ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008), Part Three
Each week, Chris Sims, David Uzumeri and Andy Khouri take a look back at one of the most successful and influential comic book movie franchises of all time, in ComicsAlliance’s in-depth retrospective on the Batman films.
David: Welcome back to Cinematic Batmanology, for part three (!) of our look at Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s The Dark Knight. When we last left the movie (part one, part two), Jim Gordon had seemingly died in the line of duty protecting the Mayor from the Joker at former Commissioner Loeb’s funeral, and this left Batman really pissed off. Harvey Dent had also absconded with one of the Joker’s henchmen from the scene of the crime. That henchman was wearing a nametag with the name Rachel Dawes, signaling her as the next to die.
Chris: In other words, things were pretty grim, even by Gotham City standards. And that’s saying something.David: For those of you following along, this is Scene 17.
Chris: With one of his closest allies dead and the woman he loves threatened, Batman begins intense investigation, and by that I of course mean that he’s getting ready to beat the living hell out of Eric Roberts.
David: He’s so incredibly skeezy in this flick.
Chris: We didn’t really talk about Roberts much in the earlier scenes, but he’s seriously great in this. Through all of his interactions with Dent and the Joker, he’s able to project this amazing smugness, and the scene in the nightclub really underscores that. I love that he’s sitting there with this goofy half-smile as he listens to house music.
David: “We can’t hear each other talk!” “What makes you think I want to hear you talk?” He’s an absolute douchebag to the girl he’s with, and it really underscores just how cocky he is with his mob influence.
Chris: Exactly, and he sells that cockiness really, really well. He’s a guy who is just flat-out not afraid of Batman. For now, anyway.
David: After working out his aggression on a bunch of thugs in a nightclub and grabbing Maroni, we cut to Rachel Dawes in the Major Crimes Unit, when Harvey Dent calls her to tell her she’s been tagged as the next victim and that MCU isn’t safe. Somewhat to Dent’s dismay, she says the safest place in Gotham right now is Bruce Wayne’s penthouse, and goes there.
Chris: That’s another great example of how sharp this script is. This is a super-tense scene with a huge threat hanging over Rachel, and we still get the comedy of Dent’s absolute disbelief that Bruce is trustworthy, or that he’s even remotely capable of keeping Rachel safe. Apparently, he still has no idea who choked him out at the fundraiser.
David: We then go back to Batman and Maroni, and Batman kicks off his interrogation by dropping him from a balcony just high enough to break his legs but not kill him. What’s great is that Maroni recognizes this and calls him on it, and Batman just goes “I’m counting on it” and drops him. I really have to wonder how they filmed this, since it really does look like Eric Roberts drops like five stories and breaks his ankles. I guess there’s a cut right between him falling and landing, so they could have used a harness or a doll.
Chris: Roberts does this great little immediate shift right after he drops where he starts spilling what he knows about the Joker, but it only lasts a second before he’s able to compose himself. Even being dropped and breaking his legs just reinforces what he knows about Batman: That Batman won’t kill him. So you get this great moment of Batman being just as ruthless as he can be within the moral structure set up by the first film, and it just does not work when it’s put up against what the Joker’s doing.
David: Batman asks Maroni where the Joker is, and Maroni says he has no damn idea. Batman continues to completely misunderstand the Joker by asking if he has any friends. Maroni points out that nobody’s going to turn on the Joker, since they know Batman won’t kill them or their family, while the Joker truly has no moral limits. At this point, Batman’s don’t-kill limitation is being tested like never before for him.
Chris: It’s this great bit of irony. Even the criminals now feel safer around Batman than they do around the Joker.
Andy: Batman’s interrogation of Maroni addresses something that you have to ignore in order to enjoy the comics after so many years, which is that eventually the criminals of Gotham will realize that the Batman will never murder them, but the Joker — and maybe even the cops — will. In a finite story like The Dark Knight, it’s a powerful moment and a turning point in Bruce’s mission. The Plan is no longer working, and if Maroni can figure it out, so can the Joker.
