The Alcott Analysis: The Dark Knight

Two summers later, I am still quite taken with The Dark Knight. I have not encountered an American movie — much less an American movie, designed to be a gigantic blockbuster and based on a hugely popular comic book — that is structured as ingeniously and compellingly as this one. I’ve simply never seen anything like it, and after several viewings it still continues to flabbergast.

I’ve worked on a handful of these types of movies as a screenwriter, and let me tell you: they’re hard. They’re really hard. There are so many issues for the writer to address: the protagonist must be active, the villain’s plot must make sense, there must be a romantic interest, there must be due attention paid to the history of the character and the rules of the genre, they must be both fantastic and grounded at the same time. All these balls must be kept in the air and these concerns must mesh in a straightforward, compelling, swift, action-packed cinematic narrative, consistent in tone and true to its source material. I haven’t seen one — not one — that has managed to get everything in and do everything right. None of the Superman movies do it, none of the previous WB Batman movies do it, none of the Spider-Man movies do it, neither of the Fantastic Four movies do it, and, even after 22 tries, none of the Bond movies do it either. (The Iron Man movies come close — really close.) But The Dark Knight not only does a better job than any other movie based on its source material — and by that I mean “superhero comics” — it does it with a radically ambitious screenplay that challenges any number of conventions and brings a new, added weight to its subject.

It kind of shocks me that there are people out there who hate this movie — hate it, in a way that only the internet can inspire. Complaints seem to swirl around a number of side issues — Batman’s “growly voice,” passive protagonist, not enough Two-Face, etc. Since I’m going to mostly refrain from nit-picking in my analysis, here’s where I stand on most of the issues brought up by the Dark Knight discontents:

1. Batman’s “growly voice” does sound a little silly.

2. I do not think Batman is a passive character. In fact, I don’t consider Batman to be much of a character at all. Bruce Wayne is the protagonist of The Dark Knight, he is an active protagonist in every sense of the word I can think of, and “the Batman” is a costume he puts on when he goes out to fight crime. This sounds like hair-splitting but I think is a key to understanding the success of the narrative and the world Nolan builds here.

3. I did want to see more of Two-Face, because I like Two-Face, but I don’t feel like his story is rushed or tacked-on. Visually, it feels like a pretty big gimme to ask the audience to behold the unspeakable horror of a guy with half a face, only to then kill him off forty- five minutes later, but dramatically I have no complaints, and as we move forward I’ll make my case for that.

4. The Joker’s plans are complicated and slightly fanciful, but gee whiz, compared to what? Compared to the Penguin’s army of rocket-laden penguins in Batman Returns? Compared to Poison Ivy’s plot to team up with Mr. Freeze to freeze Gotham City (using a giant telescope) in order for plants to take over the world in Batman and Robin? Compared to Ras Al Ghul’s plot to microwave Gotham’s water supply with his magic microwave-gun in Batman Begins? If you ask me, the Joker’s ability to wire a hospital with explosives in The Dark Knight on short notice is a model of logic and circumspection compared to, say, Lex Luthor’s plot to build a new continent in Superman Returns.

5. Ditto Bruce Wayne’s sonar-cell-phone device. As a fantastic gadget, it has the icy breath of the plausible compared to some of the things Batman’s lugged around over his decades of public service. The fantastic elements of The Dark Knight, I feel, are the screenplay’s nods to convention and the source material — Batman without at least one moment of “now, wait a minute” would hardly feel like Batman.

6. The action scenes: some people find them incoherent. I don’t agree. I don’t know what else to say about it — I have not had trouble following the action in The Dark Knight, not the first time and not when I’ve watched it since.

7. To some people, The Dark Knight contains some sort of a political message. If one is intended, I can’t make head or tail of it. The Dark Knight deals with a lot of real-life civic issues, but it remains a drama, not a treatise. If I was supposed to vote for John McCain or something because of watching this movie, well, then I guess it’s a failure. David Mamet once said that the only question in an audience’s head during a movie should be “What happens next?” The screenwriter’s job is to keep the audience interested in the story. When the screenwriter does his job well, the audience gets sucked into the story and experiences the thrill of drama. When he does his job very well, the thrill of the experience is so powerful that the audience comes back again and again, even though they know how the story turns out. Spectacle may amaze and movie stars may charm, but if the screenwriter has not done his job well, the movie will still turn out bad and the audience will stay home. The Dark Knight engages the audience on a level unseen in movies lately, and does so while employing a number of bold innovations, which I will discuss as we move forward.

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ACT I begins with a heist sequence: The Joker has hired a bunch of goons to rob a bank owned by The Mob. We know, although the goons do not, that the Joker is, in fact, part of the masked crew. As the robbery unfolds, we learn that the Joker’s plan involves the goons killing each other as each one completes his job, leaving him to make off with the money. What do we learn from this sequence? Well, we learn that the Joker is meticulous in his planning and duplicitous in his intent. No one is safe when he is around. He lies when it suits his purpose — his goal is not to impress people with his wisdom but to get them to do something.

Further, we learn that he is brave enough, or foolish enough, or crazy enough, to steal money from The Mob. Maybe it’s “crazy enough,” since we also learn that, under his clown mask, he wears another clown mask. (The Joker’s makeup is one of the boldest design choices made in The Dark Knight — it’s disturbing enough to look at, but it’s even more disturbing when we consider the mind of the person who decides to go out in public looking like that.)

The robbery also marks a shift in the crime world of Gotham City: whereas once, crime was controlled by “traditional” gangsters, men possessing time-honored notions of respect (they’re running banks, you don’t get much more respectable than that), the Joker represents something new: an amoral, brilliant rogue without respect for anything. (We don’t yet know why the Joker is stealing the Mob’s money, but we will in time.) The force and density of this sequence often leads people to believe that the Joker is actually the protagonist of The Dark Knight, as he seems to set events into motion. We will soon learn that the Joker’s actions are, in fact, a direct result of actions made by protagonist Bruce Wayne. Beginning a narrative in medias res is a good strategy for any movie and The Dark Knight exploits it well, but “the guy you meet first” is not necessarily the protagonist of the movie.

That opening delivers a great deal of narrative for a thrilling six-minute action sequence, and the density of the screenplay does not let up from there. Next, there are a number of brief scenes outlining the current state of crime Gotham City. The mere idea of Batman, we learn, is scaring ordinary criminals off the streets — one could say that Batman is, in his own way, a terrorist, practicing asymmetrical warfare on the Mob, upsetting the status quo of the criminal population, creating a kind of crime vacuum, which allows a costumed freak like the Joker to flourish. The police, we learn, under Jim Gordon’s leadership, encourage Batman’s activities while telling the press otherwise (the Joker is not the sole purveyor of duplicity). We also meet, briefly, detectives Wuertz and Ramirez, who will become important later on.

As street criminals head indoors, the Bat-signal shines over a meeting between a “traditional” gangster, The Chechen, and The Scarecrow, another new costumed freak in the Joker mold. I’m not sure what the point of the meeting between The Chechen and The Scarecrow is, but it seems The Chechen has a beef with The Scarecrow. Again, it comes down to an issue of trust — this new breed of criminals is just not trustworthy. The meeting gets interrupted by a group of imitation Batmen, vigilantes inspired by Batman’s example but lacking his bottomless income. They try to take in Messrs Scarecrow and Chechen, but soon enough the “real” Batman shows up to set things straight. “What’s the difference between you and me?” asks one of the would-be Batmen. “I’m not wearing hockey pads,” growls Batman in return — meaning what, exactly? “I spent more money on my suit, therefore I have a greater moral right to be above the law?” Or does Bruce Wayne merely think of himself as “special,” because of the physical and mental work he’s done to achieve his Batness? Or is it that Bruce Wayne considers his creation a unique achievement, and disdains his imitators because they aren’t creating their own crazy crime-fighting personae? (Batman, in this scene, also insists that he “works alone,” which he does, I guess, if you discount the full support of the entire police force.)

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That same night, Jim Gordon checks out the scene of the Joker’s robbery, and soon Batman comes along to horn in on his investigation. Oddly enough, the fact that a costumed freak robbed the bank is of not much concern to Gordon and Batman — they are more excited by the news that the bank belongs to the Mob. That is, thanks to the Joker, Gordon is now able to identify the assets of Gotham’s traditional criminal elite. (The Dark Knight, among its many interesting quirks, is full of unintended alliances.) The Joker gets no more than a cursory glance from Gordon and Batman, who move straight on to discussing how to shut down the Mob banks. For this daring move, they will need the support of the new District Attorney, a man new to both Gordon and Batman, bringing up, again, issues of trust. So it’s not just the criminals who can’t trust each other in Gotham City, it’s the law enforcement officials as well.

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It is the next morning. Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred, delivers Master Wayne’s breakfast to his penthouse bedroom to find him gone. He then goes to the super-secret Bat-lair to check in with his boss. Bruce is hurting from the previous night’s activities, but his only concern is that he hasn’t spent enough time (and money) on his equipment. “Batman” is, after all, the ultimate “guy project,” a project that calls for the most expensive high-tech gadgets and endless obsession over minutiae, a project that cannot be completed, only endlessly enhanced. At the moment, there is no “endgame” for Bruce Wayne, just a never-ending struggle for justice.

Bruce, with his bank of computer monitors, keeps a close eye on Harvey Dent, the new district attorney, and now we add another wrinkle to an already corrugated story — Dent is dating Rachel, the woman Bruce turned his back on so that he could devote himself to dressing up like a bat and driving around town destroying private property.

Chagrined, Bruce notes that he and Harvey are both doing the exact same thing, except that Harvey doesn’t have to wear a mask. And that includes both fighting The Mob and bedding Rachel. Harvey is, essentially, what Bruce would like to be in an ideal world. And, in fact, in the same way that Bruce created the crime vacuum that allowed the Joker to flourish, he also inspired Harvey to step forward and be Batman Without A Mask — Daytime Batman, which is what Rachel was in Batman Begins.

Now then: up ’til now, Bruce has seen his struggle as lonely and never-ending, but when he sees Harvey (with Rachel) he begins to see 1) an ally, because Harvey can potentially do Batman’s job, and 2) a reason to quit, because he wants to reclaim Rachel for his own, and regain the life he gave up for this lonely painful pursuit. Later that day, Harvey enters the courtroom for his big day of prosecuting mobster Maroni. We get a little banter between him and Rachel, involving his “lucky coin” (which we will later learn is not “lucky” in any sense of the word — Harvey, the white knight, is not above deceit himself). Harvey, we see, is a brave and dedicated public servant — when a witness pulls a gun on him, Harvey punches the witness and then continues to question him. Canny, effective, willing to bend the rules — in every way, Daytime Batman.

After a brief scene between Harvey and Rachel that places Harvey’s actions in context and reinforces what we already suspect regarding their relationship (ie, they’re sleeping together), Harvey meets with Jim about the whole Mob Bank dragnet that Jim wants to trigger. Jim and Harvey (and Bruce) all want to put the Mob away, and Jim’s plan (aided by Bruce) has a shot at accomplishing that — but Jim and Harvey don’t yet know if they can trust each other. There is some talk of “dirty cops” in Jim’s command, which interests me — was Jim “stuck” with dirty cops in the Major Crimes Unit because no one wanted to work with him, or did Jim select cops with dirty histories for some reason that escapes me? In any case, Jim Gordon’s MCU is not The Untouchables, which apparently neither Harvey nor Jim are happy about. Regardless, Harvey, sensing that Jim knows something (because of his relationship with Batman) okays Jim’s Mob Takedown plan.

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Later that same day, Bruce Wayne sleeps through a presentation by this HongKong banker, Lau. Bruce’s company is, apparently, negotiating some kind of merger with Lau’s company. This super-brief scene is played for laughs, but Lau will come to dominate the remainder of the act and become a linchpin of the entire plot. Right after the board meeting, Lucius Fox is buttonholed by an accountant, Coleman Reece, who has some kind of concern about the Lau deal. Lucius tells Reece to check his figures again, a piece of punishing busywork that will have grave repercussions later.

