Movie Musings: Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent – the Yin-Yang of “The Dark Knight”

In 2008, the ‘superhero movie genre’ took an unexpected turn, when director Christopher Nolan released The Dark Knight, his follow-up to the successful 2005 Batman reboot, Batman Begins.

For many, the highlight of the film was his anarchic take on The Joker (played by an unrecognizable Heath Ledger). Here was a being who delighted in sowing the seeds of chaos within Gotham City’s people, laughing as they tore themselves apart with fear before his very eyes.

However, the Joker easily overshadowed a subplot that Nolan had also worked into the film: a duality play between Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). A Dark Knight…and a White Knight.

Since the film’s release in 2008, I have seen so much introspection into the Joker, and relatively nothing about what director Christopher Nolan was doing by putting Harvey Dent (who later becomes Two-Face) into the film.

Bear with me, as I try to make some sense out of the madness that has been swirling around in my head for a number of years.

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Joint Thoughts on Justice

In the year since the Batman appeared in Gotham City, the mob has suffered some major setbacks. With former crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) having been declared mentally insane (courtesy of The Scarecrow in Batman Begins), several mob bosses have struggled to keep control of the city, with Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts) as their leader.

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During this time, the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) has also been working to bring down the mob via the justice department. While this catches Bruce’s attention, he also seems concerned about his childhood friend (and crush) Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) being seen by Dent’s side. While she is an Assistant District Attorney who also wants the mob to be taken down, it seems there may be something between her and Harvey.

One evening while out on a date, Bruce ends up encountering Harvey and Rachel. Inviting himself and his date into their intimate dinner, the conversation ends up turning to talk about The Batman. Harvey shows no animosity towards the vigilante, claiming that he admires the actions of ‘an ordinary man standing up for what’s right,’ and that the city unknowingly ‘appointed’ the Batman, when it seemed there was noone to protect them.

Harvey then attempts to draw an analogy to ancient Rome, telling how Rome would suspend democracy to appoint a guardian to protect the city from invaders. However, he is quickly reprimanded by Rachel that the last time this was done, that man’s name was Julius Caesar, and he then assumed dictatorial control.

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“Okay, fine,” replies Harvey. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Look, whoever the Batman is, he doesn’t want to do this for the rest of his life, how could he? Batman is looking for someone to take up his mantle.”

Since he became the Batman, Bruce has made dismantling the mob one of his top priorities. In his mind, once the crime syndicate that he feels was responsible for his parents’ deaths and the corruption of Gotham City are finished, he can hang up the mantle of the bat, and he and Rachel can be together.

Hearing Harvey speak passionately about doing what he does (taking down the mob within the scope of the law), Bruce feels this may be his ticket out of being the Batman, and declares he’ll throw the D.A. a fundraiser. Dent claims he still has 3 more years until re-election, but Bruce is confident that his wealthy friends can keep Harvey doing what he believes in for a long time (and set Bruce on the path to “retirement”).

Dent has also learned of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) working with the Batman to obtain the Mob’s money to render them powerless, and is soon allowed into Gordon’s plan. However, when the mob’s accountant Mr Lau (Chin Han) hides the mob’s money and flies off to China to avoid extradition, a new problem arises. Gordon and Dent can’t touch Lau outside of Gotham, but get an assist from the Batman who promises to bring him back, if they can get him “to talk.”

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Bruce manages to bring Lau back to the states, where in a plea agreement, he gives Rachel Dawes the names of those associated with the mob.

While this move does not keep the higher-ups like Maroni behind bars for long, Dent figures the majority of those in the mob who can’t make bail will be stuck behind bars, leading them to make deals that may get them information to help take Maroni and the others down, AND, keep these men to still do jail time.

It should be noted that this move really puts Dent in the public’s eye. His tackling the mob in this way is going to upset a number of people…especially those who profit off the mob and what they do.

One can be sure that Bruce also sees this as a good move…one that can have the Batman recede into the shadows, and have Harvey become a symbol of justice for the city.

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Getting Under The Skin

In The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan sets up a love triangle between Rachel, Bruce, and Harvey. Though Rachel seems to be a bit closer to Harvey than Bruce, Wayne still sees her as one of the keys to him being able to lead a normal life.

One person who has noted the reactions of Batman and Harvey when Rachel is nearby, is the Joker, and thus he attempts to use her as a pawn in his scheme to make the two crumble.

This is first shown when during a mass panic caused by the Joker during a funeral, Harvey encounters a man in an officer’s uniform with Rachel’s name on his nametag. Taking the man to an empty building, Harvey attempts to interrogate him with his double-sided coin and a gun, until the Batman appears.

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Batman tells Harvey that the man is simply a paranoid schizophrenic the Joker hired, but more importantly, Dent has to get himself under control. If the public saw Harvey being unstable like this, it could put their plans for the mob in jeopardy.

Next, the two secretly plan to use Harvey as bait to capture the Joker. It seems to work, until it is revealed that after the capture, Harvey Dent has gone missing.