Andy: Re-watching the film, it makes you think that if Bruce is indeed still interested in hunting criminals after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, it’ll help that Batman’s come out of the story with a new rep as a cold-blooded killer. It’s a really clever way of reinstating the status quo of criminals being afraid of him by making Batman a killer in the yes of his prey, but without his undermining his ethics by actually killing anybody.
David: The thing about Batman is that he has to carefully cultivate the image that he doesn’t have ethics, something we’ll return to at the end of the film. Meanwhile, the illusion of a lack of limitations is in full force in the next scene, as Harvey Dent interrogates the Joker’s goon.
Chris: Right. Maroni’s “they’re wise to your act” is pointing out what Batman really is: an act. He needs to appear more threatening than he is. Dent, meanwhile, is someone that we know a lot less about.
David: At this point in the movie, only Batman fans would recognize that Dent’s coin is double-headed, so the hypothetical new viewer would have no idea that there’s no way Dent is going to kill this dude. He keeps flipping a coin to decide whether or not to shoot him with a gun to his head, and while some of us know that this is all an act since the coin’s always going to turn up heads, the Joker’s goon certainly doesn’t. So it works as an interrogation tactic.
Except that, true to form, the Joker’s goon doesn’t know a damn thing.
Chris: I love this part, because it’s set up to make you think that we’re about to see the beginning of Two-Face and his signature coin flip, but even here, with Rachel’s life on the line, Dent’s completely in control. He’s pulling this masterful bluff on everyone, including — as you said — the audience. In theory, anyway. We — you and I, and anyone else who wasn’t coming to these characters cold — know about the double-headed coin, and to be fair, it’s already been seeded in the script.
David: “I make my own luck.” Dent is the master of the psyche-out, and that’s why he’s become such a successful DA. As Dent’s about to flip the coin for the second time, Batman shows up and catches it, rebuking Dent for “leaving a man’s life to chance.” He has no idea either. He points out that this goon is an ex-Arkham patient who’s too low on the totem pole to know anything. And pleads with Harvey not to do things like this, since they could ruin his reputation as the White Knight of Gotham that Batman thinks he needs to put away his Batman costume and retire from crimefighting, so he can be with Rachel and become a normal family. Something Rachel knows is never actually going to happen.
Chris: I love that the act even fools Batman, a guy who is intimately familiar with the idea of manipulating the fears of others. It’s one of the small scenes that echoes the theme of the movie: Bruce really has set himself up as being above and apart from everyone else — it doesn’t even enter his head that Harvey could be doing the same thing that Batman does to crooks on a daily basis — but he refuses to acknowledge his own failings and limitations. As a result, Harvey’s act of self-sacrifice over the next couple of scenes takes him completely by surprise. He doesn’t expect “Gotham’s White Knight” to indulge in deception and trickery like he does.
Chris: Something else about Batman and Dent’s interaction: Batman says that Dent is “the symbol of hope that I can never be,” but he’s wrong. He’s already become a symbol of hope — albeit not a very good one at this point. Dent probably wouldn’t inspire dudes to dress up in hockey pads and try to shoot drug dealers with shotguns, but we’ll see later that Batman’s impact on the city has gone far beyond that.
Andy: This is another one of those pivotal moments in this Batman’s life story and in the philosophical debate going on in this film. It’s been made plain to Batman by Maroni that his plan is no longer working and that he is by his actions/inactions causing people to die, like his friend Jim Gordon. We’re reminded that Harvey is extreme order, Joker is extreme chaos, and Batman is relatively the pragmatic center. Batman’s decided at this point that the rational thing to do is stop the killing, and it’s easy to sympathize with the decision given the traumatic episode at Commissioner Loeb’s funeral. But Harvey sees Batman’s decision as giving in to terrorism. When he says, “You can’t give in!” — that’s what people mean when they say Harvey is the soul of Gotham City. You hear the citizens support the Batman similarly in little bits throughout both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It’s that connection to the spirit of the people that Batman speaks of when he tells Harvey that he cannot be seen to be anything like himself or the Joker. As we see later, the people of Gotham are increasingly divided by the Joker’s acts of terrorism, and Batman knows that if order is to win, Harvey has to stay pure and let Batman take the hits. Unfortunately, taking the hits turns out to mean much more than unmasking.
