In Defense of ‘The Dark Knight’

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If it isn’t obvious yet, I am a comic book fan. And for as long as I can remember, Batman’s interesting mixture of superhero action and psychology has enthralled me more than any other hero. So naturally, I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But in a strange twist, I’m perfectly capable of admitting that it has its flaws. Granted, I feel like it does so much so well that talking about its problems is a waste of time, but they’re certainly there.

But there’s one issue that people like to point out that I just can’t get behind. Any time someone brings it up, I find myself scratching my head and biting my tongue. I’ve kept quiet about it for so long and I just can’t do that anymore. The “issue” I’m talking about is…

The ending.

I trust you know how it concludes, but just in case you don’t I’ll bring you up to speed: Former Gotham City DA Harvey Dent loses half his face (also his girlfriend), goes insane, and sets off on a killing spree against those who wronged him. It all leads to a final showdown between Dent and Batman. When words fail, Batman tackles Dent and this results in Dent falling to his death. Unwilling to tell Gotham that their White Knight veered from his path of righteousness, Batman decides to take the blame for the murders, leading to a police manhunt as he escapes into the night. To me, it hits all the right notes. For others, it’s awful.

Those who stand against it say it’s because it lacks logic. “Batman taking the fall is so stupid”, they say, “why not blame the Joker instead? That would make more sense”. And yeah, maybe it would. But how satisfying would that really be?

I’d like to direct your attention to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. We all know how that ends, it’s downright iconic. But the original plan was to end it like the book, with the shark getting stabbed by a harpoon and dying as a result. Maybe that works in a literary sense, but when brought into a visual medium it’s definitely lacking. By this point, the audience wants to see this thing get its comeuppance,

This was the feeling of everyone who wasn’t Peter Benchley (who was famously removed from the set because he disapproved of what they wanted to do), so they decided to go a much more impressive, albeit completely unrealistic, route. The results speak for themselves: there’s a now-famous line followed by a giant, gore-filled explosion, and the audience gets their pay-off. And it achieves this all without logic.

Spielberg and company knew what they were doing. They tossed out the more believable choice in favor of the grander one. Maybe it wouldn’t hold water in the real world, but it isn’t about that. A film’s primary function is to engage and entertain, and sometimes that means kicking logic to the curb so it can benefit not only the narrative, but also those who have chosen to watch it. If it can be handled well enough, then it absolutely works.

For me, The Dark Knight is one of the cases where it works. It’s shocking, it’s powerful, it drives the point home, and when you take the genre into account, it takes a risk. But most of all, it’s illogical. Of course it would make more sense for them to say it was the Joker. Heck, it would make even more sense if they just came out and told everyone that Dent went insane. But there are reputations that have to stay intact, and Batman has to be the hero that Gotham deserves, so even if it doesn’t quite mesh with reality, it works on an incredibly satisfying level. Quite frankly, it’s the type of ending that more films should strive for. So why then do all these naysayers exist?


Besides the usual answer of “not everyone is going to like everything”, I think part of it can actually be traced back to the film itself. Nolan’s Batman series has gained a reputation for being a little more steeped in realism than some of the other comic-based works out there. But it’s important to understand that while it may be more realistic than others, that does not mean it’s completely realistic. It’s still about a man who dresses up like a Bat to fight bad guys. It leaves more than enough wiggle room when it comes to the abandonment of regular thought.

Yet they continue on, and I can’t help but wonder about what they would change. If they had the opportunity to go back in and rewrite that last minute of film, without changing anything that happens prior, how would they end it? Would they truly let it all fall on the Joker? Or would they end it on a much quieter note, with Batman leaving the scene and Gordon standing alone with Dent’s body?

Personally, I wouldn’t touch a thing. When Batman utters the line “I killed those people”, it still shocks me. And Gordon’s monologue (though a little overdramatic) coupled with the shots of Batman speeding away makes for a final moment that I won’t soon forget. It did its job then, and three years later my opinion on it hasn’t changed. I don’t think it could have ended any other way.
– Billy Bitterman

4 Comments
  1. Orrin Konheim says

    There were so many things about the Joker that didn’t compute including the whole “he wanted to be arrested” plot. The script just made it so that Joker was kind of a dues-ex-machina for anything that could go wrong or why Dent didn’t shoot Joker when he had the chance.

