The Dark Knight has to be one of the most memorable films of the last decade due to the sheer epic nature of the film, Heath Ledger’s impressive performance, and sadly his untimely death before the film opened. A lot can be said about the awesomeness of The Dark Knight. What we’re here to find out though, is what the film portents for The Dark Knight Rises . . .
Gotham Has Changed
For better or worse, since Batman has appeared on the scene in Gotham, he’s inspired people to change. It’s change in the form of hot shot district attorney Harvey Dent wanting to take a hardline stance on crime and corruption; change in the form of the mob and criminals changing their tactics to adjust to Batman’s presence; and change in the form of Batman copycats trying to “help” Batman. Simply put, the presence of Batman has changed how Gotham city works. Though at the beginning of The Dark Knight it looks to be a positive change, as we see as The Dark Knight unfolds; all that change leads to something else . . .
The Joker – ”A Better Class of Criminal”
Needless to say one of the things that stands out the most from The Dark Knight is Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Enough can not be said about how the man fit so well in the role. Having said that, we’re going to focus on what the Joker did within the context of the story and not really focus on Ledger’s performance since so much has been said about it.
As far as I know, the Joker is Batman’s craziest villain. He really does do things that can’t logically be explained and I thought the film got this point across really well. Up until now Bruce/Batman has been dealing logically with the criminal element in Gotham. That’s because he’s only had regular criminals to deal with. However, with the introduction of the Joker, the rules of the game change. At first Bruce doesn’t understand this, but as Alfred tries to explain to him:
Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
As the Joker states himself, he is an “agent of chaos.” Something that can’t be controlled or defined in the strictest terms. And this is why that it is in The Dark Knight where Bruce and Batman are truly tested. Will Batman have to break his rules to stop the Joker? This is something that Bruce really struggles with in the film. How can Batman be good, fight for good, when what defines you as good can’t get the job done? This is, I think, one of the touchstones of the film . . . what does Batman have to do in order to defeat the Joker? It’s this struggle and resolution that Bruce and Batman go through with the Joker that really defines the film and the character of Batman going forward.
Batman’s Reach Knows No Bounds
Something that’s prevalent in the comics and the animated forms of Batman has always been that Batman’s scope or jurisdiction isn’t limited to Gotham City. It’s a known fact that if crime in Gotham can be traced to somewhere outside of the city, Batman can and will hunt you down; be it in another country or to the ends of the Earth. This worldwide reach of Batman is presented perfectly for us in The Dark Knight when Bruce creates a fake cover story to go to Hong Kong so that Batman can bring Lau back to Gotham. This is important to note because it means that Batman has no jurisdiction. He’s not hindered by extradition laws. If Batman wants you, there isn’t any place in the world where you can go to hide that he won’t find you.
Despair & Loss of Hope
With the modern comic book movie having been around for more than ten years now, a lot of us are familiar with some of the conventions of these types of films; most notably that the hero always wins. With The Dark Knight it was the one and only comic book movie where I felt that the hero might not win at the end of the movie. It happens around the 2/3 mark in the movie when the Joker has just busted out of GCPD–with Lau, Rachel has just died in one of the explosions, and Harvey is hospitalized.
For a good 15 minutes or so after this sequence, I really thought the movie might be like Empire Strikes Back and finish with the bad guys prevailing. At that point there just didn’t seem to be that much time left in the film for Batman to recover and ultimately save the day. Seeing the Joker smile with glee as he rode away in that police car (pictured above) was the moment where I thought Nolan was really going to emulate the comic books and not give us a happy ending–after all this was only the second film in the Bat series. He could always use the third one to resolve everything.
Though Batman eventually does prevail, I think this sequence of events in the film definitely opened the door to the possibility that no one can escape danger in Gotham City.
Though in the end Batman ultimately defeats and captures the Joker; it’s not without a high price. Bruce’s love interest and childhood friend Rachel is dead while Gotham’s white knight and crusader for justice, district attorney Harvey Dent, was turned by the Joker and is now dead as well. In order for things to not turn out so bad and to mitigate a lot of what the Joker set into motion; Batman makes the decision to sacrifice his reputation and take the blame for the actions that Harvey (aka Two-Face) did in order to keep hope, Harvey’s hope in and for Gotham, alive.
Though it’s explained in Gordon’s monologue to close out the movie and to explain the title; Batman’s decision is actually foreshadowed earlier in the film in a conversation Bruce has with Alfred. It’s the scene where they are closing down the Batcave and right before Bruce is about to turn himself in:
Bruce: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?
Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.
And that’s what Batman does . . . he endures. He endures for the greater good of Gotham. Even if it means that the public will hate him. Batman is the one that can make the hard decisions like this. He is always serving Gotham whether or not his perception is distorted by the public–and always for the greater good.
So after rewatching The Dark Knight, what does this do as far as framing the mythos or setting up for watching The Dark Knight Rises?
First and foremost, it tells us that things change in this world. Gotham City has changed with the inclusion of Batman. With the announcement that The Dark Knight Rises will take place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see more change in Gotham again. How much will things have changed? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Finally, what I think the Joker proved is that fear and desperation are powerful motivators. You don’t quite know how people will react when fear and desperation are added into the equation. It makes them do unpredictable things. It spawns outcomes that sometimes you can’t plan for or even explain. The Joker proved all of this and pushed Batman hard in the process. What has Batman learned from this experience and how will it guide him in the future?
Only The Dark Knight Rises can tell us . . .
Have you watched The Dark Knight in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises? If you have let us know how you think it will affect Batman in The Dark Knight Rises in the comments below.