David: Bruce goes home to hang out with Rachel, who pleads with him (just as Harvey does) not to turn himself in and capitulate to the Joker’s demands. She points out that if he turns himself in, they’ll never get to be together. Batman also kisses a girl for the second time in this entire series.
Chris: He’s saving himself for marriage, old chum.
David: We also get a typically great Bruce/Alfred scene in the Bat-Bunker, with Alfred burning all of Bruce’s old casefiles (which were apparently in banker boxes from Staples) in a gigantic furnace, to prevent Rachel and Lucius from being implicated. Alfred points out that Bruce needs to make the “right choice” to not turn himself in, since he’s already an outcast. And five seconds after saying he doesn’t want to say “I told you so,” he does, and Bruce jokes that he’s going to tell the cops the entire thing was Alfred’s idea. I really love their shared gallows humor.
Chris: The humor is great. It really reinforces the idea of Bruce and Alfred as family, as smart guys who are comfortable around each other.
David: Alfred being Batman’s Old Man Friday is really believable in this iteration, that he actually has the skillset to help out.
Chris: Alfred also reminds him that the entire point of Batman is that it doesn’t matter if people hate him or not, as long as he’s out there doing the right thing.
David: The next morning, at the press conference, Dent attempts to convince the crowd that they need to not comply with the whims of a terrorist, unsuccessfully. After a chorus insisting that Batman turns himself in, just as Bruce is about to step up, Harvey claims to be Batman and gets himself taken away in handcuffs. This seriously pisses off Rachel, who goes to yell at Alfred about Bruce letting Harvey take the fall, and then gives him an unsealed letter to give to Bruce “when the time is right.”
Chris: Even Rachel doesn’t expect Harvey to go through with this lie; or more likely, she doesn’t want him to, since he’s putting himself in danger of getting killed. It’s also worth noting that while Dent initially just refuses to give in to the Joker’s demands, one of the things that pushes him to tell everyone he’s Batman is the guys shouting “No more dead cops!” Meanwhile, as a direct result of Harvey being transported to prison, like fifty cops are blown up over the next ten minutes.
David: I’m still very unclear on the mechanics of this whole plan and who knew what when, but we’ll get to that. The next scene is Rachel visiting Harvey in jail as he’s about to be transferred to county, where she points out that Batman’s using him as bait to bring out the Joker. When he asks how she knows this, she just brushes it off. As he gets put into the van — driven by a SWAT team member whose face is hidden under protective gear — he gives Rachel his lucky coin and points out that he’s “not leaving this to chance.” She inspects it and the audience is shown that the coin was double-headed all along, and was just a psyche-out play to make his deliberate choices seem random. Which also ties in to the Joker’s entire methodology. Everyone’s got plans they don’t want to look like plans.
Chris: Including getting his first date with Rachel.
David: Batman, Joker and Harvey are all trying to look dangerous and unpredictable when they’re all planning twenty steps ahead.
Chris: And don’t forget Gordon, who has what might be the most elaborate plan of the entire movie. Which, under scrutiny, sure does require a lot of coincidences to line up just right to pull off.
David: Yeah, absolutely. I’d believe it if he were in league with either Batman or Dent, but he’s not.
Chris: But we don’t know if Batman’s in on it, do we?
David: He’s not. He’s too angry about Gordon’s death.
Chris: Well, he’s pretty angry all the time.
David: Or I guess he might have actually been in on it. I’d never considered that — we know for sure Harvey isn’t, but Batman might be. Anyway, at about this time a whole load of stuff starts blowing up.