After Bruce wakes up from his nap (assuming he was actually sleeping through the Lau pitch — which, well why not? He’s got to sleep sometime) he talks to Lucius about upgrading his suit and mentions the Lau deal in passing. This updates Bruce’s relationship with Lucius and lays some groundwork for the steadily-increasing Lau plot. That night, Harvey and Rachel are out dining when Bruce shows up with a blond ballerina. (I wonder — does Bruce ever have sex, or is that off-limits for the man who is the Batman? And, if he has sex, do his conquests ever wonder what he’s doing with his body all covered with bruises and scars?) When we learn that Bruce owns the restaurant, we realize that Bruce, of course, planned to spoil Harvey’s date with Rachel, to check Rachel’s temperature vis-a-vis Harvey, and to take the measure of Harvey himself. Harvey shows himself to be both a true-blue public servant and to have a slight autocratic streak, both of which impress Bruce, and he throws himself fully behind Harvey — again, to relieve himself of the role of Batman, and to earn himself a chance with Rachel.

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The next day, or a day soon afterward anyway, the three major “traditional” crime lords meet to discuss their problems. Again, their problem is not the Joker robbing their banks but Jim Gordon and his planned takedown of their organization. And look who’s here! It’s that Lau guy, conferencing via a video monitor, warning the mobsters about the impending crisis. Introduced as the butt of a joke, then looked at sideways a couple of times, Lau is suddenly figuring into the story in a much more troubling way. And none of this has been “explained” to us yet — we need to sit forward and pay attention a little to sort out the plot threads of The Dark Knight. So now we know that Lau is The Mob’s banker, and soon we will learn that Bruce Wayne was never interested in a merger with Lau’s company, the merger was a lure to bring Lau into the open, to get him to show Bruce his books. Bruce, we see, can be as duplicitous as the Joker or Harvey, and in broad daylight, in a way that Batman cannot. As Lau calmly explains to the mobsters his plan for protecting their money, the Joker invades the meeting and presents to them a radical new vision of crime in Gotham City. (I note that all the “traditional” gangsters in Gotham City are colorful ethnics, while the costumed freaks are all WASPs.)

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The gangsters around the table may be wealthy and powerful, but they fear and respect the Batman while the Joker fears and respects nothing. He unveils the next layer of his plan — to “kill the Batman.” So right now, the Joker’s plan seems to be: steal money from The Mob in order to get their attention, to get them to take him seriously as a criminal mastermind, then get them to pay him to “kill the Batman,” a payment so lucrative and steep that it will surely make the Joker the new criminal kingpin of Gotham City. As we will learn, this is not the final layer, he’s got a few more layers to go before we come to the rather startling conclusion of the Joker’s plan, but it’s the first thing he says that makes any sense.

So Lau goes off to Hong Kong with the Mob’s money, which forces a crisis among Harvey, Jim and Batman — how do they solve the Mob Bank Problem if the money is gone, and who tipped Lau? They meet briefly on the roof of Jim’s MCU to discuss a plan, which involves stepping outside the law to bring Lau to justice (or to Gotham, in any case).

At this point, the narrative of The Dark Knight enters a brief moment of relaxation — Bruce has a plan to get Lau, and for the remainder of the act we get to experience the joy and thrill of seeing the plan unfold. It’s like a ten-minute version of Ocean’s 11, as we see Bruce put his plan together, then execute it with wit, flair and high style. Along the way, he gets to relax on his yacht and spoil another of Harvey and Rachel’s dates. The sequence is a day-seminar on writing a caper: the writer should explain enough of the plan so that we know the basic shape of it, but should withold enough information so that there are some surprises in store for us along the way. Caper plotting is all about what the screenplay tells us, what it does not tell us, and when.

While Bruce implements his plan, still no one is taking the Joker seriously. Except for Gambol, the only gangster in Gotham who is at all challenged by the Joker’s brand of craziness. Why Maroni and The Chechen don’t mind the Joker after he robbed one (more than one?) of their banks isn’t clear, but Gambol has put a price on his head. The Joker, being the Joker, takes Gambol’s bounty and turns it on its head, setting up a situation where he can kill Gambol himself.

The act ends with an unmitigated triumph for Bruce: he captures Lau and brings him back to Gotham, where ally Jim Gordon and new Daytime Batman Harvey can pick up the task where Batman must leave off. What Bruce does not know is that his bold extrication of Lau will set a disastrous series of events into motion that will, at the end of Act II, require him to give up being The Batman altogether.

At the end of Act I, Bruce Wayne, in his Batman persona, has snatched Mob banker Lau from Hong Kong and delivered him to Jim Gordon. He’s done his job, justice has prevailed, the cops and the lawyers are united against the forces of the underworld and everything in perfect in Batworld.

But of course, it’s not — Lau’s capture is only the beginning. Bruce, in his desire to upset the status quo and rewrite the rules of (out)law and (dis)order in Gotham City creates a wildly unstable new environment, and by the end of Act II, Bruce will be forced to abandon his Batman persona and sacrifice himself, yet again, for the city he loves — that is, until Harvey Dent steals his thunder and turns, in the public eye, from White Knight to Dark Knight.

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ACT II

So: Lau is in custody, questioned by Rachel, with Harvey and Jim lurking in the background. This one thing right here, small as it seems, indicates for me how The Dark Knight earns its place at the top of the “superhero movie” pyramid: the Nolans figured out a way to get Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s love interest and apex of the movie’s romantic triangle, into the plot in a way that feels seamless and organic. Go through the list of superhero movies and list the number of love interests wholly peripheral to the story and you’ll see the coup that the Nolans achieve here. In most cinematic superhero narratives, the love interest exists outside of the protagonist’s superhero world, which is why they end up as damsels in distress. Here, Rachel is part of Bruce’s natural world of interests (she is a law enforcer, after all, she’s almost Harvey Dent her own self — and hey, wouldn’t it have been awesome if it was Rachel instead of Harvey who ended up becoming Two-Face?) and works closely — and professionally — with his allies Jim and Harvey.

Rachel manages to get what she needs from Lau in record time, sending him to jail — but whose jail? Where will Lau be safely put away? Again, Jim and Harvey clash over issues of trust — can anyone be trusted in Gotham City? It seems that the gangsters of Act I have a greater sense of trust and loyalty than the law-enforcement officers — again, they are the establishment in Gotham. The fact that all the cops in Gotham are dirty means that the gangsters control the police department as well as the underworld. Harvey, Rachel and Jim (and their weapon, Bruce) are all alone in the city. When Batman acts to rid Gotham of gangsters, he’s stages an assault on the very fabric of the city. But Harvey is keen to pick up Batman’s baton, and proceeds to use Lau’s confession to round up, literally, every single gangster in Gotham City.

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As Jim arrests Maroni, The Chechen and their goons, the crimelords come to see that the Joker is correct — the Batman must be eliminated, at any cost. And so a Joker-led operation goes into effect — the crimelords turn their resources over to a madman to expedite their agenda. “Kill the Batman” is not the end of the Joker’s plan, but they don’t know that.

Harvey meets up with the Mayor, to justify his crazy scheme to arrest every gangster in the city. It turns out, Harvey knows that his grand gesture is baseless and doomed to failure, but has a long-term political goal. And so he demonstrates that he is willing to appear to be foolish in order to achieve something bigger — a notion which will echo throughout the rest of the narrative.

Harvey’s meeting with the mayor is met with the Joker’s first response to Bruce’s plan of cleaning up Gotham as the dead “Hockey Pads” Batman appears outside the Mayor’s window.

(Incidentally, where did the Joker get “Hockey Pads?” Was he still in police custody, or had he been freed on bail, and thence out into the world in his hockey pads again? Have these vigilantes no respect for the law, even after they’re beaten up by Batman?)

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Bruce, up until now under the impression that he had set everything straight in Gotham City, learns the news about Hockey Pads as he’s getting ready for his party for Harvey Dent — his ceremonial passing of the baton from Dark Knight to White Knight. “This is how crazy Batman’s made Gotham” says the Joker, again, mixing lies with truth in order to elicit a response. Batman hasn’t made Gotham crazy, he’s cleaned up its streets in the space of a weekend. But, in so doing, he’s created the crime vacuum that allows the Joker to flourish. Now, you’ll notice that the Joker’s plan has subtly changed from the meeting at the restaurant. His stated goal then was to “kill the Batman,” but now he only wants to force Batman to reveal his identity. This might seem like a de-escalation, but it points to the Joker’s larger goal, one that won’t be fully revealed until the end of the narrative — namely, that the Joker doesn’t have a goal, doesn’t have an endgame — he wants only to have more and more chaos, murder and insanity in Gotham. Killing Batman solves the problems of the gangsters, but the Joker’s vision of crime is much broader, and doesn’t include the crimelords notions of respectability. Killing the Batman would restore Gotham to its status quo, but revealing the Batman would undermine everything in the city. This is why the Joker in The Dark Knight is such a great villain for Batman to go up against — there is, literally, nothing Batman can do against him that does not further his agenda, even killing him.

(The Joker’s videotape of his torture of Hockey Pads contains images of animal carcasses hanging from the ceiling. This is a visual nod to painter Francis Bacon, and the only link I can find back to the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, who defaced every painting in the Gotham Museum of Art — except for the Bacon.)

The party for Harvey begins. Bruce’s plan is to ensure Harvey’s security the same way he’s ensured his own — with tons of cash. Acknowledging who Harvey is inside, Bruce recognizes him as Daytime Batman and now seeks to turn him into exactly that. And, just so we know that his motives aren’t entirely civic-minded, we learn that his plan to turn Harvey into Daytime Batman involves stealing Rachel away from him. That is, he’s says “You want to be Batman? Great, be Batman — oh, and by the way, that means you can’t have a wife.”

Meanwhile, the Joker’s plan to unmask Batman proceeds apace. He kills, at once, the police commissioner and the judge trying the “all gangsters in Gotham” case, and will soon try to kill Harvey. This is good planning on the Joker’s part — by killing the judge and the commissioner, he both applies pressure on Batman to unmask and ensures that all the gangsters will go free — no one will step forward to replace the judge — and the crimelords can then reclaim their place as Gotham’s true power base.

Back at the party, Harvey, feeling perhaps secure in his future, now that he’s gotten the security of Bruce Wayne’s rich friends, proposes to Rachel. Rachel, however, cannot accept — she still loves Bruce on some level, even though his heart is something she can never really have, just as “justice” is something Bruce can never really have, it is only something he can endlessly pursue.

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Suddenly, the Joker shows up at the party, in a rare moment of straightforwardness — he wants to kill Harvey Dent, and so he shows up where Harvey Dent is to kill him. No brilliantly devious double-crossing scheme, just storming the penthouse and demanding the goods. Bruce responds by abducting Harvey and stashing him someplace safe (just like Bruce, in a crisis, to assume he knows what’s best for everyone) and then heading off to his Bat-closet to prepare himself for his first confrontation with the Joker. (On the way he disarms a guy with a shotgun, then takes apart the gun without looking at it, a neat echo of a similar beat with Harvey in the courtroom.)

The Joker menaces Rachel out in the living room, telling her the second version of his “scars” story. We will, of course, never know how the Joker got his scars, he most likely has an endless supply of stories to tell people. Wherever the Joker came from, whatever formed his psyche, however he came to his world-view, he is infinitely scarier if we’re left in the dark. We can feel compassion for — and even root for — other Batman villains. Ras-Al-Ghul, the Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, we can disapprove of their crimes but we can still kind of see why they are as they are. This is what has always made the Joker the most interesting and deathless Batman villain, the reason why, back in 1989, when people saw that Jack Nicholson was playing the Joker, everyone said “Well now — that I have to see.” Everyone understands that the Joker elicits a stronger response than any other Batman villain, even though they may not understand immediately why. Batman appears just in time to rescue Rachel from the Joker’s threats, although he must dive out a window and make a rather improbable skydive to do so.

