Why "The Dark Knight" is Harvey Dent's Story

Warning: In the following article, we give away large plot twists, and massive spoilers to “The Dark Knight.” Please be wise in displaying caution.

What I’m going to say isn’t an exactly fresh new series of comments, but I think it elicits declarations again and again. As an avid comic book fan I’ve never found anything to enjoy about Batman. He’s a whiny, morose, boring character without any charm to him. But after watching “Batman Begins” and then “The Dark Knight,” it’s safe to say I was kind of wrong. I mean, “The Dark Knight” is without a doubt one of the greatest comic book movies ever made and will likely make many top 10 lists (including my own) once December rolls along. Everything Nolan and his brother have birthed with “The Dark Knight” sparks many allusions to the likes of masterpieces like “LA Confidential” and “Touch of Evil” with wonderful undertones of human cruelty, government corruption, and how easy society can crumble under the threat of a madman.

It’s true that “The Dark Knight” is much more of an adult comic book movie with very little of the commercial appeal to children compared to that of what we saw with Tim Burton and Schumacher’s outputs, and it took the likes of a complex artist like Christopher Nolan, the man behind “Memento,” to bring to life a brutally bleak and utterly depressing comic book epic turning Batman in to the character that represents that spirit of humanity that craves justice in any way possible. Many folks have been bowled over by the stunning direction Nolan sets on the screen and the brilliant script by Nolan and his brother. There are also the marvelous performances by an ensemble cast including Christian Bale who is remarkable as Batman and Bruce Wayne, while many have repeatedly cited the amazing performance by Heath Ledger as the anarchic Joker, and it’s all very warranted. It’s impossible to watch “The Dark Knight” without taking something away from it. But being in the minority yet again, while all of the aforementioned elements left me breathless, I’m one of the few who found the story of Harvey Dent to be probably the most exhilarating aspect of “The Dark Knight.” More so than the Joker. Perhaps it’s because of Aaron Eckhart’s pitch perfect performance as the inevitable Two Face.

Perhaps it’s because it’s such a far cry from the ridiculous portrayal by Tommy Lee Jones from years ago, but simply: I was constantly coming back to the story of Harvey Dent. He’s the mild mannered District Attorney with everything to live for who eventually became a victim of his own lust for vengeance and psychological reliance on an inanimate object he holds so precious. And in keeping with the subtle political undertones, Dent is also the politician who goes rogue to ensure the terrorist threat is put to a stop even in spite of basic corruption of his moral code. Not even Bruce Timm could capture the platitudes of psychosis and Freudian underpinnings that Nolan was able to, and due to that, “The Dark Knight” is much more the story of Harvey Dent than anyone else’s. We’ve known Batman in other fare as the man avenging the death of his parents, and the Joker is a constantly depicted creature of evil, but Two Face has never been such a morally conflicted character on screen before. In the final act when Harvey Dent begins to pick off the mobsters and crime bosses that evaded the law we’re ultimately as conflicted as the ids in Two Faces.

On the one side, is he so wrong for avenging the calculated assassination of his love Rachel Dawes? But what gives him the right to play god? Is he just another murderer like the Joker, or a twisted monster of tragedy like Batman. Dent’s own transformation in to Two Face is turned in to a clearly incidental series of events that took his dark side and brought it out in to a twisted being of charred flesh and bulging eyes, while it takes the Joker and his clearly insane ideology that lacks any real reasoning, to bring out Two Face and turn him in to another agent of the Joker. While Harvey is always under the pretense that his crusade to murder those who engineered the death of Dawes, his own blind rage and twisted moral antithesis can never see that he’s under the Joker’s thumb from the moment he lays eyes on him. But Dent’s reliance on the coin that is, in his eyes, blind unbiased fate personified, sadly keeps him from truly breaking down the situation that The Joker has constructed against The Dark Knight. Because to Dent the coin the scars and jagged flesh that remained from the horrific explosion on half of his face is what he perceives as the coin being tossed in the air and landing against his favor. When his body is split in half much like his coin, it inevitably becomes his one true deity, the man reliant on an embossed image in a piece of currency that’s as hollow as any game of chance.