David: Joker basically waits for Dent’s prison convoy to end up in a tunnel, and then starts shooting it with automatic weapons, then a big ol’ shotgun, and then a straight-up press-9-in-Half-Life rocket launcher. He blows up basically every police car in the convoy other than Dent’s truck, because Racer X is an amazing driver.
Chris: (Secretly unknown to Speed, Jim Gordon is actually his brother Rex!)
David: The Joker is also practically completely louche about the entire affair, lazily shooting the cop cars like he’s totally relaxed.
Chris: I also love that he has a truck that he spraypainted an S onto so that it says “SLAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE.” That’s so utterly, ridiculously over the top.
David: But completely in keeping with the Joker’s usual brand of over-the-top. It’s great. It manages to match the flamboyance of, like, a Jokermobile, in the semi-realistic world Nolan’s set up.
Chris: It’s also a nice setup for what the Joker says later about not needing money — and what Alfred said earlier about the man in Burma who stole the rubies for sport rather than cash. What Batman needs a one-of-a-kind prototype army vehicle to accomplish, the Joker does by hotwiring a Peterbuilt.
David: Batman eventually shows up in the Tumbler, which picks a fight with two eighteen-wheelers before Joker hits it with a red shell and it goes completely off track and gets permanently damaged. Thankfully, Batman (or Waynetech in the 1990s) prepared for this by including an eject pod that transforms into a totally sweet motorcycle.
Chris: I’m going to go ahead and say that for any other character, this stretches credibility, but of course Batman’s car turns into a motorcycle when it gets shot with a bazooka. I do, however, have trouble believing that he would refer to it as a “Batpod.”
David: What happens next is a pretty great chase scene, and I usually can’t stand chase scenes. But they keep switching up the surroundings and pulling cool tricks, like the Joker downing the helicopter with wires placed between buildings and the Batpod racing through the underground shopping center. There’s also a cute scene with two kids pretending to be shooting guns from the backseat of a car when something totally explodes and the Batpod comes racing through, cutting off peoples’ side mirrors. Also, Bruce couldn’t be in on Gordon’s plan since he was seriously planning on turning himself in. If he’d done that, it’d have blown the plan.
Chris: Batman did not exchange insurance information with that dude.
David: He probably set up a fake class-action lawsuit against Batman that got paid out by Waynecorp. “Did that dick Batman screw up YOUR car with his loud-ass motorcycle last night? Call WayneLaw today!”
Chris: I’ll be honest, it does bother me that Batman’s got a motorcycle with machineguns on it that he uses to blow up people’s cars and bust through shopping center doors rather than going around them. I mean, it’s the same thing that bothered me way back in Batman ’89 with the Batmobile having hood-mounted M-60s and bombs. It’s a little easier to justify here since a) the Tumbler was created as a military vehicle and not built specifically for Batman in his basement, and b) he doesn’t use them to actually murder anyone like Tim Burton’s Batman did, but still. I’d rather they weren’t there.
David: Batman shoots some cables from the Batpod that down the Joker’s truck. Joker gets out and then attempts to play chicken with him, standing in the middle of the road screaming “HIT ME! HIT ME!” as Batman just rushes headlong towards him. You can tell Batman’s actually considering it, too, because when he swerves at the last minute it’s not very graceful and he ends up crashing the Batpod and apparently passing out in the middle of the street. It’s a great scene, since the Joker knows that if Batman kills him, he wins. He’s corrupted him forever and proved his point. If Batman doesn’t kill him, well, he’s got a plan for that too.
Chris: This is where we see what the Joker’s actual plan is for the first time: He doesn’t want to kill Batman (although he will if he gets the chance), his goal is to make Batman kill him, because he wants to make everyone violate their own rules. It’s not even a matter of “spreading chaos,” it’s a matter of destroying any idea of morality by pushing people past their limits. Like we said, it’s very much in line with Killing Joke.