  2. Brad says

    Good article, but I’d like to defend the Dark Knight even more than you did … you say the ending is unrealistic … I disagree.

    Throughout the movie, everybody says that Harvey Dent will take Batman’s place as Gotham’s true hero.

    (Harvey is that hero. He locked up half of the city’s criminals, and he did it without wearing a mask. Gotham needs a hero with a face … Everyone knows you’re Gotham’s White Knight.)

    However, Joker is attempting to bring anarchy to Gotham by taking Gotham’s “white knight and brought him down to our level”. He tells Batman that he is just a freak and once the cops and the citizens of Gotham no longer need him, he will be forgotten and dropped from hero status.

    Joker is attempting to show Gotham’s citizens that no matter what plans Batman, Harvey or the police have to stop crime in the city, there will always be a madmen (who just want to watch the world burn) to disturb order and peace in the city. The Joker correctly believes that once they see that there is no hope left in the city because of deaths caused by a terrorist, the city will lose its minds.

    (You’ll be in a padded cell forever … Maybe we can share one. You know, they’ll be doubling up, the rate this city’s inhabitants are losing their minds)

    The Joker even tells Gotham that Batman has brought this craziness to the city and that the only way it will stop is if he “takes off his mask and turns himself in.” The citizens of Gotham begin to believe the Joker and demand the Batman be brought into custody (no more dead cops!).

    So instead of staying Gotham’s hero, Batman is already become it’s villain just by not dying. The Joker tries to prove that, deep down, everyone’s as ugly as him when order is gone and chaos takes over. The Joker even convinces Batman that once the chips are down that these civilized people will eat each other.

    Batman knows that if the murders are placed on the Joker that the citizens of Gotham will be scared and lose any hope that their city is safe from chaos. Even though the Joker is in a cell forever, he would have “won” and made his mark on the city. Once the people of Gotham know their city is prone to terrorists and madmen, they will begin to lose hope. Joker even says this to Harvey in the hospital “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.” The Joker targets Harvey Dent and if his murder were pinned on him, then everything would become chaos.

    The Joker goes onto say that “things are changed forever, there is no going back.” People had hope with Harvey in charge and Batman/Gordon behind the scenes fighting crime. But now that Harvey is gone, who will bring Gotham hope? If his murder, and countless other deaths, are blamed on the Joker, then people will lose hope in their protectors.

    Batman knows this and knows he must “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.”

    Batman is a symbol that people don’t have to be afraid of terrorists and by taking the fall for Harvey’s murders, he removes any possibility of people being afraid of more madmen like the Joker terrorizing Gotham. The only way Batman can give Gotham hope for the future is to take the fall for Harvey because he now knows that “you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Being a hero forever is impossible and Bruce Wayne knows his days as Batman are numbered. But in order to bring hope and faith to the city he loves, he makes one more sacrifice.

    So that sacrifice is “being whatever Gotham needs me to be” aka taking the fall for Harvey. Harvey was the hero Gotham needed at the time and for a while it worked really well. But Joker disrupted peace and harmony in Gotham only to show those in charge that their attempts to plan things are futile.

    So instead of putting the murders on a madman like the Joker and all hope is lost, Batman wants Gordon’s unit to “hunt me. condemn me. Set the dogs on me … Because that’s what needs to happen … Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough … Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

    Pinning the deaths on the Joker removes all faith Gotham has in it’s task force and protectors. Batman is a lone vigilante that is acting outside the law. He can be caught and brought to justice. The people of Gotham know this and believe this can happen. Batman also knows this to be true because “he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.”

    Bruce Wayne knows that in order for Gotham to have any faith, hope and semblance of order, Batman needs to be hunted. He makes that sacrifice because he can take it. He can be that outcast. Because he’s not a hero anymore. He is a villain, a silent guardian and a watchful protector.

    A DARK KNIGHT.

  3. Anonymous says

    Good article, but I’d like to defend the Dark Knight even more than you did … you say the ending is unrealistic … I disagree.

    Throughout the movie, everybody says that Harvey Dent will take Batman’s place as Gotham’s true hero.

    (Harvey is that hero. He locked up half of the city’s criminals, and he did it without wearing a mask. Gotham needs a hero with a face … Everyone knows you’re Gotham’s White Knight … Harvey’s prosecution, everything he’s fought for, undone. Whatever chances you get of fixing our city dies with Harvey’s reputation. We bet it all on him, the Joker took the best of us and tore him down. People will lose hope.)