Across town at the MCU, Jim and one of his detectives, Stephens, rue their reversal of fortune — in nothing flat, they have cleaned up the streets of Gotham and then, just as quickly, lost all the ground they had gained. The moment Stephens announces they’ve lost, Harvey, last seen being stuffed into a closet in Bruce’s apartment, shows up, brass balls in place, to take Lau to court, as scheduled. (We don’t know how long Harvey had to wait in the closet before the Joker gave up and went home — a rare instance of a question unanswered in The Dark Knight. Once Bruce dives out the window to save Rachel, what does he do? Put her in a cab and walk back to his underground lair? Call Alfred on his cell phone and tell him to pick him up around the corner?)

Back at the lair, Bruce discusses the situation with Alfred, who provides some perspective on the whole Joker situation with his story about being a soldier in Rangoon. Alfred reminds Bruce that he created this situation when he decided to upset the status quo, and that if he’s thinking of giving into the Joker’s demands he’ll just make everything worse. “We just need to figure out what he’s after” says the World’s Greatest Detective, proving that he is completely unequipped to deal with the Joker — Bruce is a man of relentless, probing intelligence, and the Joker, he will eventually learn, isn’t after anything that Bruce can understand.

That night, Batman stands atop a building with, apparently, some kind of sophisticated listening device. He picks up a piece of information and swoops down to discover a murder scene. Two men, named Harvey and Dent, have been killed — somehow — by the Joker, or his men in any case, for the sole purpose of the Joker issuing a threat against the life of the Mayor.

Batman shows up at the scene and proceeds to perform a little sophisticated detective work, which I can kind of follow in theory but which ultimately stretched my credulity. With only a shattered bullet inside a brick, Bruce is able to procure and set up — by himself — a ballistics lab in his lair to test and analyze different shattered-bullet patterns (I think). Just in the nick of time, this process provides him with exactly the piece of information he needs to get to his next place — the address of the man who shot the gun that put the bullet in the brick. (Who, it turns out, is not the Joker, but one of his minions — about whom we will learn more later.

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In the middle of the “detective” sequence is another scene between Fox and Reese — Reese has discovered that Bruce is Batman, and wants to blackmail him. Fox reminds him that Bruce is, after all, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world — and a little crazy to boot — which is enough to get Reese to back down. For now. Now, we have a smashing set piece set around the funeral for Commissioner Loeb. The Dark Knight is like a miniature film festival — so far, we’ve seen a heist sequence, a fight sequence, a caper sequence, a detective sequence and now a suspense sequence, all executed near the top of their respective genres. Every fifteen minutes or so, The Dark Knight unfurls a set-piece that would be the climax of an ordinary movie — the fact that it manages all this and has a complex, involving plot revolving around serious issues continues to astound. The logic of the sequence, for the record, is: Loeb’s funeral is being held in the streets of Gotham, Bruce arrives at the address of the guy whose fingerprint he got off the shattered bullet, finds a bunch of guys gagged and bound. The gagged and bound guys turn out to be the funeral’s honor guard, and the honor guard down in the street turns out to be the Joker and some of his followers. The Joker’s plan is to shoot the Mayor during the 21-gun salute, and, just to complicate things, he has rigged a timer to open the window-shade of the room where the real honor guard is gagged and bound, to attract the attention of the police snipers ringing the streets. That strikes me as a little too much planning on the Joker’s part, but then again the Joker is not trying to trap Bruce, or anyone else, with his window-shade gag — rather, he wants to draw attention to the window itself, so that the police snipers are looking the wrong way when he turns to shoot the Mayor. Which he does, although Gordon blocks the shot and appears to be shot dead.

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Chaos erupts in the street, and Harvey, Daylight Batman, corners one of the Joker’s men in an ambulance. The guy, who is clearly out of his mind, tells Harvey that Rachel is the Joker’s next target, which presses Harvey’s buttons and sends him over the edge — almost. Again, the Joker’s plan is not just to put the crimelords back in power, but to force the few good people in Gotham to turn evil. Somewhere along the way, he’s assembled an army of crazy people, ready to do his bidding (apparently he’s spent some time in Arkham).

Stephens and Ramirez go to tell Gordon’s wife (whose name is Barbara, although she looks a little too old to become Batgirl) about Jim’s death, and she responds by shouting out into the night, to the Batman she knows is listening, “You brought this craziness on us!” Bruce, filled with guilt and now towering anger, goes to find Maroni and, in the gangland tradition, breaks his legs to get information. Maroni, however, knows nothing about the Joker, even though he has hired him to restore the status quo.

(Does the Joker have a home? His suit, although custom made, is filthy and ragged, and there is a sense of history about him — the makeup, the scars — that feels lived-in and precise. Has he been living on the street, in abandoned buildings? If you add up all the things we know about the Joker — including the fact that he lies as easily as he breathes — does it add up to a real person? I submit that while the Joker is indeed a fanciful creation, he feels more plausible — and more frightening — than Hannibal Lecter, Hollywood’s last great boogeyman creation.)

Harvey, in the midst of interrogating the Joker’s goon, calls Rachel and orders her to get someplace safe. Rachel, knowing that Bruce is Batman, says that the only safe place in town is Bruce’s penthouse. (Although the Joker seemed to be able to get in pretty easily during the party, which should still be uppermost in Rachel’s mind, since she got thrown out a window there.) Harvey, not knowing about Bruce’s torch for Rachel, pushes her into his apartment. He’s taking one more step from White Knight to Dark Knight, fulfilling the action begun by Bruce earlier. And, just as Batman interrogated Maroni and went a little too far, Harvey does the same with the Joker’s goon, in his own style. Batman stops him before he kills the goon, not knowing that Harvey is merely playing a psychological trick on the assassin. Batman tells Harvey that the city can’t afford to have Harvey be a vigilante, it would ruin everything. Harvey must be the face of “good” Gotham, while Batman must remain masked — this is the balance that must be struck to deal with criminals like the Joker.

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Bruce gets home and finds Rachel there, and tells her that he’s going to turn himself in, “I’ve seen what I’d have to become to stop men like [the Joker].” He asks again for Rachel’s love, and Rachel gives it to him, even though they both know that if Bruce turns himself in they could never be together.

Bruce goes to his lair and puts away all his bat-stuff, preparing to give himself in. The dream is over, Bruce must give up his dream of justice in order to placate a madman. Essentially, he will sacrifice himself in order to save Harvey, even though it will mean undoing everything he, Gordon and Harvey have done.

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He goes downtown to turn himself in — the movie’s not even half over! — but Harvey turns the tables on him, steals his thunder and fulfills his wish at the same time. Bruce wanted to turn Harvey into Batman, and poof! Harvey is now Batman. Under pressure from “the people” of Gotham, Harvey announces that he is The Batman and puts himself under arrest. Not only does he steal the thunder from Bruce, he steals the act climax as well, and very nearly steals the rest of the plot of the movie. Act III will trace Harvey’s journey from Batman to Two-Face, as Bruce will become increasingly helpless to recover the ground he has lost through his actions. At the end of Act II, Bruce Wayne was ready to reveal himself to be Batman, only to have his decision yoinked away from him by Harvey Dent. At the beginning of Act III, Bruce is forced to continue on as Batman in order to capture the Joker, the key representative of the new breed of criminal class Bruce has created by trying to clean up Gotham. Although there is some question as to whether Bruce’s heart is really into giving up Batman — which Rachel will address later.

ACT III


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At the top of Act III, Rachel goes to see Alfred. She’s angry about Bruce’s decision to let Harvey take the fall for Batman’s vigilante crimes, so angry that she has apparently decided to give up Bruce forever and marry Harvey (although we don’t know that quite yet). Rachel is, it seems, the only true-blue force of good in The Dark Knight. The other good guys understand that it’s sometimes necessary to lie to defeat evil, but Rachel cannot let a lie stand. Alfred argues that Bruce is actually more than a hero for his actions — he’s already sacrificed his life to fight crime in a mask, now he’s willing to give up the mask as well, to let Harvey take Batman from him. At this point, Harvey is really more Batman than Bruce.

Rachel goes downtown to see Harvey as he’s being loaded into a SWAT van to be taken to the county lockup. They have something of a goodbye scene (appropriately enough, as we will see), where Harvey winks to Rachel that he knows what he’s doing and everything will be all right.

Before we continue, behold the structure of Act III of The Dark Knight. It begins with a smashing chase scene, then moves straight into an extended multi-threaded suspense sequence, which culminates in the death of one character and the transformation of another. It delivers the narrative low-point for the protagonist, then kind of goes on for another ten minutes or so. This odd little post-climactic interlude between Act III and Act IV, a little mini-act of itself, maps out Harvey’s transition from Harvey to Two-Face and includes the end of the Joker’s relationship with the “establishment” (hint: the split is not amicable) and his nurturing of Harvey’s transition from white knight to villain. During this interlude, Bruce acts as a superhero without putting on his mask (unless you count behaving as a dim-witted billionaire playboy a mask), and the Joker destroys a hospital in order to cover up the disappearance of Harvey.

Now then: Harvey’s transfer to the county lockup has generated a lot of confusion among fans of The Dark Knight, so let’s see if we can sort out what exactly happens here. The plan appears to be Harvey’s: he knows he’s not Batman, and the SWAT folk seem to understand that he’s not Batman (Harvey’s awfully open about it when he talks to Rachel), and, as we will find out, Jim Gordon is the non-talking SWAT guy driving the van next to the chatty SWAT guy. So it’s Harvey’s plan to set himself up as bait to draw out the Joker, but Jim — unbeknownst to Harvey — is driving his van. (Jim, like Bruce, understands that, for justice to prevail, it sometimes must wear a mask.)

So Harvey’s plan is: claim to be Batman, which will get him arrested, which will then get himself transferred to the county lockup, which will lure the Joker out of the shadows, which will then prompt the real Batman to come forward to arrest the Joker, and poof! Justice will be prevail in Gotham and everyone’s problems will be solved. Jim’s plan is auxiliary to Harvey’s, and is this: capitalizing on his “death” in Act II, go under cover as a SWAT guy and be on hand to arrest the Joker when he makes his attack and Batman captures him. Harvey does not know about Jim’s plan, although Jim must know about Harvey’s, but I see no indication that Batman knows about either — as far as he knows, Harvey is still sacrificing himself for the good of the city.

Now: what is the Joker’s plan? The Joker’s plan, we will learn, is: attack the SWAT caravan, knowing full well that Harvey is not the Batman, but knowing that by attacking the caravan he will draw out Batman. His plan then is either: get Batman to kill him, or to get himself captured by Batman and then arrested by the police (although not by Jim, whom the Joker thinks is dead). “Could you please just give me a minute?” he asks Jim politely as he prepares to “put a smile” on Batman’s face — he’s perfectly okay with getting captured, but he wants to know who Batman is first — not out of any kind of Caeser-Romero-Joker-style desire to “unmask Batman,” but because when Batman is unmasked, the fabric holding Gotham City together will unravel.

(Although I sometimes wonder about this. Mid-way through Batman and Robin, Batman participates in a celebrity charity auction, bidding an extraordinary amount of money for a date with Poison Ivy. I got the feeling while watching that movie that the Joker of Dark Knight could hold a press conference, announce that Batman is Bruce Wayne, and the people of Gotham would just look kind of embarrassed and say “Um, yeah, we had all figured that out already. Thanks anyway.” The idea that the people of Gotham know that Bruce is Batman and let him run around punching criminals anyway is one that has yet to be explored in the Batman mythos.)

Harvey, who has spent the last two acts of The Dark Knight becoming Batman, now looks visibly relieved to announce that it was all a ruse — like a bad dream. Harvey, like Hockey Pads, is not, and cannot be, the “real” Batman. Batman may have begun as a symbol, but The Dark Knight insists that only one man can truly be Batman.