Batman attempts to interrogate the Joker as to Harvey’s whereabouts, but becomes enraged when he finds that both Harvey AND Rachel are involved in a kidnapping plan!

Much like Harvey with the Joker’s henchman, Bruce comes dangerously close to letting his emotions get away from him, only for the white-faced psychopath to just laugh out loud like a school bully, enjoying seeing the usually steady man becoming angered.

The Joker claims that Batman can only save one with the amount of time he has. In this case, the choice has become “personal.” When it comes to choosing between a man who can save Gotham, or the woman who can save his soul, Bruce goes to rescue Rachel, leaving Gordon and the Police to rescue Harvey.

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However, upon arriving at the address, Bruce is shocked to find that the Joker lied: instead of Rachel, he finds Harvey (who assumes the Batman chose to save him over Rachel).

In the aftermath, Harvey is saved but horribly burned, while Gordon and his officers are unable to rescue Rachel in time…a death that affects both Bruce and Harvey in major ways.

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Who Will Counsel You?

In Bruce’s case, he is noticeably shaken by what has happened, feeling that his actions led to Rachel’s death, while Alfred (Michael Caine) tries to encourage him to continue on in her name.WKDK-6

Unknown to Bruce, Rachel had given Alfred a letter to pass on to him, telling how she had decided to marry Harvey but remain friends…words that probably would have broken Bruce’s fragile spirit even more. After realizing just how upset Bruce is, Alfred burns the letter, to spare him from further pain.

When Harvey learns of Rachel’s death, he channels his pain into anger. Refusing treatment or medication for his severe injuries, Harvey blames Gordon for Rachel’s death. Dent had warned Gordon that there were mob-associated cops on the force, and Gordon did nothing, leading Harvey to claim that getting rid of them now makes no difference.

Eventually, Harvey’s anger is exacerbated by the appearance of the Joker, and a twisted version of Alfred’s pep-talk ensues. The Joker toys with Dent’s fragile psyche, claiming he had nothing to do with Rachel’s death, and that Gordon and the mob are to blame. Handing Dent a loaded gun, the Joker then claims that chaos is the only “fair justice” in a world gone mad.

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Now broken by both Rachel’s death and the Joker’s mind-games, Harvey goes on his own personal crusade, using his scarred double-sided coin, and the Joker’s gun to mete out “justice” for Rachel.

His trail of chaos leads him to officers Wuertz and Ramirez, and eventually Maroni. While a flip of the coin spares Maroni, another flip causes the death of Maroni’s chauffeur, the resulting crash killing the mob boss.

Harvey then kidnaps Gordon’s family, and radios for Jim to meet him where Rachel died.

Harvey intends to kill Gordon’s son as “justice” for Rachel’s death, before the Batman appears. Bruce tries to shift the blame, claiming they three (Batman, Harvey, and Jim) share as much of the blame for what happened, and that if Harvey wants to kill anyone, it should be those that are “responsible.”

Even this does not deter Harvey (nor does Gordon claiming Rachel’s death was his fault), but before Dent’s coin can be caught, Batman manages to push Harvey over a nearby ledge, saving Gordon’s son but killing Harvey.

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A Dream Shattered

With Harvey dead, Jim Gordon claims that the Joker won. The killing spree Harvey went on will disillusion the public, and allow the mob members still in prison to go free.

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That is when Bruce as the Batman, tells Gordon he’ll take the blame for all of it, including Harvey’s death. Thus, Harvey will die a hero, and Batman will be vilified by the city.

And so, Gordon decides to live with the lie, praising Harvey at his funeral, smashing the bat-signal atop Police headquarters, all-the-while knowing of the sacrifice the Batman has made to protect the city (and his family).

The ending is also a bittersweet victory for Bruce Wayne. While it seems that he was unable to be corrupted by the Joker and came out of the events stronger than Harvey, he has been deeply scarred, in ways that Gordon and the people of Gotham cannot know.

The events of the film have helped end organized crime in Gotham, leading to Bruce able to hang up the mantle of the bat. However, without Rachel in his life, Bruce is unable to move on, and as such, soon becomes a recluse in his rebuilt family home.

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Final Thoughts

My original idea at the end of The Dark Knight, was that Bruce would keep fighting crime within Gotham, even if the Police would still try to catch him. It would be some years before I’d realize that his main interest here was just to bring down the mob. This wasn’t the same Batman as in The Animated Series, or the one in the films of the 1990’s (who only existed to take down the next big-name-star in heavy makeup).

As this post has shown when it came to the film, Nolan tried to give Bruce an “equal”: another person who believed in justice, and wanted to see the city rise out of the hands of the mob.

Rachel Dawes is also something that connects both men. Each of them harbored the thought that she loved them, and her death tore them up deeply.

Even in his own personal pain, Bruce won out in the end, but it was a victory wrapped in a lie. His taking the blame for Harvey’s actions, allows Dent to rise to prominence as a symbol of a gallant “White Knight” the city can look to as a symbol of good, while Bruce recedes into the shadows…a true hero, but one who now struggles to find something to live for.

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

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