    However, Joker is attempting to bring anarchy to Gotham by taking Gotham’s “white knight and brought him down to our level”. He tells Batman that he is just a freak and once the cops and the citizens of Gotham no longer need him, he will be forgotten and dropped from hero status.

    Joker is attempting to show Gotham’s citizens that no matter what plans Batman, Harvey or the police have to stop crime in the city, there will always be a madmen (who just want to watch the world burn) to disturb order and peace in the city. The Joker correctly believes that once they see that there is no hope left in the city because of deaths caused by a terrorist, the city will lose its minds.

    (You’ll be in a padded cell forever … Maybe we can share one. You know, they’ll be doubling up, the rate this city’s inhabitants are losing their minds)

    The Joker even tells Gotham that Batman has brought this craziness to the city and that the only way it will stop is if he “takes off his mask and turns himself in.” The citizens of Gotham begin to believe the Joker and demand the Batman be brought into custody (no more dead cops!).

    So instead of staying Gotham’s hero, Batman is already become it’s villain just by not dying. The Joker sells the citizens this and then tries to prove that, deep down, everyone’s as ugly as him when order is gone and chaos takes over. The Joker even convinces Batman that once the chips are down that these civilized people will eat each other.

    Batman knows that if the murders are placed on the Joker that the citizens of Gotham will be scared and lose any hope that their city is safe from chaos. Even though the Joker is in a cell forever, he would have “won” and made his mark on the city. Once the people of Gotham know their city is prone to terrorists and madmen, they will begin to lose hope. Joker even says this to Harvey in the hospital “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.” The Joker targets Harvey Dent and if his murder were pinned on him, then everything would become chaos.

    The Joker goes onto say that “things are changed forever, there is no going back.” People had hope with Harvey in charge and Batman/Gordon behind the scenes fighting crime. But now that Harvey is gone, who will bring Gotham hope? If his murder, and countless other deaths, are blamed on the Joker, then people will lose hope in it’s protectors.

    Batman knows this and knows he must “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.”

    Batman is a symbol that people don’t have to be afraid of terrorists and by taking the fall for Harvey’s murders, he removes any possibility of people being afraid of more madmen like the Joker terrorizing Gotham. The only way Batman can give Gotham hope for the future is to take the fall for Harvey because he now knows that “you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Being a hero forever is impossible and Bruce Wayne knows his days as Batman are numbered. But in order to bring hope and faith to the city he loves, he makes one more sacrifice.

    So that sacrifice is “being whatever Gotham needs me to be” aka taking the fall for Harvey. Harvey was the hero Gotham needed at the time and for a while it worked really well. But Joker disrupted peace and harmony in Gotham only to show those in charge that their attempts to plan things are futile.

    So instead of putting the murders on a madman like the Joker and all hope is lost, Batman wants Gordon’s unit to “hunt me. condemn me. Set the dogs on me … Because that’s what needs to happen … Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough … Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

    Pinning the deaths on the Joker removes all faith Gotham has in it’s task force and protectors. Batman is a lone vigilante that is acting outside the law. He can be caught and brought to justice. The people of Gotham know this and believe this can happen. Batman also knows this to be true because “he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.”

    Bruce Wayne knows that in order for Gotham to have any faith, hope and semblance of order, Batman needs to be hunted. He makes that sacrifice because he can take it. He can be that outcast. Because he’s not a hero anymore. He is a villain, a silent guardian and a watchful protector.

    A DARK KNIGHT.

  4. Ebo says

    Blame the Joker? How would that work? Remember, the Joker ends the movie alive and conscious. For all anyone knows, the Joker can prove his whereabouts during the Two-Face murders. In fact, given his miraculous ability to do whatever turns out the worst for everybody but him, he almost certainly CAN prove he didn’t commit those crimes. And by doing so he’d be able to prove that Commissioner Gordon and Batman conspired to cover up crimes committed by someone else, which would go a long way towards proving that when the Joker released Harvey Dent from the hospital, Dent went on a rampage. It’d be a trifecta for the Clown Prince of Crime.

    Also, Batman’s a boy scout. He’s not gonna frame anyone else for murder; it’s utterly against his principles. (In the comics, he once reluctantly proved the Joker was innocent of a crime that would otherwise have put him where everybody wanted him: in the electric chair.) The only person he could justify framing would be himself.

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