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The Joker is taken to the MCU, where the second half of his plan comes to light. And as long as we’re here, let’s work this through as well. The Joker, sensing that Harvey is not the Batman, attacks Harvey’s convoy knowing that it will lead to his capture. He knows that attacking the SWAT convoy will land him in the MCU (or get him killed, which is okay with him too), so he has contrived to have one of his crazy minions locked up with him. (The minion, let’s call him Phone Minion, has killed a policeman, thus guaranteeing his delivery to the MCU rather than some other police department.) Then, the Joker’s only plan is to be taken to the phone-call place within the MCU and call Phone Minion from there, which will blow up Phone Minion and destroy the MCU, which will allow him to free Lau, the Mob banker, thus re-gaining the status quo for Maroni and the other crimelords — or so they think. In order to keep the police distracted, he has also contrived to have Wuertz and Ramirez kidnap Harvey and Rachel and deliver them to a pair of abandoned warehouses, where they are wired up to a whole bunch of oil drums.

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The Joker most likely does not know that Jim is alive, and he seems surprised that Batman shows up to interrogate him, but that’s okay — he’ll get what he wants anyway. He doesn’t need Batman to show up to interrogate him, he knows that Batman is around somewhere and will try to rescue either Harvey or Rachel, and that one of them will die. Although it does turn out handy for the Joker that the Batman does show up, as it gives the two of them some valuable face-time with each other.

But before all that happens, we spend a little time with Jim Gordon, the latest addition to the Masked Justice fraternity and, until recently, dead. Jim is given a promotion to Commissioner by the Mayor, then checks in with his wife and son. He goes to interrogate the Joker about the sudden disappearance of Harvey and Rachel (The Joker turns his argument back on him — Harvey and Rachel were abducted by Jim’s people, not the Joker’s), then, having had his little narrative moment in the sun, turns the story back over to Batman for his big scene.

“There’s no going back, you’ve changed things” says the Joker to Batman. By deciding to take out the Mob, by upsetting the status quo, Bruce has created a far more unstable environment. The Joker also hints at his ultimate endgame — he doesn’t want Batman dead, and never did, despite what he told the mobsters back in Act I. He needs Batman alive to provide a dramatic contrast that will make him, the Joker, more powerful. “You have nothing to do with all your strength,” he laughs — if Batman kills the Joker, he’s admitting that he’s a failure and that his notions of justice are a fraud.

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Lecter-like, he tries to get inside Batman’s mind, warning him that, despite the support of the police, there will come a time when Gotham won’t need him — especially if he does his job well — and will cast him out. He tells Batman where Rachel and Harvey are being held, forcing Bruce to make a choice between the two. Harvey is the public face of good in Gotham, he’s Daytime Batman, but Rachel is Bruce’s ticket out of Batworld altogether. Under pressure, Bruce doesn’t think and chooses to save Rachel over Harvey, not realizing that the Joker has given him bad information — he’s mixed lies with truth to confuse him, and succeeded.

(Again: the Joker does not need Batman in the interrogation room to fulfill this part of his plan — the Harvey-Rachel crisis will empty out the MCU just as easily, allowing him to make his phone call and get to Lau.)

So Bruce, thinking he’s being selfish and saving Rachel, instead saves Harvey (half- way) while Rachel gets blown to bits. The next morning, Alfred reads a note Rachel gave to him to give to Bruce. It’s a “Dear Bruce” letter, telling him that she’s chosen to marry Harvey after all. Rejecting one Batman, she’s chosen another. Bruce may be the “real Batman,” but Harvey can be Batman without a mask — or at least that was the case when Rachel wrote the letter. Further, Rachel seems to understand that there will never be a time when Bruce cannot be Batman. The note doesn’t explicate, but she could mean two things here: either she means that there will never be a time when Gotham doesn’t need Batman, or else she means that Bruce will always find an excuse to keep being Batman. I’m inclined to think the latter, since Bruce’s non-confession at the end of Act II is what prompted Rachel to write the letter in the first place.

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Alfred is about to deliver this letter to Bruce when Bruce, at his narrative low-point, mentions that he acted to save Rachel because he believes that Rachel had decided to choose himself over Harvey. Alfred then decides not to hand over the letter after all — another lie to serve a greater good, something especially poignant as Rachel would have felt bitterly betrayed by the action.

The action-packed entre-acte begins, almost a prologue to Act IV: Jim goes to see Harvey in the hospital. Harvey, in his agony, has refused medical treatment for his horrible, horrifying wounds, and vows revenge on Jim, who he feels is partly responsible for the death of Rachel.

It’s not an entirely bad day for Jim, though — no sooner does he get condemned by Harvey than he gets saved by Maroni, who turns up outside Harvey’s hosptial room, repentant, wanting to turn in the Joker. It’s as though Maroni, being a man of honor, after all, wants to make amends for his role in all this mess. He knows that he’s upset the status quo too, and he addresses Jim as an equal in the world of crime — almost a kind of business partner, which is how the Mob felt about the police in any case.

Across town, the Joker meets up with the Chechen. Maroni is supposed to be there as well, but we know that he’s across town giving the Joker up to Jim. The Joker now has Lau and half of all the Mob’s money — he should now be the crime boss of all Gotham. Which makes it all the more shocking when he burns the money — all the money — and Lau — and then kills the Chechen. The Joker, we learn, has no endgame. There’s no point where he’s going to say “Okay, I’m done, good job.” For the Joker, the whole point of his enterprise is that it goes on and on and on. This is a radically new concept in superhero movies, where the “bad-guy plot” always culminates in some bizarre, colorful, impossible scheme that the hero has to foil. How can Batman foil the Joker’s bad-guy plot when he doesn’t have one?

Meanwhile, the Coleman Reese plot plays itself out. Reese, who knows Bruce is the Batman, has seen enough destruction that he’s going to abandon his blackmail plot to expose Bruce for free on live television. While Jim takes his men to wherever Maroni told him to go (I’m assuming the boat with the burning pile of money, although we never see them arrive), the Joker sets another plot into motion: he heads over to the hospital where Harvey is, turns him evil, then blows up the hospital to cover Harvey’s escape. The Reese aspect of his plan is mere happenstance — the Joker was going to blow up the hospital in any case, to get Harvey out.

In any case, the Joker calls into the TV show where Reese is and puts a price on Reese’s head. He doesn’t particularly care about whether Reese lives or dies, but Reese’s TV appearance gives him a chance to stage a massive diversion as the city goes crazy.

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He goes to Harvey’s room, and, in spite of being responsible for killing his girlfriend and sending the city Harvey loves into chaos, the Joker is able to convince Harvey that Batman — and the police who back him up — are the real villains in this story. Which, well, he has a point, although he stretches the truth when he tells Harvey that Batman and Jim are “schemers” while he’s a mere “dog chasing cars.” Batman and Jim have plans, it’s true, and so did Harvey once, but the real difference between them and the Joker is that their plans have ideal outcomes, whereas the Joker’s plans just go on and on forever. This, for me, is a signature aspect of the Joker character presented in The Dark Knight, a criminal with no goal, just a perpetuation of anarchy. The fault in Batman and Jim, says the Joker, is that they’re all about control, whereas he’s an “agent of chaos.” That’s as close as the Joker comes to a statement of purpose in The Dark Knight, especially when he backs up his point by talking about the everyday barbarity of society, the way that society is completely tolerant of death and destruction, as long as it happens to the right people. To seal the deal in Harvey’s mind, the Joker happily includes his own probable death into Harvey’s notion of justice.

The Joker’s plan, Jim’s plan and Bruce’s plan all come crashing together, literally, as Bruce heads into traffic to stop a Gothamite from killing Reese. It’s interesting and compelling to see Bruce act as a superhero without a mask, and it reinforces the extent to which Bruce has turned his life over to that mask — his daytime persona is more of a mask than his actual mask is.

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Bruce’s bold decision to step out unmasked is dramatic, but again, he has played into the Joker’s hand, heading to save the wrong person as the Joker blows up Harvey’s hospital and makes off with a busload of hostages (the same bus as from the heist prologue?). Despite Bruce’s sacrifices and best attempts, the city is now in dramatically worse shape than before, in a state of emergency in fact, and the day isn’t yet over.

ACT IV

At the end of Act III, Bruce, despite his best efforts and his bravest sacrifices, has pretty much screwed up everything in Gotham City. In the act of cleaning up the Mob, he’s created the Joker, and in the act of making his act legitimate (shades of Michael Corleone) he’s created Two-Face. By upsetting the status quo, he’s gotten his girlfriend killed and turned her new boyfriend insane. In Act IV, he will do his best to defeat the Joker — and fail, forcing him to face the consequences of the decisions he’s made. As the act begins, the Joker has created a siege situation in Gotham. His relationship with the Mob has reached its, um, conclusion; he now controls all the crime in Gotham. Now he seals off the entire city, using nothing but fear and paranoia (as far as we can tell) to close the bridges and tunnels.

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

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

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

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

Two-Face now catches up with Maroni, the next guy on his list of grudges. Maroni wins his coin toss, but Two-Face kills him anyway by killing his driver. It rains on the just and unjust alike in Two-Face’s world, or maybe Two-Face is just as much of a liar and prevaricator as the Joker.

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

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

Meanwhile, Batman, the Joker and Gordon’s SWAT forces all collide in a three-way action sequence across the way. Having fought off his allies in the police department, Batman now gets attacked by the Joker. The dog motif begun in the Chechen’s meeting with the Scarecrow back in Act I now comes to a head. The Joker now has those very same dogs, which Batman must now fight.

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Why dogs? Well, as several folks have pointed out, the Joker is referred to as “a dog off its leash” and “a dog chasing cars,” and we’ve seen him hang his head out a car window. And maybe its nothing more than a visual pun, that Gotham City is, literally, “going to the dogs.”

In the midst of this, Two-Face arranges to have Gordon’s family kidnapped through Detective Ramirez. Ramirez wins her coin toss and receives only a punch in the face for her crimes against Gotham.

Across the way, the Joker is disappointed that neither the good nor the bad of Gotham could kill anyone, so he goes to his backup plan of doing it himself. This is enough of a distraction for him to allow Batman to get the drop on him, and the Joker plunges down the side of the building — and is saved by Batman. (Which points to one of the key rules of the superhero genre — in a superhero story, the villain wants to kill the hero, but the hero wants to save the villain, not kill him. Bruce, even after everything that’s happened, cannot, will not, kill the Joker. And I thought this was supposed to be a conservative wet-dream narrative.)

As the Joker dangles helpless, he tells Batman that the stunt with the ferries is — yes — only a distraction, something to focus Batman’s attention while the real event, the real crime, is happening elsewhere — the self-destructive rampage of Two-Face. If the ferries had blown up, Gotham City would recover, but if they knew that their white-knight DA was a murderous madman, the whole system of justice would fall apart. Having saved the Joker, Bruce must now race off to save Two-Face. Two-Face has decided to punish Gordon not by killing him but by killing his son. Batman shows up for a three-way conversation between himself, Two-Face and Gordon, where they sort out who did what to whom and why. Batman feels that, even after killing three people, Two- Face is still Harvey Dent, and deserves to be saved. Harvey wants justice for those he feels are responsible for Rachel’s death, but Batman tells him that it’s not that simple — Rachel is dead because Bruce, Harvey and Gordon all acted, together, to clean up Gotham City. “Then why was I the only one who lost everything?” wails Two-Face, and Bruce holds his tongue — not only has he lost Rachel too, but he’s lost his parents and his normality into the bargain. He’s sacrificed more than Harvey could ever imagine, and he doesn’t bring it down to chance — he brings it down to choice. He chose to act, setting all the events of the narrative into motion, including the death of Rachel and Harvey’s disfigurement.

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When people complain about Batman being foolish in The Dark Knight, they wish for the strong, always-right, never-wrong Batman of their imaginations. But the greatness of The Dark Knight‘s narrative lies in how it shows that Batman is often wrong, and completely helpless when dealing with a criminal like the Joker. There is no defense against evil, only the strength to not give in to it. “If Batman has limits, I can’t afford to know them,” says Bruce in Act I, and here he’s confronted with the folly of that headstrong philosophy — Batman is all about limits, and the narrative of The Dark Knight is, in large part, an examination, and definition, of those limits.