David: The Joker isn’t a criminal. And he isn’t even really a terrorist. He’s more like a… terror-philosopher. And The Dark Knight is his Republic. He commits crimes like grad school students write dissertations, planned out to direct the reader — or, in his case, society — to their way of thinking. His endgame isn’t to rule Gotham, it’s to create more people like him. He’s like a self-replicating idea-virus.
Chris: Batman, meanwhile, is a guy who will suplex an eighteen-wheeler.
David: But yeah, as one of Joker’s goons tries to unmask Batman, the costume shocks him and knocks him out. Joker’s about to cut it off when he gets a shotgun to his skull — it’s Racer X, who was actually James Gordon the entire time! The most badass hero cop in comics, everybody.
Chris: Kind of inconsistent, considering how much of a hard time he had driving the Tumbler in Batman Begins, but to be fair, I imagine that’s a tough car to drive. Now let’s talk a little bit about Jim Gordon’s plan here.
David: I’m also very confused as to who knew what with Gordon’s plan. OK, so Gordon faked his death and was undercover. Presumably the Mayor knew about it, and maybe one or two other cops. But his whole plan to capture the Joker basically hinges on Dent revealing he’s Batman and needing to be taken to county jail to be bait for the Joker. And I have no idea how Gordon would know this would happen.
Chris: Especially since the press conference itself was Batman’s idea, and we’ve established that Batman couldn’t have known Gordon wasn’t dead.
David: I mean, maybe he was just laying low and waiting for ANY opportunity? Batman and Dent both couldn’t have known. Batman was too pissed, and was actually considering turning himself in, which would prevent Batman from saving his ass if he was in Dent’s place. And Dent looks legitimately surprised when Gordon saves him at the end too.
Chris: So in order for this plan to work, the Joker has to take a shot at the Mayor. So far, so good, we all knew that was going to happen. But it also relies on Gordon taking the bullet and not dying (wearing a vest, I guess?) and then staying underground for a few days, without even telling his wife and children. Then, there has to be a situation in which he can keep his identity secret by wearing a mask, and THEN it has to be a situation in which he can actually get close enough to the Joker to apprehend him. I hate to say it, but man. There’s not a lot of sense to it.
David: Much like the bullet reconstruction, this plan just doesn’t fit together. It’s a glaring weak point in an otherwise incredibly tight script. I almost wonder if a scene was deleted, but I can’t imagine they killed any scenes from this movie. There aren’t any on the Blu-ray — disc two is just documentaries — and the movie’s already so damn long another ten minutes wouldn’t have hurt it.
Chris: I think it works a lot better than the bullet reconstruction theme because it plays right into the themes of trickery and deception that are going on here, especially with Gordon’s evolution from the first film into someone who’s far more aware of how to manipulate the system around him — and who’s been given power to do so. But it definitely doesn’t hold up in terms of logic, even when Nolan has built a world specifically so that things like this can have logical threads to them.
David: The Joker’s plan, however, makes perfect sense: If he gets Batman to kill him, win condition. If he takes Dent and gets away, win condition. If he gets caught and taken to jail — it’s still a win condition. He’s worked out the angles so that no matter what happens, he’s got a next move.
Chris: The most logical way to look at it would be that it wasn’t a plan at all, and was something Gordon came up with on the spur of the moment. He gets shot, but the vest stops it, and he realizes that by faking his death, he can remove himself from the Joker’s plans, which are becoming increasingly complex and intricate. He only tells the one cop, because he doesn’t know who in the department he can trust, and his wife gets the bad news because the cops delivering it don’t know he’s still alive; they have to believe it too to sell it. Then the press conference happens, and Gordon sees his chance to be present just in case. It still relies on a hell of a lot of coincidences lining up, but really, that’s what most storytelling is.
David: After Joker’s capture, Dent’s talking to the press about Batman “saving his ass,” and then gets directed by Detective Ramirez to a car to take him home. This is the last time we’ll ever see Harvey Dent, White Knight of Gotham. And the reason why Ramirez wasn’t Renee Montoya.
