The Dark Knight Unmasked
“if this world makes you crazy you take in all you got, an you call me up and you know I’ll be there”
Many people who view the film “The Dark Knight” (the second instalment of the trilogy) will imagine that there is some great distance and divide between the three main characters: Bruce Wayne/Batman, Harvey “Two Face” Dent and The Joker. Others, slightly more discerning, might suppose that these three characters either represents phases that a single individual goes through, or much rather – or even, maybe more accurately – they might put them on a fluctuating, vacillating continuum, and yet, the better perspective, perhaps, belongs to those who realise that they are really the same person; they are aspects and shades of the same self wrestling with a fragmented identity whilst entertaining the embrace various stages of idealism. In context, we might say that the only question to dispute is the order and chronology of these manifestations. Although some might be quick to say that the Joker represents the final phase of a monstrous transformation, beginning with the waning idealism of Mr Wayne, before erupting into the mania of Mr Dent, I would beg to differ by suggesting that madness is not really the issue here, unless of course that term is applied to the non-conscious mass that Mr Joker seems to denigrate throughout the movie – doing so much to the distress of Mr Wayne. In this piece, I want to explore the dynamics between the three characters, alongside the ways in which the plot, and its themes, reflect their difficulties.
In a film lasting 145 minutes, the tagline to the movie appears in tow places: at the ending, and a fifth of the way through the movie. In the first place, at a dinner table, when engaged in a discussion about democracy and vigilantism, Dent advances that “you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. In this dinner table discussion, when asked who appointed the Batman, Dent explains that the people, in standing back and tolerating criminality, created the conditions for the Batman to appear, and this, evidently, says much about the underpinning theme of the movie: collusion and complicity, as illustrated by the ambivalence towards the deeds of the Dark Knight. Although Gordon and his office, without working alongside Batman, are aided by him, Gordon sill maintains that “official policy is to arrest the vigilante known as batman on site.” Evidently, Gotham’s police detective, and later commission, along with his “unit” toe the line of “plausible denial”, as much as tit distresses Mr Dent, who as it were, is particularly suspicious of Gordon’s unit, having investigated many of them – before he was district attorney – when he was working at Internal Affairs. In fact, it must be noted that early on Dent explicitly states that he despises Gordon’s duplicitous people; however, true to a degree of expedience, Gordon responds “I don’t get political points for being an idealist”, and yet, this later comes back to haunt the Commissioner, when Harvey takes his plight into “vigilance”, as Harvey “Two Face.”
Harvey’s actual initiation is only complete after Rachel, former girlfriend of Mr Wayne, is killed, in a situation seemingly engineered, or at least, masterminded, by the Joker, but essentially manned by Gordon’s people. In fact, the reason Gordon even becomes Commissioner is because The Supreme Court Judge and the Police Commissioner are killed, after Gordon’s people collaborate with The Joker in covert assassinations. In this short space of time, apparently, there is even an attempt on the life of Harvey Dent, at a charity gala, which Batman interrupts. At this point in the movie, however, it is important to note two finer details which give colour to the context. In the first place, all of these events were really responses to Harvey’s elf-professed “enthusiasm for justice” for Harvey, like Batman, is committed, or even, “stubborn,” in the pursuit of it, which is why, when Harvey targets the Mob, thing suddenly escalate, with even the Mayor explaining that the many people would come after him, including anyone who was having their pocket being lined by the Mob, and who might be compromised by the crime, happily receiving kickbacks. At this point, The Joker complicates the situation by confronting The Batman with a difficult scenario, by claiming that a person would be killed a day, until the Batman, who had kept the streets effectively crime-free, takes off his mask to reveal his identity. With this, seeing people slowly being killed, the people soon, rather quickly, abandon their partial loyalties to the Caped Crusader, in favour of having “peace” in the form of appeasement with the Jokers request.
Having been guarded from The Jokers intimidation/invasion, rather than flee the city, Harvey returns and attempts to bring a key witness before a judge, however, as even the witness notes, “you cant protect me, you cant even protect yourselves”, whilst an officer similarly notes “nobody is standing up before a judge whilst judges and police commissioners are getting blown away.” Nevertheless, Harvey still pursues the case, until a key moment serves as a catalyst for the evolution of Harvey Dent into his “Two Face” persona – this being the supposed assassination of Jim Gordon. It is here that Harvey, although not formally aligned with Batman, has his first solo confrontation with him (with the others coming during the penultimate roof scene) after he attempts to avenge the supposed death of Jim Gordon. He explains “your the symbol of hope I can never be, your stand against organised crime is the first legitimate ray of light in Gotham, for decades”, seemingly implying that his own stand, was not legitimate, even if accepted. Batman then adds another curious line, which seems to second what the Mayor suggests about Harvey having to walk a clean line: “If anyone saw this, everything would be undone. All the criminals you pulled of the streets would be released.” This highlights the contrast between the White Knight, the district attorney, and the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, which itself, is a distinction and contrast further explored in the final instalment of the trilogy. Having outlined the build, let us, in depth, explore the themes, for it is here the movie unravels.