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

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Comments

  1. Wonderful article again, Todd. The Chechen’s arc is a continuation from the animated prequel, Batman: Gotham Knight (http://www.warnervideo.com/batmangothamknight/). It takes place between Batman Begins and TDK.

  2. Bill the Cat says:

    Is it just me or is something missing from the second sentence: “I have not encountered an American movie — much less an American movie, designed to be a gigantic blockbuster and based on a hugely popular comic book — that is structured as ingeniously and compellingly as this one.”

  3. Bill Scurry says:

    Wow, Todd. Hell of an analysis, as usual.

  4. Jeff Stevens says:

    A very well written analysis. While I agree with many of your themes, I still cannot accept the rationale behind the ending. While your explanation of why Bruce thinks he deserves some sort of punishment for causing the events in the film, pinning these events on Bruce does not lay with him, but rather with Gordon. It’s Gordon and his family’s testimony that will brand Batman as a criminal, and I don’t buy Gordon’s rationale for making the decision for one minute.

  5. Bill,

    No, there’s nothing missing. Maybe this will make it clear. The main meaning of the sentence is this:

    “I have not encountered an American movie that is structured as ingeniously and compellingly as this one.”

    The part between the em-dashes is an aside to this:

    “much less an American movie, designed to be a gigantic blockbuster and based on a hugely popular comic book”.

    So what Alcott is saying is that it is unusual for an American movie to be so cleverly structured, that that it is exceptionally unusual for a blockbuster comic book movie to be so cleverly structured.

    If there is any problem with the way it is expressed in Alcott’s post, rather than having any words missing, I think it perhaps has a comma too many – the one appearing before ‘designed’ in the aside.

  6. Christian Otholm says:

    Great read and very interesting.

    I do disagree with your interpretation of the Joker’s motives though. You say:

    “This might seem like a de-escalation, but it points to the Joker’s larger goal, one that won’t be fully revealed until the end of the narrative — namely, that the Joker doesn’t have a goal, doesn’t have an endgame — he wants only to have more and more chaos, murder and insanity in Gotham.”

    But that’s not true. Like the movie itself, the Joker’s goal is to destroy Batman’s, and everyone else’s, value system or “spirit”. It’s reinforced with the boat scene and the turning of Harvey Dent. As with Moore and Bolland’s Killing Joke, it’s the “One Bad Day” motif.

    “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.”

    He’s a nihilist, but he’s not quite as chaotic, as he wants people to perceive him as. His endgame is a mirror image of Batman’s. Everyone should be as sick, vile and psychotic as he is. That’s not anarchy (without rule) – that’s as controlled as order is; just perverted and twisted.

    To me, the encounter with Scarecrow in the beginning is just to underline the “escalation” theme of the film – What use to take an entire movie is dealt with in under ten minutes. It’s barely even acknowledged. Even Scarecrow is old news compared to the Joker.

    I highly enjoyed the movie, but I do agree with some of the complaints I’ve heard to a higher or lesser extent:

    The depiction of Two-Face is really narrow, bordering on simple. His endgame is basically revenge, and when that is over and done with, he’s a superflous character, and that’s a shame considering his rich background.

    The pacing is off. The audience isn’t given time to respite and it ends up as feeling too long and exhausts the audience.

    The “serious” realism. It’s terribly interested in being a movie steeped in realism, all the while the audience has to accept that it’s also a movie about a rich dude, who dresses up as a bat and beats up other people in costumes. There’s a fine line to walk, and with the utmost seriousness the film treats its subject matter, it fails to a certain degree.

    It’s preachy. It’s so very, very preachy. The movie ends with a character explaining the moral to a child. And the end moral “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now” doesn’t even hold up to greater scrutiny. What exactly has Gotham done to deserve anything and why doesn’t it need him right now?

  7. Andrew says:

    Wonderful article. In a misguided effort to be helpful, and to make it so my comment is more than two words long, I’ll add that the Chechen is a drug dealer who bought some product from the Scarecrow. I guess those drugs are some kind of crazy hallucinogen which drove its users mad, as that’s basically Scarecrow’s thing. This means the Chechen isn’t getting the “repeat customers” who are a drug dealer’s bread and butter, and that’s what they’re arguing about at the start of the movie.

  8. briguyx says:

    Terrific analysis, except for your theory that Gotham City knows Bruce is Batman. Gordon might suspect this, but think of our world. Would you believe that rich people that act like Paris Hilton and Donald Trump could be superheroes? I’d certainly be fooled.

    Also, I think the structure of “Casino Royale” works. I like it more every time I see it!

  9. Another reason some of us hate the movie is because it is torture porn masquerading as a superhero film. In scenes like Rachel’s death, Two-Face’s threatening of Gordon’s son, and most egregiously, the ferry sequence, the “drama” is completely grounded in suffering (or the threat of suffering) much like the “Saw” or “Hostel” films — except, unlike those franchises, “The Dark Knight” doesn’t even have the courage of its sadistic convictions.

    Alcott also commits a glib “straw man” argument regarding critical opposition to the film’s politics. A viewer can reasonably have qualms with the messaging, and see parallels in its (approving) depiction of a “protective” figure invading the privacy of every citizen of Gotham City with the real world U.S. government’s warrantless wiretaps and abrogation of FISA, without believing the film will cause people “to vote for John McCain or something.” That an honest argument is so facilely dismissed is a major failing of this analysis.

    I’m obviously flying in the face of the consensus here, but this entire series of Batman “analyses” has struck me as glib and shallow and emblematic of much of what is wrong with Hollywood screenwriting nowadays. To me, it comes off like a fanboy gilding his favorite power fantasies with McKee-ish schemata and a lot of received wisdom.

  10. I took the “…not wearing hockey pads” line as Bruce telling the guy that he doesn’t half-ass this crimefighting thing- the imitators are strictly amateur hour, and he’s the pro.

    Also, frankly, part of the appeal of the Batman character in the comics is that he is always right (at least most of the time), highly competent and confident. The movie Batman always seems confused and compromised, staggering around from situation to situation, rarely on top of anything. This is a jarring change, and not one for the best as far as I’m concerned. Self-doubting Batman is perhaps expedient from a scriptwriting viewpoint, but very lackluster and anti-charismatic as a character. Not that it seems to have hurt Nolan’s franchise so far.

  11. A postscript:

    In August of ’08, I had a meeting with a producer who has had some experience producing Batman movies. The Dark Knight was still the number one movie in theaters that day, and conversation naturally turned to it.

    ME: So — The Dark Knight.
    
PRODUCER: I know.

    ME: Right?

    PRODUCER: I know. It’s amazing. I know.

    ME: So. You tell me. You make this kind of movie. You tell me. How?
    
PRODUCER: How what?
    
ME: How does a movie like that get made? In this environment, where anything complicated or challenging or pessimistic or visionary get ironed out to appeal to the broadest possible market, how does a movie like that get made? That’s an expensive movie with a lot of moving parts — the producers, the cast, the special effects, the location shooting — how does a picture like that get made, and end up that good?
    
PRODUCER: Because Christopher Nolan gets no notes.
    
(pause)
    
ME: What do you mean?
    
PRODUCER: I mean, the studio gives him no notes. None. Zero.
    
ME: The director gets no notes?
    
PRODUCER: None.
    
ME: So, you’re telling me, Christopher Nolan and his brother write the script –
    
PRODUCER: And then they shoot it. And the studio gives them no notes. They’ve given them the project, they trust their vision, and they let them shoot it the way they want.  And that’s how a movie like that gets made.

  12. Like i’ve said in the past to me The Dark Knight truly is the ultimate disapointment because it could have been great but sadly Nolan dropped the ball. The movie basically falls apart at the end with the Joker resolution, the death of 2 face and ridiculous Batman on the run nonsense. Up until it goes to hell and loses me and others completelly it’s an incredible film. But that’s the thing in the end it becomes just another film that could have been great if someone told would have just taken a step back and made sure that the last 15 to 20 minutes didn’t suck.

  13. Frodo-X says:

    I agree with Johnny, the “Hockey Pads” comment is meant to reflect that Bruce is much better equipped. Hockey pads are only going to help so much.

    The one thing that bugs me in the movie (and I still love the film, this is just a nitpick) is in the scene in the Penthouse when Joker and Rachel are talking. She hits him and he says she’s got a little fight in her and he likes that, to which Batman replies, “Then you’re gonna love me.” How on Earth did he get there without a single person noticing. I know he’s a stealthy ninja, but he’s a 6-foot tall guy in a completely black batsuit arriving in the middle of a crowded, very well-lit room in the exact spot where everyone’s attention is, yet nobody saw him until he said that line?

  14. William O'Brien says:

    Re: Batman’s competence

    Remember that this is still barely a year into his career, so he’s going to still make mistakes, especially when confronted with a foe like the Joker. This is pretty in-line with “Year One” era Batman stories.

    Re: the ending

    The decision is made by Batman, within minutes of saving Gordon’s son at potentially lethal risk to himself. Gordon visibly disagrees with it, but out of gratitude and respect he’ll play along

    The DK Bats is probably still the most outwardly skilled of any movie portrayal yet, and the most on-mission with the whole saving lives thing. You don’t have scenes like the car crash or the final hostage sequence in the other movies. It’s normally just Batman vs the bad guy.

    Bats sacrifices a whole lot in this film. The Batmobile, his Lamborghini, his relationship with the cops and possibly Lucius – all get (voluntarily) lost to the mission. This after Wayne Manor in the first film. The Nolan films are really the first to show that there is a personal cost to being Batman (besides the common trope of no love life)

  15. hikaru go says:

    It will take a few years for this movie to set in with me. I agree with a lot of the complaints but its not enough to call it a shitty movie… far from it.

    It will be easier to judge this movie once Nolan is done with the franchise and be able to piece it all together film by film.

    On a side note, the Riddler under the Nolan Brothers just might be the best potential Batman movie villain ever. They could turn it into the ultimate detective/mystery tale…Nolan’s strongest genre and a perfect way to show Bruce growing into his role as Batman overcoming his past mistakes in the Dark Knight.

  16. Good points, Hikaru.

  17. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    Let me think on the first scene of this “brilliant” film.

    …Why would people wanna work for a guy who routinely kills his own employees?

    I’ve had a number of people work for me, and if I killed one of them (in front of the others) nobody would work for me anymore.

    I personally wouldn’t work for somebody who would (for little or no reason) kill my co-workers.

    If I heard about a guy who was killing the people who worked for him, I wouldn’t even apply for his jobs.

  18. briguyx says:

    While I think the Riddler would be a great villain if done well, Nolan’s Batman doesn’t strike me as the World’s Greatest Detective. More of a fighter than a thinker…

  19. well written but i disagree with just about every single point. I thought the movie was an absolute bore. a dreadful plodding snooze, and didnt even come close to delivering the magic oomph of a dozen of the best batman comics… heath ledger was cool as joker for about 5 minutes, then it was the same schtick on repeat.

    also the romance is just not believable, at all. flat as a batcake.

    and I agree with Johnny and Craven. A) it is sorta torture porn, blech B) Batman’s confidence is key, and over self-doubting is annoying takes away some mythic resonance of the best comics, Dark Knight Returns of course included

    I think spiderman 1 and spiderman 2 had much more sparkle and zest and life. Iron Man as well. I agree all the other Batman movies were worse, and the Superman movies ATROCIOUS, except the first 2 originals. Superman Returns was sinfully abysmal (moral of that movie was Lois had a nice, gentleman hero of a boyfriend who actually saved superman, but superman had powers so he got the gal)

    I think the BEST superhero movie, and i say, perversely the best BATMAN movie was Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and watson were actually the best Batman and Robin in disguise. it was epic, mythic, well shot, and FUNNY. Holmes was wayne and batman wrapped up in one; and watson was alfred and robin in one…
    I

  20. John Boren says:

    Here’s my take on the ‘hockey pads’ thing–

    When Batman says that cutting, condescending line, it’s played for a laugh, but I always interpreted it’s meaning as ‘I’m superior to you, loser.’.

    At that moment, I lost any and all sympathy for Batman.

