough, he finds that the “doctors” and “patients” are in fact the goons while the real hostages are in the ones in the clown masks. This puts Batman in the difficult position of having to battle with not only the goons but the SWAT team members as they begin to raid the building. In what is probably the most “comic book-ish” sequence of the film, Batman is able to single-handedly take them all out, while led by Fox’s instructions to find the Joker in the penthouse. Batman eventually reaches the top floor and survives an attack of the Chechen’s dogs before fighting the Joker himself who pins him down in time for the fireworks. Yet Batman has strong faith that there “won’t be any fireworks,” and his optimism in the human race appears to be rewarded. Neither boat ends up going through with it; despite the citizens voting to blow up the prisoners, no one is willing to do it, not even the man who volunteers for it. The warden on the prisoners’ ferry is hesitant, until a large tattooed prisoner offers to do the right thing…and he stuns everyone by throwing the detonator out the window [Some criticized the film as racist for its portrayal of this character as a stereotyped prison thug, and the fact that he does the right thing ends up making him a more realistic John Coffey from THE GREEN MILE]. The Joker is in shock that Gotham has not gone through with his social experiment; it is the first time we truly see him defeated. The scene calls to mind his earlier comment to Gordon; now it is the Joker who sees how alone he truly is. Before the Joker can begin to blow up the ferries himself, Batman shoots him with his scallop blades and fights back, sending the Joker falling to what would likely be his doom [This was exactly how Jack Nicholson’s Joker met his end]. Yet Batman saves him with his grapple. Caught, the Joker laughs and further cements the notion that he is Batman’s doppelganger. The two of them are forces who cannot kill each other and thus will be locked in conflict for all eternity. The Joker, like Satan, is an evil that exists eternally and wants Gotham’s soul. He now reveals to Batman his final scheme: that he has corrupted Harvey Dent. Learning the truth, Batman leaves, just as the SWAT team finally arrive and capture the Joker.
[The Joker does seem to exit the film a bit abruptly. This led to a lot of Internet rumors and speculation that perhaps more closure had been planned for the character but had been affected by Heath Ledger’s death, and that the Two-Face plotline was “tacked on” to the end of the film to make up for this. In truth, production on the film wrapped a full four months before Ledger’s death, and the film’s screenplay matches the final cut very well. No, the Joker’s plotline was intended to end with his capture, leaving him to be sent presumably to Arkham Asylum, where he will continue to be an existing evil force in Gotham. Evil is surmountable, but never truly vanquished. THE DARK KNIGHT chooses to climax not with a typical hero vs. villain comic book fight, as BATMAN BEGINS did, but by focusing on Harvey Dent’s soul, which has been its true focus from the start].
Gordon, having been informed by Two-Face that his family is being held hostage, arrives at the spot where Rachel was killed. Two-Face quickly overpowers him and blames him for having kept crooked cops like Wuertz and Ramirez in his unit. Gordon tries to reason that he only did this to close in on the mob. This revelation implies that even Gordon has fallen prey to “seeing himself become the villain.” His efforts to eradicate the mob, a just cause, caused him to have to, like Caesar, do immoral things like work with those on Maroni’s payroll…and Dent is the one who’s paid for it. Two-Face threatens to kill the family member Gordon loves most, eventually deciding on his son, when Batman arrives. Batman gives Two-Face the opposing message that the Joker did: it isn’t blind chance that kills people but the results of others. Rachel death, though tragic, occured as a result of the good deeds that the three of them were doing and furthermore it is specifically because Dent was the best of them that the Joker went after him so strongly. The irony is that here, at the end of this tragic tale, it would seem that our heroes have succeeded: Gotham’s mob is no more and the Joker has been caught and temporarily stopped, and yet our heroes stand dealing with what they have had to pay to get here. Two-Face flips his coin and shoots Batman, then flips for himself, and then finally prepares to take Gordon’s son, when Batman rises from the dead (just like Jesus, folks. It’s Bat-Christ!) and knocks Two-Face off the edge of building, simultaneously rescuing Gordon’s son and disarming Two-Face. Gordon rejoins Batman and both look at the corpse: Two-Face is dead.
[Two-Face’s short lifespan of only one day confused and annoyed many critics of the film, but within the context of this version of the character, it really works best. To have this version of Two-Face living on for further adventures would not have been successful, in my humble opinion, as his goals were fairly immediate. The truth is, Harvey Dent is much more interesting than Two-Face, and the story of an idealistic district attorney falling to tragedy, which is what most of this film is about, is more compelling than the story of a super-villain doing evil crimes, which is perhaps what most people were expecting and what the Two-Face of Batman Forever gave us. Furthermore, the narrative worked in a unique way that makes Two-Face the direct offspring of the Joker, and so the story is able to work as a stand-alone tale.]
So, I ask you, has the Joker won? It would seem that he was right in his assertion that the best of men may be corrupted. Even though the citizens of Gotham did not resort to killing Coleman Reese, it’s clear that he would’ve been had Bruce not interfered. The passengers on the ferry did not kill each other, but only just barely. And now, Two-Face may be taken care of and Gordon’s family has been saved, but regardless, nothing can change the fact that Harvey Dent, the most beloved man in Gotham, was corrupted and committed several murders. Ultimately, it would appear to be a tie; Batman has won overall, but the Joker has partially won, and there is no one clear victor. Once the word of Dent’s crimes gets out, the people of Gotham will be demoralized at losing their White Knight, and all the men he locked away will be able to get appeals. It’s impossible to pin these crimes on the Joker, who is already in custody, and it would be against Batman’s ethics to blame them on anyone else. There is only one other option left.
Batman must die for Harvey Dent’s sins.
Batman offers to take the blame for the murders. Him and Dent are “swapping identities” in a sense so that Dent can be seen as a hero and be made into a martyr for the sake of Gotham City while Batman will be the one who became corrupted. Dent, like Caesar, ended up “becoming the villain.” Now, through this plan, it will be Batman who ironically “becomes the villain” in the minds of Gotham. Gordon takes on the role of an Apostle as he stands in awe of the sacrifice this Saviour is making, but as Batman explains, he made himself a hero when it was what Gotham needed to believe in good, and now Gotham needs him to be a villain so that they can believe in Dent. He explains that sometimes people need to be lied to when the truth isn’t good enough; this line is played over footage of Alfred burning Rachel’s note. Just as Batman wants Gotham to believe for their own good that Dent was a hero, Alfred wants him to believe that Rachel really loved him, as this belief is what motivates his heroism. His final line, “sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded,” is played over Fox putting the sonar machine on self-destruct, and restoring his own faith in the Batman campaign. Batman runs off as the police chase after him, as if he were a common criminal. Through a slightly unnecessary and admittedly corny final exchange, Gordon explains to his son his admiration for this hero, giving a monologue that suggests he’s talking more to the audience than to his boy. He refers to Batman as “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs.” This is an inverse of what we see he will later say at Dent’s funeral, implying that Dent is the hero needed, and Batman is the one deserved. He finally concludes that, echoing Alfred’s earlier comment, what Batman does is beyond heroism. Batman is the guardian who must be persecuted and outcast by the very people he is defending. To be persecuted and an outcast is the price Batman must pay for justice to be served.
Harvey Dent could be a legitimate hero and a White Knight.
Batman, riding off on his Bat-Pod, is a Dark Knight.