The Dark Knight - Character Review

Harvey Dent
Throughout the course of the film, Bruce tries to secure Harvey’s future as Gotham’s District Attorney and even keeps Harvey on the right path when he believes that Harvey is perilously close to blurring the lines between good and evil.

Of course, as it is in the comics, Harvey ultimately becomes the villain Two-Face. With his new persona, Harvey is capable of seeing and acting on both sides of the law. On one side, he is still Gotham’s "White Knight." But, on the other, he is driven to madness by the death of Rachel Dawes. Unable to make his own choices about which side to take, his actions are determined by the only thing he can see as being truly fair – Chance. With the flip of his coin he determines the life or death of those he deems responsible for Rachel’s death. The flipping of his coin represents total chaos. The outcome is anyone’s guess.

This idea of chaos was introduced to Two-Face by the main villain of the film – The Joker.

The Joker
The Joker in The Dark Knight is far different than any Joker we have seen before. The Joker in the Batman comics has always been a sociopathic clown who masterminds grand schemes to entrap Batman and amuse himself. But, generally his plans have had some sort of financial gain to them, and his violent actions, though gruesome, have always had a level of “comedy” to them. This is certainly apparent with his portrayal in the 60s TV show, when he was played by Cesar Romero, and in the 1989 film, when he was played by Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson, arguably the most well-known Joker, made me laugh at times. Sure, he was killing people throughout the film. But, the deaths weren’t nearly as bloody, and he tried to put a smile on people’s faces. Well, sort of. His antics, though mildly disturbing, did not make me cringe.

The Joker in The Dark Knight, however…that is a different story. This Joker is…disturbing. Played by Heath Ledger, the Joker in The Dark Knight is simply one of the best villains ever put on screen. This Joker has no origin. He has no back story. He simply is what he is. He retains his original sociopathic-nature and his twisted sense of humor. But, as someone put it to me, he is the only one laughing at his jokes. His antics are disturbing enough to make even a strong-stomached person avert their eyes. He uses a knife as his primary weapon so that he can, as he put it, “savor the little emotions of people before they die.” On top of his actions, his physical appearance has been altered to represent his more gruesome persona. He still wears the traditional clown make-up. But, it isn’t a discoloration of his skin (as in the 1989 film) or a reflection of his comedic character. Instead, it is referred to by one character as “war paint.” That’s a fitting description considering Joker’s war with society. It’s also interesting to note that his classic “smile” is no longer just painted on. It is scarred into his face. How he got the scars is never made clear (he changes the story at least 2 different times). But, one thing is certain. These scars are not just skin deep. They reflect this maniac’s true nature.

In one of his first scenes he performs a “magic trick” which sets the tone of this character. He claims that he can make a pencil disappear, then slams a henchmen’s face into the pencil, embedding it in his skull. Afterwards, he concludes the “trick” with a traditional “Tada.” That is The Joker. Without any fear, empathy, or remorse, he destroys what he can get his hands on. And, he treats it as a performance, with himself as his main audience.

Some might say that The Joker is without reason. He even tries to convince Dent that he is not a man with a plan. He just acts.

As we see in the film, this isn’t true. He has a plan. And, he is smart enough and capable enough to carry it out. Alfred surmises that The Joker may be a man “who just wants to watch the world burn.” This is not far from the truth.

Ultimately, The Joker’s plan is not to control the mob, Gotham City, or the world. He is not doing any of this for infamy or wealth (After all, he burned his very large stack of cash). No, he does this for one reason.

He does this to show that he is not the ”freak.” He may be a little more twisted or theatrical than most. But, when faced with the ultimate choice, “normal” people can be just as chaotic and destructive as he is. He wants to watch the world burn, but he wants to watch the so-called “normal” citizens to be the ones who set the fires. His primary target is Harvey Dent. To him, Harvey represents the ultimate good guy. He is Gotham’s “White Knight” who has dedicated his life to restoring peace and justice in Gotham. He has no fear of fighting crime lords, psychopaths, or mob bosses. And, he can’t be bought, terrorized, or corrupted.

But, The Joker isn’t the only one who sees Dent this way. Batman does as well.

Bruce Wayne/Batman
It’s interesting that the Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman is nothing more than a face. Traditionally, Bruce Wayne has been a “tortured soul” who tries to find a balance between having a personal life as Bruce Wayne and a “night life” as Batman. In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne, for all intents and purposes, isn’t real. Batman is real. Bruce Wayne is the persona that he adopts to get certain things done. Bruce finances Batman’s crusade, Bruce provides various cover stories for Batman’s actions, and Bruce provides Batman with rest when he needs it. But, ultimately, Bruce Wayne is a facade. As I stated before, he does look forward to the day when he is not needed as Batman. But, until that day comes, he uses the character of Bruce Wayne to aid him in his crusade.

There is another interesting element of The Dark Knight that differs from the comics and previous films. Occasionally in the comics, Batman is seen a danger to Gotham. There are times when certain plots characterize him as an outcast. But, ordinarily, he is a beloved hero to Gotham’s citizens. In the beginning of the 1989 film, Batman was a wanted man by the police. But, he quickly secures his role as a protector and accepted by the citizens of Gotham.
In Christopher Nolan’s universe however, Batman is never fully accepted by Gotham. Even at the end of Batman Begins, Gordon is the only one who trusts him. In The Dark Knight, citizens still see him as an unwelcomed vigilante who is responsible for the death’s of Gotham’s citizens and police officers who had died at the hands of The Joker. He is blamed for the very thing Gordon warned about at the end of Batman Begins – Escalation. Gotham’s citizens panic when The Joker begins his rampage, and they lash out at Batman. The cops, never ones to be outdone by a masked crusader, never trust Batman and denounce him as a vigilante.

Knowing this, The Joker tells Batman, “To them, you’re just a freak…like me” (My favorite line in the entire film). He’s right. To them, Batman is a freak, on par with The Joker. Both are menaces. Neither can be trusted. In the end of the film, Batman seems to give them even more reason not to trust them as he willingly takes the blame for the heinous crimes perpetrated by Harvey Dent as Two-Face. He escapes into the night being chased by Gotham’s police force and branded an outcast.

This introduces what I think is one of the most interesting elements of the plot…the title. It’s a weird thing to say, but this is one of the best titles I have ever seen. “The Dark Knight” is a commonly used nickname for Batman. In the past, it has simply referred to the fact that he crusades for Gotham and is shrouded in darkness.

Yet, this title introduces an entirely new element into the name. If Harvey Dent truly is the “White Knight” of Gotham with his goodness and purity, then Batman truly is the “Dark Knight” who continues to fight for Gotham even though he is an outcast. The irony is that, to those he tries to protect, he is considered evil.

Jim Gordon put it best when he said that Batman is the hero that Gotham deserves, but he is not the hero that Gotham needs right now.


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