    A regular guy tries his best to follow in the Batman’s footsteps, and all Batman can do is beat him down and arrogantly snark on the guy’s modest means?

    The priviledge and classism implied in just that one line is staggering, to me.

    Fuck Batman, or at least, this version of the character. Forever.

  21. I was also very disappointed with The Dark Knight.

  22. An amazing analysis of the movie. I’ll have to watch it again.

    So… will we see Mr. Alcott analyze other superhero movies?

    I wonder what he would say about Krissh, from India?

  23. Dave Hackett says:

    I like the movie but it does collapse under its weight at about the 3/4 mark. I understand how the resolution Dent’s short career as Two-Face ties into plot and theme, but I don’t think anyone would have groaned too loudly if they had saved it for the next film and gave it the breathing room it needed.

    Leaving the theatre my wife summed it up best: “I really liked it, but why tack on another 45 minute movie at the end?”

  24. Doesn’t the very fact that your analysis covers the movie’s four acts perfectly summarize how this movie dragged on too long? Last I checked, three-act structure is the standard.

    I liked Dark Knight on the first viewing, but a subsequent watching confirmed that Ledger’s performance was so good I overlooked the many flaws (Batman/Bruce has no character development, the messy and overlong ending, nonsensical plot points and a lame Batman costume). It’s still good, but not great.

  25. I don’t agree you 100%, but that’s ok. You analysis are always interesting and thoughtful. I hope you keep doing them for other super-hero movies.

    Personally, I found Dark Knight a great movie, an excellent (but) rare example of a smart blockbuster.

    Unfortunately, it was too ambitious, with more plot lines and characters than I felt it could support.

    By the way, on the “hockey pads” item, my view was that Batman was annoyed at the fact that those guys were irresponsible, putting their lives in danger without the proper training and equipment.

  26. Todd,

    Thanks again for this thoughtful analysis. I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles.

    And I very much enjoyed the film. Much like the Anton Chigurh character in “No Country For Old Men”, I thought the Joker was a stand-in for chaos and disorder. What both characters accomplish seems far beyond the means of a mortal. How does society react to such a threat? What do good people do when they have to choose between their ideals and perceived expediency? THAT is what intrigues me.

    I admire the reach and ambition that the Nolans bring to their movies.

  27. Demetrius says:

    Great Analysis

    I think a lot of people miss the point of the Hockey Pads scene

    First off the biggest factor in this sequence should be that Hockeypad guys are using guns. By trying to follow Bruce’s example they themselves have become part of the problem.

    The meeting that they interrupts is between a mobster and an escaped mental patient. Notice how it’s not a drug deal but the aftermath of a drug deal. It’s essentially a “sit down” to discuss the botched drug deal. Do these people even get arrested afterward? What do you charge the Chechen with if he is caught? The hockey batmen start shooting at these men and are out for blood. They are the anti-batman. Not only that…they are completely unprepared and untrained as well as under-equipped to accomplish anything. They add to the problem. Not only does Batman have to fight his way through armed criminals and attack dogs he also has to ensure the armed vigilantes don’t get killed and subdue them. It isn’t elitist to think that an untrained group of men who are armed should not be out trying to enforce their own brand of justice.

    Bruce as a character is of course an elitist. The appeal of the character though is that he is better than us. Better trained, better equipped and more importantly, more moral. He refuses to kill and risks life and limb for it. He is trying to inspire heroism and the scene really showed that yes he is better than all of them.

    The point is…I’m Batman…I’m doing this because I’m trained to do it. You don’t have training and you make things worse by doing this. I dig that you are inspired but seriously you are going to get hurt or killed (and he was right)

  28. Mr. Alcott is correct about one thing, in my estimation,…”The Dark Knight” is not a conservative wet dream. It’s a fascist wet dream. A Neo-Con wet dream. It destroys the character and plays on the confusion of it’s audience, of the time, over what’s right and wrong. I’m surprised to see so many comments that are negative about this movie. I have been roundly reviled for my take on this film and it’s moral ambiguity. It’s heartening to see that I’m not alone. Batman would hate this movie and it’s prequel.

  29. ” Last I checked, three-act structure is the standard.”

    You might want to go talk to that William Shakespeare cat…

  30. I remember being like “Oh! Two-Face will be the storyline for the next movie!”

    And then, being like “Oh! So the next movie is right now! Okay, sure!”

    I mean, whatever. All Batman movies are bad, with the exception of Batman: The Movie. That one wasn’t trying to be good and therein, succeeded in being the most fun of them all.

    As we are continually reminded of the existence of “The Dark Knight,” I remember the words of a wise man who once said “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”

  31. John Boren says:

    There is no way in Hell you can convince me Bruce Wayne, Batman, or whatever he calls himself is somehow ‘better’ than me, or anyone else.

    Elitism is not heroism. As far as I’m concerned, they are mutually exclusive.

    Punching the hell out of your fans with an armored glove ( with some sort of mini-saw attached ) is not heroic.

    I believe it IS elitist on the Batman’s part to tell his imitators that they don’t have the right to practice vigilantism. After all, who gave BATMAN the right? He never properly answered that question, now, did he? Do heroes regularly ignore pertinent questions about what justifies their actions?
    And since when did that kind of behavior become heroic?

    The only reason he has superior arms and training is that be was born with a metric fuck-ton of money. Having a silver spoon sticking out of your piehole at birth does not give one the moral high ground ( quite the opposite, I think ), And it’s damn sure not heroic, either.

    And since when does having better training and equipment make you MORALLY superior?

    The amateurs were not adding to the problem. They may not have had ‘proper’ training or equipment, but it was clear they had the drop on the bad guys. If the real Batman hadn’t shown up, it was even money that they would have killed all the drug dealers, including a major crime boss. That, to my mind, would have SOLVED a few problems, not cause more.

    They were out there in home-made bat-suits and, yes, hockey pads. That seems a LOT more heroic to me, instead of Batman’s hiding inside his super-duper million-dollar bullet-proof powered armor.

    Oh, and the idea that Batman is somehow more ‘moral’ by refusing to kill the bad guys doesn’t hold water with me. He may not kill, but apparently, ol’ Bats isn’t above TORTURING someone, like breaking the ankles of Marconi. And hey! In that previous film he damn well DID kill Liam Neeson’s character, justifying his actions with “I won’t kill you–but I don’t have to save you!” Weasel words, through and through.

    Watching a elitist billionaire with serious grief issues, armed with advanced, military-grade weapons and hardware, justifying his actions by snark and sophistry, does NOT make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    I’d sooner root for Mr. Hockey Pads.

  32. hikaru go says:

    “After all, who gave BATMAN the right? He never properly answered that question, now, did he? Do heroes regularly ignore pertinent questions about what justifies their actions?”

    ummm…the Police Commisioner and the District Attourney of the city???

  33. Mr. Krause:

    There was actually a whole paragraph I had in my analysis tying TDK to No Country for Old Men, but I cut it out because it seemed irrelevant. But it always struck me as weird that Chigurh uses Two-Face’s coin gag — even my wife, a comics illiterate, saw the reference clearly. Was Cormac McCarthy a Batman fan as a young man?

  34. Very interesting review. One thing though…

    “Gordon’s wife (whose name is Barbara, although she looks a little too old to become Batgirl)”

    Batgirl/Barbara Gordon is Jim Gordon’s daughter/niece and I was quite disappointed when Nolan used the son and not the daughter for the ending.

    The girl who was saved by Batman and then grows up to become Batgirl would be quite the nice touch for comics fans.

  35. Interesting analysis. While I can agree with some of the dissenters in the comments, I will say you’ve made me think about all kinds of thematic subtleties I hadn’t seen in the Batman films before. I hope you’ll continue to do these analyses of other comics-related screenplays, as I’d love to read them.

    Steven Taylor: “Batman would hate this movie and it’s prequel.”

    Batman Begins is not a “prequel.” A prequel is a sequel that takes prior to the previous work within the story’s chronology. Star Wars episodes 1-3 are prequels because they came out after episodes 4-6 but occur before them in the story’s timeline. “The Hobbit” will be a prequel to the other LotR movies because it occurs earlier but will be made after, but “Fellowship” is NOT a prequel to “Twin Towers” or “Return of the King.”

  36. I didn’t think this movie was long enough, actually, but I see no pacing problems. Nolan is a genius at pacing– Inception is beholden entirely to the pacing.

    I can’t believe anyone disliked this film.

    And I always thought he said “hockey pants.”

  37. Muthasucka says:

    Wow, you could write a whole other analysis of all the ridiculous criticism of this movie. Somehow, to my mind, it’s far more reasonable to just say “Eh, I didn’t like it,” than to bend over backwards to come up with some of the nonsense these people do.

    At any rate, Todd, I share your regard for this movie, and while I think your analysis is rigorous and largely spot-on, I think you may actually be over-analyzing the ending. And it’s one that a lot of people (at least those who rant on the internet) get stuck on. Yes, they could have pinned Harvey’s crimes on the Joker, but the Joker is alive and, though lacks credibility, could potentially prove that he didn’t do any number of those. But that’s less important than pinning Harvey’s death on Batman. How else to explain not just how he died but what he was doing there in the first place? And that’s one that the Joker CAN prove he didn’t do – he had already been captured at that point.

    The rationale is less that Bruce blames himself for this or that, but that Batman, as the one on the outside, the one who doesn’t need warrants or badges or lawyers, can be sacrificed for the greater good. I mean, isn’t that whole point? Bruce sacrifices his whole psyche to do some good for Gotham, he risks life and limb as Batman to help people, and thus can sacrifice Batman to save Dent’s reputation and save the city the trauma of losing their true hero. After all, Batman wasn’t created to inspire people, like Superman does, but to SCARE CRIMINALS. He’s not there to give people hope by his existence, he’s there to make people’s lives better by making criminals’ lives worse. So people think he’s a killer. Big deal. Guess what? The criminals think he’s a killer, too! Good! That’ll just make them more scared.

    I think the problem people have with the ending (aside from the ludicrous fan-gasm cries that Two-face didn’t get enough time) is that they simply can’t accept the spirit of it. It runs against their notions of Batman in particular and superheroes in general – at the end of the movie the superhero is supposed to win and is given a parade.

    It’s funny to me that millions of average film-goers seemed to accept it over and over, yet dyed-in-the-wool comics fans are the ones who chafe, “That’s not MY Batman!!” Well, guess what? The great thing about Batman as a fictional character is the same thing that’s great about him in this movie – he can be many things to many people depending on what he’s needed for. My 2-year-old son has a stuffed, smiling Batman doll and he loves it. Am I going to show him The Dark Knight just because he likes this doll? Of course not. And I’ve read a lot of people putting this movie down and then turning around and calling Burton’s Batman perfect. To each his or her own, I guess, but if you can’t accept Batman as a malleable property, then you’re truly missing out on the wonder of this character – he can be interpreted in different ways and still be interesting, and lend himself and his world to great storytelling.

  38. LTF:

    I had a couple of sentences in there about how maybe Jim’s daughter becomes Batgirl because her father obviously doesn’t give her enough attention, but they felt too off-topic. It is odd that they named his wife Barbara, though.

  39. Hey mothersucker,

    So it’s okay to analyze as long as we agree with your view? Otherwise, no good?

    I mean, what if someone said that people who LIKE the movie are the ones who bend over backwards to justify it. That really isn’t debate, that’s shouting down. I’m not actually saying that, I’m just saying.

    Alcott and you like the movie. Some other people don’t. That should be okay.

  40. keith says:

    @Todd: Actually, Barbara is the name of Gordon’s (ex-)wife in the comics too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Gordon_%28comics%29#Barbara_Kean-Gordon.2FBarbara_Eileen-Gordon

  41. Keith:

    Awesome, thanks. Who knew?

  42. Aw,…gimme a freakin’ break, man! You know what I mean.

  43. A truly great movie, even without the modifier of “action movie” or “comic book movie”. Simply a great film. And it really deserved the longest, most in-depth analysis of the series. I agree with most of what you said, and appreciate the thinking on what I don’t, and gleaned a few ideas I hadn’t pondered before. So… Thanks for all of these, Todd!

