Below is a comment/question from a reader about Batman:The Dark Knight, one that a few people have asked me, so I imagine it will be on the minds of many more people, and so it should probably be addressed with an article unto itself. Watching the film again you’ll notice that everything dealing with Bruce Wayne throughout the film leads to what we’re about to talk about. While my answer may not be sufficient for some, it will give you something to chew on. ***And yes there are spoilers that give away the end of the film included in this post!!!*** If you want to read my spoiler free review go here. But avoid reading the comments at that post because this question is included.
I enjoyed the movie, but had a big problem with the end. Why was it necessary for Batman to take the blame for Harvey’s killings? I remember they mumbled something about the Joker having an alibi, but what about the Joker’s many minions. Or a copycat Batman? Or an “unidentified assailant?” Or literally anyone else at all? Definitely brought the movie down from an A+ to a B+ for me. I know almost all big movies have plot holes, but this one seemed particularly egregious. Maybe I missed something and need to watch it again.
It’s an exquisite question, one a good friend of mine had asked me a few days ago. So that people don’t think it’s a flaw of the film, which it’s not, I’ll go ahead and answer. You may not buy it but it will give you something to chew on.
Firstly, Joker did have an alibi, he was in prison while many of the murders that Harvey Dent was responsible for were taking place.
There’s a theory in Psychology called Cognitive Dissonance, it’s one of my favorite tools to use as a writer. It states:
In psychology cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas.
In Bruce Wayne’s case his dissonance is, “Do I hold onto the life I once had with Rachel?” or “Do I take hold of what Batman is and truly spread fear among the criminals of the city?” The truly tragic irony is that by trying to save Harvey he was saving for himself a way out of being Batman. With Harvey around as that shining force he wouldn’t need to don the costume anymore.
But with Rachel killed in the process he solidifies his own path to remain Batman. Again ironic and again tragic. Many times throughout the film we see Bruce Wayne unable to control his vigilante impulses. In the interrogation room he slams the Joker’s head against the glass. In the final moments of the film he battles Gordon’s men. Is this who he wants to be or who he has to be?
That final decision is Wayne ending the dissonance within himself. And everything in the film leads to that decision. So while it may seem unnecessary it’s actually far more necessary than you might imagine.
Certainly Batman didn’t have to take the blame for the murders. But he chose to. What does that say about his character? And who he decides to be. Just before doing it he quotes Harvey, “Die while you’re a hero or live long enough to become the villain,” and then continues, “I’m not a hero.” And he’s not a villain. And from the way Harvey Dent is treated in this film he knows that a hero is someone you look up to, someone that can’t have any faults. It’s the type of light at the end of the tunnel Gotham or any city ravaged by crime needs.
This film is about people making decisions about who they are and how Batman should be perceived and about what it takes perhaps to truly have an effect on the criminal intent. In that final moment Bruce Wayne, after not being sure how far he should take Batman, decides what Batman should be for himself and the people. It’s how he appears and is perceived. If he were the hero that Harvey Dent is, the citizens would hold him to a much higher standard. People would dress up like him and put themselves in harms way. It’s not the kind of impact he wanted to have on the city, as he states at the beginning of the film.
There’s something very telling about the story Alfred imparts when about burning down the jungle to get the thief. If Batman were the Harvey Dent kind of hero, he knows he wouldn’t be able to do what needs to be done to get a criminal like Joker, as Alfred did. He knows as a hero higher standards will be placed upon him. And with those higher standards come a much higher level of courtesy, one Batman can’t always afford to have. One that won’t hold as much water for the bad guys in the long run. Again, especially bad guys like the Joker.
He knows he can’t be a do-good fighter with crazies that don’t have a code or follow any sort of rules. From the get go we’re told that the Joker doesn’t even follow the code of a bad guy. But imagine you were that thief and you knew Batman killed cops even to get the job done. How much more frightened would you be of him?
By taking the blame Bruce Wayne does far more than allow Harvey Dent to die a hero, he allows himself to become that much more of a myth among the people and the scum of Gotham. Now he’s truly something to be feared, and like all of the decisions in this film their are consequences for these characters and Batman will have to live with being seen as a true vigilante for a long time.
This is Bruce Wayne committing himself to Batman and what Batman should and needs to be. Something he spends the entirety of the film trying to figure out and for a long period hoping to leave behind. That’s why his decision is both noble and tragic. He can no longer go back.
Tags: Alfred, Batman The Dark Knight, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, Comissioner Gordon, Film Criticsm, Gary Oldman, Harvey Dent, Heath Ledger, Joker, Maggie Gyllenhall, Michael Caine, Rachel Dawes, spoilers, Two Face