Chris: And there’s a long, lingering shot on Ramirez as he drives off, too. Nolan could not be telegraphing it more.
David: I’m sure she’s done some pretty crappy things on the take, but this is really some next-level corruption.
Chris: Also, Dent’s last line: “I’ve got a date with a pretty upset girlfriend.” That’s the last line of an action movie. Dent clearly believes that this is over and done with.
David: It’s a Batman movie, but Dent is way more of a traditional action hero, or at least acts like one.
Chris: Until this scene. You know, you could totally end the movie right here and have a much happier 80-minute Batman movie. The cops have the Joker, Dent’s going home to see his girlfriend, and, in the words of Brian Blessed, GORDON’S ALIVE?!
David: Unfortunately, the characters are not so blessed. Joker’s in lockup, and Gordon walks in to the adulation of his peers as Mayor Garcia names him Commissioner. In a creepy but hilarious shot, the Joker’s clapping too. There’s also the pretty great scene where they’re placing out his ridiculous knife collection.
Chris: The stabbing is in the preparation.
David: They also send a totally crazy huge guy who’s apparently a cop killer into the same cell as the Joker, which is very important for later. Gordon goes home and gets slapped and embraced by his wife, and when asked by his son if Batman saved him, he grins slyly and says, “This time, I saved him.” Gordon gets the message that Dent never made it home, and as he walks into the MCU to interrogate the Joker, he gets this sad look from Ramirez. Ramirez, you b*tch. I just want to punch you through my television.
Chris: Ha! I am totally not going to put you wanting to punch a woman in the article. We have a hippie socialist commie liberal agenda to maintain.
David: I’m perfectly comfortable with it if it’s Detective Ramirez. Look, gender equity means wanting to punch asshole characters of both genders.
Chris: So you don’t feel bad for Ramierz? She’s got a sick mom, man.
David: She could just report that they attempted to bribe her and… well, I guess she doesn’t know Bruce is Batman, since I’m pretty sure Wayne would cover her medical expenses for Harvey’s life.
Chris: True. But I think she’s another really good example of the themes we’re getting from the Joker. She’s on Gordon’s hand-picked team, so we can assume she wasn’t always bad or 100% corrupt. She had morals at one point, but then, like everyone else in these movies, she was finally faced with something that was more important to her than her morality: her mother’s life. Every time you see her, she looks absolutely pained about it.
David: This is when the Joker enacts an astonishingly dick-move deathtrap. Gordon goes in to interrogate him, and when Joker just starts giving him crap, he leaves, the lights turn on, and Batman smashes his head against the desk. What follows is an interrogation scene where Batman basically beats the crap out of the Joker while the Joker mocks him the entire time — he knows Batman won’t kill him. Eventually, he shows he wanted to do this all along, and tells Batman that Harvey’s in one location and Rachel’s in another, and Batman’s going to have to choose which life to save, essentially killing the other person and forcing him to break his one rule.
David: Joker also mocks the fact that Batman raced after Rachel to save her, suggesting that he thought he was Dent for a while, but ever since it became obvious Dent and Batman were different people, he concocted this plan to play on Batman’s love for Rachel. The Joker is nothing if not an observer of human nature. Batman falls for it completely and immediately decides he’s going to save Rachel, with absolutely zero hesitation. This plays completely into the Joker’s plan.
Chris: I’ve written about this scene before and how it’s this perfect encapsulation of the characters’ relationships. Batman, for all his intelligence and deductive skills, is a very physical presence. His look, the fact that he’s a master fighter, it’s all this physical manifestation of what he does, which is what makes him so intimidating. It’s why you see guys draw him like Frank Miller did in Dark Knight Returns, as this hulking mountain of a person. But the Joker cannot be intimidated by that physicality. Even when Batman slams his head against a table or punches his hand — you know that stuff has to be excruciatingly painful, because it’s Batman hitting him. But there’s no yell, not even a moment of surprise. It means nothing to him. “You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.”