  44. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    Steven Taylor wrote:

    “A Neo-Con wet dream.”

    >>

    Right you are: This movie slyly presents a confrontation between the pillars of old school capitalist theory: Inefficient Markets / Expected bouts of anarchy / Chaos Theory (as exemplified by the Joker in his plans and carefully crafted monologues) & (The Neo-Con embraced) Efficient Market Theory (as exemplified by the noble cross section of Gothamites, who reject The Joker’s concepts, and refuse to destroy each other at the film climax). This trash actually tries to sell us a philosophy.

    Alas, the world is not run by a noble cross section of citizens – and within months of The Dark Knight’s release Americans did in fact blow themselves up (the buttons actually being pushed by the short-sighted world of finance) – and that makes the Dark Knight not just a specious and boring film… but a PROFOUNDLY IDIOTIC, specious and boring film.

    Historians may look back on the summer of 2008 and conclude that America’s embrace of The Dark Knight personified its fatal ignorance of reality.

    - Good luck finding your next job.

  45. Excellent analysis, Todd — easily my favorite of your Bat-film revisits (for what is, probably not coincidentally, my favorite of the Bat-films). I also love the anecdote you shared in the comments — which is so true (and heart-breakingly rare).

    With such a richly plotted film that has so much to examine, it makes sense that you couldn’t single everything out. But as a screenwriter, I’m sure you appreciate the astonishing construction of Nolan’s (the Nolans’) sequences. The way they build and overlap, the parallel storylines ducking and weaving to get out of each other’s way while simultaneously enriching and informing all the others, is as dizzying in “The Dark Knight” as it is in “Inception.”

    The result is cinematic storytelling so skilled and organic that, despite complaints I’ve heard about gratuitous scenes and subplots, you couldn’t remove a single element without everything crashing down.

    And yet, in the midst of all that precise construction, the Nolans take the time to slow down and give us great scenes of rich character and unforgettable dialogue, like the Batman/Joker interrogation and the Joker’s hospital room speech to Harvey.

    It’s a film that gets richer and more rewarding every time I watch it, which is often.

  46. Chris:

    Oh yes, I could do a separate analysis of the action sequences in this movie, and the way plot, character and theme continuously interact with each other during them. It’s such a dense screenplay, I’ve really never seen anything like it.

  47. @Todd: It’s true. I was going to suggest “Inception,” but even its four-sequence-layered climax (which is breathtaking in its own right) doesn’t quite compare to “The Dark Knight.”

  48. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    Later we debate something with even more nuance

    …CSI:Miami ?

    It’s never as pretentious as The Dark Knight but what can you do?

  49. JeffF says:

    Todd,

    You mention the only link you could find between Heath’s Joker and Jack’s was Francis Bacon. I don’t know if this counts, but I like the nod when Heath says ‘And there’s a Batman,’ answering Jack’s question of ‘Where is the Batman?’.

    I know nothing of politics, so perhaps that is why I never see the hidden agendas within movies that are so abundantly clear to others.

    And who knew that the throwaway hockey pads line was so insightful. Is every second of this movie up for debate? It’s a great movie. Period.

  50. This is a very fine analysis, even moreso given that the Nolans were able to film their vision without studio interference. That explains a lot, actually. However, when viewed as second act to what is admittedly a trilogy, the film becomes even more remarkable.

    Scarecrow is peddling the tainted drugs from Ras Al Ghuls teddy bears in ‘Begins.’ Batman’s selfish choice to save Rachel is thwarted by Joker’s duplicity, and almost every single choice that Joker offers is tainted by the “Liar’s Pardox” (including the ferry boats which could likely have been a self-annihilating “Killing Joke”). Goyer’s fanboy influence is also felt in the script, with tons of homage to tomes like The Killing Joke, Long Halloween, Year One, etc. But the icing on the cake is the political ambivalence of vigilante justice and Bush Doctrine; the darn movie is itself a Rorschach ink blot for Republicans (the WSJ article claiming it vindicates Cheney) and Liberals (who observe, as you note, that all of Batman’s ‘noble lies’, aggressive interrogation, rendition, and wiretapping actually play into the hands of the terrorist). Nolan doesn’t treat audiences a morons; rather, he gives a provocative existential meditation on vigilantism, justice, and the personal price of confusing means with ends. At every turn, Batman fails and suffers blowback, which is what makes this SuperAntihero such a timely figure.

    I think the final film *MUST* introduce Robin for the same reason that the character appeared in Miller’s graphic novel: Robin gives Batman hope in the future, tempers his darkness, and transforms Bruce from avenger to mentor. Ironically, Robin is a bigger cinematic challenge to a “realistic” take but is equally central to Batman’s virtue as a superhero rather than benevolent terrorist.

  51. Shiny Jim says:

    Really, all these criticisms are about Batman, or even superheroes in general. Violence and fascism were some of the rallying cries of the Wertham brigade, and even Batman villains have tried marxist deconstruction on him.

  52. Muthasucka says:

    darrylayo says:
    08/16/2010 at 3:00 pm

    “Hey mothersucker,

    So it’s okay to analyze as long as we agree with your view? Otherwise, no good?”

    No, I said it was fine with me (not that anyone needs my permission) if someone just didn’t like the movie. Read my post again.

    “I mean, what if someone said that people who LIKE the movie are the ones who bend over backwards to justify it.”

    People say that all the time. Just read some of the responses on this page.

  53. Muthasucka says:

    Muthasucka says:
    08/16/2010 at 2:26 pm

    Wow, you could write a whole other analysis of all the ridiculous criticism of this movie. Somehow, to my mind, it’s far more reasonable to just say “Eh, I didn’t like it,” than to bend over backwards to come up with some of the nonsense these people do.

    “Horatio Weisfeld says:
    08/16/2010 at 7:15 pm

    This movie slyly presents a confrontation between the pillars of old school capitalist theory: Inefficient Markets / Expected bouts of anarchy / Chaos Theory (as exemplified by the Joker in his plans and carefully crafted monologues) & (The Neo-Con embraced) Efficient Market Theory (as exemplified by the noble cross section of Gothamites, who reject The Joker’s concepts, and refuse to destroy each other at the film climax). This trash actually tries to sell us a philosophy.”

    Jeez, I rest my case…

    Seriously, though, to accuse this movie of passing off anything in it as philosophy or political science, would be the same as accusing it of passing of microwave guns and sonar imaging headsets as “science.” Or vigilante justice as “jurisprudence.”

    I gather you’re well-versed in these matters and perhaps can’t help bringing them to the table, but do you really think every judge, cop, lawyer, scientist, martial artist, butler and psychiatrist who saw it felt the movie was making a serious statement about their respective fields? And that they all signed off on it??

    The truth is, however “realistic” the movie strives to be cosmetically, it is a fantasy, a comic book superhero movie set in another reality where the exact laws of physics and morality don’t work as they do in ours. The boat scene isn’t a “philosophy” – it’s comic book morality, a trap where only doing the right thing will win.

    Also, as any half-way serious scholar will tell you, you can read just about any political message into about any text you want. What makes a particular interpretation valid is both author intent and real-life context. If you can find any interview with Nolan where he claims to be presenting “a confrontation between the pillars of old school capitalist theory” I will defer to your analysis. Or if you can find any connection between anything in the movie inspiring any real-life actions or events, I’d love to hear about it. But drawing a link between people liking Batman movie and the final collapse of an economy that was set in motion years earlier is much more specious than anything presented in the film.

    “Historians may look back on the summer of 2008 and conclude that America’s embrace of The Dark Knight personified its fatal ignorance of reality.”

    I sincerely hope that historians in the future have a lot better things to do than draw the conclusion that people look to fiction for an escape from reality. Especially since historians from the past figured that one out a long time ago.

  54. “The idea that the people of Gotham know that Bruce is Batman and let him run around punching criminals anyway is one that has yet to be explored in the Batman mythos.”

    Here’s a gag on that note. It’s fan made and a comedy, so it’s probably as far from anything that DC or Chris Nolan would do on the subject.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1-v9VFqztY

    Thanks for writing all these articles, Todd!

  55. Hey, look everybody! It’s part of an interview with Nolan in Newsweek discussing “The Dark Knight” and I’m just wondering if this counts as author intent or real-life context.

    Devin Gordon: The film implies that Gotham’s latest wave of psychos exist partly because of Batman, not in spite of him. His presence has unintended consequences in the same way that the U.S. presence in Iraq has consequences.

    Chris Nolan: At the end of the first film we introduced the idea of escalation. Batman creates this extreme response to crime in Gotham—putting on a mask and jumping off rooftops. Well, what’s that going to inspire from the criminals he’s fighting? Batman has changed the world, but not all for the better. The use of force against an enemy is a tricky and fascinating thing to have in a story. And the film tries to make the point that everybody loses in these situations.

    D.G: So it’s not a stretch to look at Gotham and see shades of Baghdad?

    C. S.: Well, where I suppose I would see a parallel is the threat of chaos, which is something we very much deal with in this film. And in today’s world, Baghdad is a powerful illustration of that. It’s frightening to imagine in one of our own cities.

    D. G.: This is heavy stuff for a summer blockbuster.

    C. S.: [Laughs] In a way, but I hope it’s also entertaining stuff. All of the political echoes that we’re talking about—they’re all things that rattle around in your brain afterward. The movie itself aims to be entertainment. But you’ve got to have some real fear that things are not going to turn out well. What we’re trying for is genuine peril.

    Just askin’?

  56. Colin McGonnigal says:

    It seems, to me at least, that all political allegories were implied by the interviewer, not Nolan. I feel like Nolan was just saying that one could put parallels to them and walk away with a different experience. But, then again, I’ve been wrong before so to each his own, I suppose.

  57. Muthasucka says:

    Steven Taylor says:
    08/19/2010 at 12:05 am

    “Hey, look everybody! It’s part of an interview with Nolan in Newsweek discussing “The Dark Knight” and I’m just wondering if this counts as author intent or real-life context.”

    Not really, but thanks for trying.

    First of all, as Colin pointed out, the interviewer brought up all the real-life ideas, and Nolan sort of didn’t contradict him. Second of all, I read nothing in there about “a confrontation between the pillars of old school capitalist theory” or anything else any other poster has accused it of here.

    I’m not saying that Nolan WASN’T thinking of real-life events or allegories when he made the film, I’m saying that if he was he wasn’t thinking “Neocon/fascist wet dream” or any other specious nonsense that some people have tried to ascribe to the motives or meaning of the movie.

  58. Anonymous says:

    to accuse this movie of passing off anything in it as philosophy or political science, would be the same as accusing it of passing of microwave guns and sonar imaging headsets as “science.”

    >>

    Really: So this story (in which the community’s common sense seems to naturally/logically trump Anarchy) just happens to appear, right at a crucial time in history, when a small body (noble) people were warning about how fragile our system was/is — and warning that we soon faced a systemic anarchy of our own making — and those warnings we’re being rebuffed by a large, organized gang of self-serving, decadent clowns who were ever creating more risk (while generating profits for themselves)?

    …And you call ME “specious” for attacking a story that (aside from being, scene to scene, illogical and silly) seems to suggest our world (since it’s full of such noble and righteous citizens) is (in the end) under no real threat of systemic breakdown.

    Sorry:

    In reality the threat is not The Joker but the complete ignorance of people who think that these are realistic concepts.

    For some enlightenment, I suggest my fellow Americans watch a few less movies and read The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, after that it maybe easier to appreciate the true idiocy of putting (the dialogue below) in the mouth of a “bad guy” – when he’s just articulating the natural order of our (not his) own making) …as history has shown us, over and over, over again:

    JOKER :
    Do I really look like a guy with a plan, Harvey?
    I don’t have a plan …
    The mob has plans. The cops have plans.
    You know what I am, harvey? I am a dog chasing cars… I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.
    I just do things. I am just the wrench in the gears. I hate plans.
    Yours, theirs, everyone’s. maroni has plans. Gordon has plans.
    Schemers trying to control their worlds.
    I am not a schemer. I show the schemer how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.
    So when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know I am telling the truth.
    I just did what I do best. I took your plan and turned it on itself.
    Look what I have done to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.
    Nobody panics when the expected people gets killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.
    If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics. – because it’s all part of the plan.
    But when I say that one little old mayor will die, everybody lose their minds.
    Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order and everything becomes chaos.
    I am agent of chaos.
    And you know the thing about chaos Harvey?
    “IT is FAIR.”

  59. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    Last comment (12:28) was me.

  60. That the interview didn’t specifically use the words that were mentioned in a previous post doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t play off of real world happenings and incorporate those things into the final product.
    It’s all over the movie like a map and to say it isn’t, is to deny the facts. These ideas are not merely implied by certain viewer’s interpretation. These ideas are, basically, hammered home, again and again throughout the movie.

  61. Colin McGonnigal says:

    Steven Taylor, I agree that the movie could be interpreted as a nod to real-world events, as any movie worth its merit can be interpreted a multitude of ways. What I don’t understand is that this movie is a, and I quote, “Neocon/fascist wet dream”.

  62. Fascism: A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. — The Anatomy of Fascism
    Neocon: A neo-conservative (abbreviated as neo-con or neocon) is part of a U.S. based political movement rooted in liberal Cold War anticommunism and a backlash to the social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. These liberals drifted toward conservatism: thus they are new (neo) conservatives. They favor an aggressive unilateral U.S. foreign policy. They generally believe that elites protect democracy from mob rule. Sometimes the spelling is “neoconservative

  63. Colin McGonnigal says:

    Just so you know, defining words does not make you right. It makes you a dictionary.

  64. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    I agree that the movie could be interpreted as a nod to real-world events, as any movie worth its merit can be interpreted a multitude of ways. What I don’t understand is that this movie is a, and I quote, “Neocon/fascist wet dream”.

    >>

    If that was directed at my comments:

    I wasn’t saying that the film incorporates or references particular current events -I said (or was trying to say) that the film directly addresses philosophical issues (having to do with “RISK”) and comes to a silly/specious and (at least at the time of its release) politically correct conclusion.

    One of the biggest problems we face right now has to do with the belittling of “Risk” by certain (not necessarily Neo-cons) self-serving elements. With The Dark Knight I see a popular entertainment presenting (with a ham fist) the philosophical arguments of the “risk the belittlers” — which is why I find it profoundly stupid and offensive.

  65. I’m sorry, Mr. McGonnigal, It’s not my intention to be right about something, here,…I’m merely expressing my opinion. It is my opinion that the writers and director of this film expects it’s audience to accept the idea that a hero is someone who has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past. That a hero is someone who must arrogantly take matters into his own hands, despite commonly accepted legality. That innocent human lives must not, necessarily, submit to technicalities and bureaucratic processes that let criminals walk. That Batman, may be illegal, but his existence is derivative of a society that is so weak and degenerate it needs a vigilante to save it. That a wealthy industrialist,…one living off of government defense contracting, multinational mergers and acquisition,…uses his position to marshal vast resources to develop military grade technology and materiel in the ‘fight’ against the ‘gangs’ in Gotham, whilst hiding his identity as the “Batman” in order to protect his position as capitalist, and to avoid public responsibility for his extra-legal violence in the name of security and order.

  66. Shiny Jim says:

    …a deluded trust fund orphan who vents his rage and frustation on the poor in alleyways! Repeat after me: “I must put away my Batman costume and retire from crime-fighting!”

    Far smarter people than me have dissected the Batman/Superheroes are fascist argument:

    http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.com/2010/07/fascist-superman-tyrant-aquaman-that.html

  67. Jim S says:

    What you must also remember is that this film is a real continuation of Batman Begins. Just as Godfather II builds on Godfather, The Dark Knight builds on Batman Begins. Hence we have the Scarecrow loose end taken care of.

    Also, remember what Alfred said when Bruce declared he didn’t care about his name (Wayne). Alfred said Wayne just wasn’t Bruce’s name, it was his father’s name and it’s all that’s left of his father. That was something that actually caused Bruce to pause.

    As Alfred pointed out in both movies, Batman is there to do the things Bruce can’t, including sacrifice a “name”.

    I could be wrong, I’m just trying to sound smart.

  68. Shikome Kido Mi says:

    Those people’s ‘common sense’ (which wasn’t common sense, because common sense is to push the button as fast as possible so the other guy doesn’t blow you up but the smart solution is to use life boats or life jackets or anything that floats to get off the boat with a bomb on it it put there by a madman) DIDN’T beat anarchy as represented by the Joker, since all it really did was ensure he tried to blow them all up anyway and we had to have Batman step in.
    Anyway, even if the idea being espoused is that common people have the ability to make rational decisions, that’s one of the foundations of democracy as much as it is any ‘efficient market’ idea. So, isn’t it entirely possible that any implied message was just “rah, rah democracy” or even just feel good nonsense about how common people can do the right thing and all this about market forces and economics is in your mind? For one thing, you seem to be assuming the Nolan Brothers are aware of and think about things this way. It’s entirely possible they don’t even know the NAMES of the various theories some reviewers see clashing here, much less possess the ability to intentionally delineate them clearly. People don’t all see the world in the same terms and unintentional alliances come out of different agendas all the time. That said, you’re right that the timing had some effect because this version of the Joker is a terrorist (but then so is every version, back to the original announcing who he was going to kill and what he was going to steal). But you’ll note that in fact the spying performed by Batman was labeled by one of the film’s old wise advisor characters as crossing the line and the machine was destroyed after one use. In complex fiction just because the protagonist does something doesn’t make it right.
    And as far as that interview goes, all that happened was the guy asking questions tried really hard to sell the analogy that he wanted to.

    Now as for the Alcott Analysis itself, it was interesting and he reads things a bit differently than I did. I hadn’t realized how much of a victory the Joker had, but the ending did call back to the line he gave Batman about Gotham turning on him.
    I do think the movie got overly preachy sometimes, but it was tolerably right up until the voice over ending with Gordan. That was pompous and irritating, but luckily short and came too late to ruin any of the cool stuff preceding it.

  69. Skeeterrific says:

    Well written article, though I couldn’t disagree with you more about the movie. I’m with those who say the movie is 45 minutes too long. The whole fourth act was a mess. I thought pacing killed Nolan’s “The Prestige” too, though I really liked “Inception”.

    And I’m fine with the movie versions of comic characters being different from the comic versions (see Parker, Peter and his organic web fluid), but this Batman is an unlikeable thug. Maybe that was Nolan’s intention, I don’t know. Prime example: the end of the chase scene. The Joker gets out of the wrecked truck and Batman aims his bat-hummercycle at him and… wrecks the bike and passes out. Wow. World’s Greatest Detective.

    I agree with the guy above who said the best Batman movie was Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Not a very good movie, but better than this morose, boring mess of a Batman film.

  70. AJFred says:

    Great movie, great review. I just wanted to chime in with my $0.02 on the whole debate between people who didn’t like it and those who did.

    I find it interesting that Craven Lovelace, who calls it torture porn and equates it with Saw and Hostile, also points out that “unlike those franchises, “The Dark Knight” doesn’t even have the courage of its sadistic convictions.” That is exactly what separates it from those movies. Yes, we see a mans face burn, and the hero’s girlfriend is blown up, but it isn’t dwelled upon in graphic detail like the brutality is in those films. The fact that it had bad things happen isn’t enough make it torture porn. It did flaunt the line with Two-Face, but wasn’t for the gore, it was for the emotional impact it would show the audience. These characters are going through hell. The whole movie is about Harvey Dent, so we get to see the extremes that he is pushed to, and we get to feel his pain as he slips into madness. It is also worth pointing out that while many of the dramatic moments with the Joker were about suffering, they were about emotional suffering, not physical. Yes Dawes dies, but it was near instantly, so no physical suffering, the suffering was on the part of Dent and Wayne. There was no physical suffering on the ferries, there was the moral dilemma faced by the people to make them frightened enough to kill. I thought that was a beautiful scene and got chills when the guy threw the trigger out the window. On an aside, I think the point of that scene is this: The Joker tries to show us that everyone has a mass murderer hiding inside waiting to come out. The people not blowing each other up is meant to show that everyone has a hero inside, who will, even knowing they will die, still stand up and do the right thing. They knew that the Joker would kill them all, but they still had the moral strength to not kill.

    I recommend to many folks I know who didn’t like this movie to watch it slowly, by them selves, as there is a hell of a lot going on and it happens very fast. There is a lot of depth and character motivation that gets lost because the movie moves so quickly. So many things I see complained about, specially pertaining to Batman doing “stupid, confusing” things are missing the point. The whole theme of this movie is can the Batman be broken. Many of those scenes are ones where the dramatic tension comes from Batman doing something that looks like he’s going to break his morals, but doesn’t. Thats why he wipes out the bike at the last minute, and similar things.

    About the length: This isn’t a Batman movie in the traditional sense. This is a Harvey Dent movie. We had to resolve the Two-Face/Dent arc because that was really the crux of the movie, emotionally and dramatically. The “extra 40 minute movie” was not just a tacked on bit, it was the impetus of the film. The whole thing was leading to Dent’s rampage and final confrontation with Batman. This movie could easily have been Two-Face Begins, except that that would imply his return.

    Batman did have some character development, but it was more subtle. his arc basically took him from optimistic hero to absolute failure. He ended the last movie on a high note, and seemed to be making good progress for the most part between films, but by the end of this he realizes that he has been foolish in trying to be a masked vigilante and realizes that he, himself, with his well paved path of good intentions has brought the city to hell. He has found himself having caused everything he fought against and now must rectify the wrongs he has wrought and then quit and leave the people to do for themselves what they should have been doing since the start. He lived long enough to see himself become the villain, but unlike Dent, he realizes it and wants to fix things. This cannot be a confident Batman as he just got started (still figuring the whole thing out) and now finds himself facing the real world and it isn’t at all as he imagined it would be.

    One other thing about anarchy and chaos. Yes, the film has a villain who espouses the natural order of the world; things naturally move toward increased chaos. This is called entropy and is a fundamental law of science. It is, though, natural for an evil character to espouse this ideal as civilization is about countering this natural trend. Humans crave order, it is part of our very make up. We want things to have patterns and predictability. We build relationships and build objects and build structure all around us. This force is called enthalpy and is “not natural.” I put quotes around that as it isn’t the natural way of the fundamental forces of physics, but it is the natural way of humans, and mostly all life as well. Anyone who opposes enthalpy and embraces entropy is going against the natural instincts of human nature and therefore would be considered evil by society and most people.

  71. Wrath of Connery says:

    absolutely brilliant analysis

    It’s funny that the tiny portion of people who hate the film obviously did not understand it and can only feel frustration.

    These are the same group that want mindless blockbusters such as Transformers, GI Joe, etc

    Search for the name ‘Minkowski’ and his cartoonish hate for Christopher Nolan is entertaining solely because he lacks the thought process of watching the man’s films.

  72. I haven’t checked in here for some time as I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I will add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it my friend :)

  73. Great article!

    The whole point with Batman “not wearing hockey pads” is that he’s not wearing them. And that’s why, when a dog bites him, he needs a new suit. With glorified hockey pads. Sissy.

  74. Hey there! I’ve been reading your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent job!

  75. Martificiam says:

    This was a fantastic read. A great, in-depth review of a film, which is too often misjudged by the word “Batman” in it. If only more people would see this film for what it is – a brilliant masterpiece of modern cinema and not yet another, dumb american superhero blockbuster.

  76. ZethHolyblade says:

    Ive just finished reading your review for 40 mins and must say this is awesome. I enjoyed the film but somehow felt I was missing some hidden features on it, plus many of the so-called movie critics ive read online about the film didn’t seem to do justice to it. Enjoyed reading this a lot, I agree with ya on most aspects. When the DKR comes out, I’ll be looking forward to check your review :)

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