David: He’s high off of his psychological mindgame. Watching Batman lose control is almost ecstatic for him. He’s like the taller kid in a playground holding the shorter kid by the head while he tries to punch him (a.k.a. my grade school career).
Chris: Right. Because while everything he does is built at terrorizing criminals, he’s made to face the existing criminal element. The Joker is something new. He’s something that evolved to prey on Batman’s unique methodology. He can’t exist before Batman does, because there’s no purpose to him before Batman exists.
David: And, in a way, he defines Batman. By beginning the era of supercrime, he ensures Batman’s ongoing necessity.
Chris: Exactly. The Joker can’t exist in a world without Batman, but at the same time, Batman’s the only force that can deal with him. As we’ve already seen, he’s clearly beyond the capability of the cops to deal with.
David: “The Unbearable Inevitability of Batman and the Joker.” They have the absolute best antagonistic dynamic in the entirety of pop comics, and this is a shining tribute to it.
Chris: I am something of a fan, yes. It’s something that the Nolans put explicitly in the script, too: “There’s no going back. You changd things forever.” And “Don’t talk like you’re one of them. You’re not, even if you’d like to be.” Like Rachel, the Joker knows that Bruce can never stop being Batman — it’s never going to be over for him, because there will never be an end to crime. He’s dedicated his life to fighting an enemy that he has no chance of stopping. They just arrived at that conclusion from completely different angles.
David: It’s really an excellent scene, and Ledger acts the Hell out of it. Which is to be expected in this movie without a single bad actor. Rewatching this has really re-raised the bar with my expectations for Rises. It’ll be unprecedented if Nolan manages to make a trilogy where the last installment is actually the best.
Chris: There’s a great dynamic that’s set up here, too. This is, I think, the only scene where the Joker actually tells the truth, and what he says is horrifying: “They’re only as good as they’re allowed to be.” That is, in the movie at least, a stone cold solid fact. Look at Gordon: He wasn’t a hero cop, he was a powerless man mired down by corruption. Look at Bruce: He wasn’t an agent of justice, he going to shoot Joe Chill in the head. The only thing that stopped Bruce was coincidence, and the only thing that helped Gordon was Bruce. So if people are only as good as the world lets them be, then it’s not just Batman’s job to punish the guilty, he has to make a world where people can be better. Otherwise, they give in and throw morality aside. They become the Joker.
David: The Joker’s M.O. is to throw people into impossible situations and watch them fail. While it doesn’t work later, it does work here. Harvey and Rachel are both held in separate locations, filled with oil drums, and put on speakerphone with each other so one can hear the other die. The Joker tells Rachel that he’s going to make their friends choose who lives and who dies, and when Rachel tells Harvey this, he IMMEDIATELY resigns himself to not being the one chosen.
Chris: In other words, he makes a plan.
David: As a matter of fact, he starts trying to escape, setting in motion the chain of events that will break him forever. Rachel, ever not a damsel in distress, focuses on trying to talk Harvey through escaping. But Harvey knocks over a barrel and falls over, and the gasoline covers the entire left side of his face. I think everyone knows where this is going. The Joker makes a point during the interrogation scene of pointing out that the men who took Rachel and Harvey to their locations are on Maroni’s take, not his, keeping the bit of canon that Maroni is responsible for Dent’s disfigurement. Meanwhile, the Joker’s demanding his phone call and trying to incite the officer keeping an eye on him, while the big dude who was in Joker’s cell talks about someone replacing the voices in his head with “bright lights.” This is because the Joker surgically implanted him with a bomb that’s remote-activated by telephone.
Chris: Nolan does another great trick on the Batman fans in this one, too. The Joker says that Harvey’s at “250 52nd Street.” When you say it out loud, you not only say “Two” and “second,” you also say “fifty fifty,” the chance of a coin flip. It is, unquestionably, the perfect address to put Harvey Dent. So of course, he’s not there. Rachel is. The Joker, and Nolan, totally put one over on the people keeping track of trivia.
David: Oh man, I didn’t even catch that. That’s brilliant.
Chris: The other address, by the way, is “Avenue X and Cicero,” named of course for the famous Roman philosopher and lawyer.
David: The Joker emotionally manipulates his guard with aplomb, asking him if he wants to know which of his dead cop friends were cowards, since he knew them better than anyone else when he slowly killed them with knives. Joker gets the guard to come close enough to take him hostage with a shard of glass left over from being shoved into the windows by Batman. Batman races to save Rachel only discover Harvey’s there; as he’s being dragged out, Rachel tells Harvey that she wanted to marry him, and then both locations explode just as the cops are approaching Rachel. The explosion lights up the gasoline still on Harvey’s skin, burning half of his face. Rachel dies. The Joker uses his hostage guard to request a phone call, which detonates the bomb in the prisoner and readies him for an escape in a cop car. For now, he’s totally gotten away.
Chris: For the first time in these movies, Batman makes a decision based on what he — Bruce Wayne — wants, rather than what Gotham City needs. Gotham needs Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne needs, and wants, Rachel Dawes. But because of the Joker’s manipulation, nobody gets what they want, except the Joker.
David: It’s a brutally devious plan. Joker has no idea who Batman is, but he knows that he’ll be completely broken down after that night. And so will Harvey Dent.
Chris: And even if he’d made the other choice, everyone still loses. Gotham loses Dent, and Batman gets a girl who thinks that Batman chose her over the man she loves. The only person who’s even close to being okay with what happens is Rachel, and only then because she thinks Harvey’s going to be all right.
David: To be honest, I’m surprised the Joker doesn’t figure out Bruce Wayne is Batman at this point. He’s well-read and up-to-date enough that he must know Rachel and Bruce grew up together, and that only Waynetech could provide Batman with his weaponry.
Chris: But if he does know Batman’s identity, would it even matter to him? It’s not that he wants the world to know who Batman is — we see that later — he wants to make Batman himself confess.
David: Alfred finally reads Rachel’s letter, where she confesses that she’s going to marry Harvey and that she just wants to be friends with Bruce. Alfred delivers breakfast to Bruce, who refuses to eat it and then asks if Rachel’s death is his fault. Alfred points out that she was just as much onboard with bettering Gotham as Bruce was, and that casualties were inevitable in this war. When Bruce states that she was going to wait for him and that Dent can never know, Alfred takes away the letter, not wanting to add even more agony onto Bruce’s mental state.
Chris: Alfred’s “you spat in the faces of Gotham’s criminals; didn’t you think there might be some casualties?” is such a revealing line. Bruce is, at heart, an idealist. He thinks he can handle everything and make it all better without a single misstep. He doesn’t recognize his limitations.
David: Bruce also asks Alfred how they caught the thief in Burma. Alfred states that they burned the forest down. Which is, obviously, a tactic unavailable to Batman.
Chris: And in burning the letter, we see Alfred’s limitations as well. He’s a good man, but he’s willing to throw aside honesty in a heartbeat in order to spare Bruce from pain. The letter he destroys actually starts with “I need to be honest,” as Rachel is the one character who refuses to compromise her morality. But it shows how much he cares. He’s doing for Bruce what Bruce thinks he’s doing for Harvey.
David: It also brings in what’s a major theme in the third act of this movie, which is that sometimes keeping secrets is in everyone’s best interest. Dent wakes up in the hospital and sees his lucky coin, which Bruce brought for him. It’s now half-scarred. He thinks of Rachel and screams. And that takes us right to the end of Scene 25!
Chris: Be with us next week as we find out what happens to Batman and Harvey Dent, as they’ve both lost the woman they love. Will they be driven over the edge, made to compromise their morality and give the ultimate victory to the Joker?
David: Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!
Chris: Four months of this I’ve been trying to not say that. Damn you, Uzumeri.
David: I live to frustrate.