Dent’s own persona lies within the forced fate of the one sided coin he depends solely on for his decisions, and his origin is essentially the same as Bruce Wayne’s, a fine upstanding young gentleman whose own tragic fate and loss of a loved one turned him in to a dark twisted figure. Except Dent’s own ego and superego chose to split itself in half with Dent’s utter inability to really differentiate fate and base urges. While Dent always relied on the coin’s chance, his lust for violence and need for justification beyond all morals and laws eventually always took over, thus rather than being able to properly house them in his id much like Bruce did with Batman, he’s now become nothing more than a manifestation of his own flawed ethos. On one side is his raw need for violence, his thirst for blood, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. His more dapper side is the side that keeps him from completely abiding by his darkness, it’s his humanity often drowned out by his darker side that’s brought to the surface in all of its ugliness thanks to the Joker. It’s truly realized when he’s convinced by the Joker to take matters in to his own hands. It doesn’t change matters. Dent is still reliant on the coin, the prevalent King Midas that acts as a conscious deity on his soul freeing him of the responsibility of giving in to his own emotions.

When the coin decides, it’s what he’s ultimately given in to. Because in spite of all of Dent’s own swaggering and confident crusading, this is a man who clearly has no idea how to decide on his own and this becomes his own downfall. The blackness of his persona wants out, but is only granted the reign when the coin allows it. The Two Face is the man and the lust fighting for control thanks to this coin, forever his equalizer releasing him of guilt, logic, and blame. Bruce Wayne chooses his fate. If he wants to fight crime undermining the system, he becomes Batman. If he wants to be a playboy, he becomes Bruce. Harvey has no such distinction. He’s forever the indecisive tortured soul who can’t quite understand how to live as both or balance it. What Dent can never realize by the end is that the coins aren’t making the decisions for him, because regardless he adds an option for every side of the coin, and regardless of which side the coin has fallen, it’s still his decision. And it’s clear that deep down somewhere, Dent knows this. Because in the final twenty minutes he is at a constant struggle with his monstrous form and human form, one a representations of the courage of the crusader and the other the lust of the demon of vengeance that presents a sheer over reliance on the flip of the coin that decides its punishment.

The entire time the human side of Harvey is one who feels he is completely and utterly justified with his blame in Commissioner Gordon and Batman. Much like the Joker he also calls for sacrifice from the two avengers in the name of helpless victims, and unlike the joker, his crutch is his ultimate downfall. The Joker’s only downfall is his confidence in the cruelty of humanity due to the fact that the marks of a corrupted innocence are evident on his face. Though most of his origin is left totally ambiguous, it’s clear that the Joker has experienced enough merciless violence in his life time to leave him resolute in the thesis that humanity, in spite of the evident illusions of heroism they present, are nothing but cold heartless animals willing to off one another to survive. Thus most of his sick joke is successful. Dent, meanwhile, depends on a natural law that is in his mind much more important than the criminal system he spent his entire life living by, to which he completely devalues and dismisses in the end.

The memorial dedication to Harvey in the final scenes. and the shielding of his new twisted form from the public is not for Harvey’s sake, instead it’s for the sake of Commissioner Gordon and Batman whose own perceptions of the evil men are capable of and how easily good man can rot, has forever changed their stance on crime fighters. Batman’s own willingness to undermine the law to capture the Joker has also shown him how easily power can corrupt. But the shreds they cling to in the finale is mostly for Gordon and Batman’s own peace of mind because when the blood has been shed and the terror has ended, they know that the crusade Harvey lived by was all in vain and a complete charade thanks to the coin. And they partake in one last ceremony of smoke and mirrors to keep the myth of the public defender running for hope, and to keep the image of Harvey the hero alive for a city still reeling from the chaos the Joker reeked. Harvey’s story is simply the most gripping and multi-layered of the variety of character arcs that we confront in Nolan’s masterpiece. His tale is truly thrilling and gripping with Eckhart’s pinpoint performance measuring the effect of tragedy that splits between good and evil quite often.

You’d never know it since it’s been kept under wraps, but Dent’s arc makes for the best of the film’s offerings and Dent’s gradual progression in to madness leaves him a grotesque killer, really the deep dormant darker half that’s finally brought to life. It’s quite literally one of numerous themes in “The Dark Knight” and yet another master stroke that keeps me going back for me. To deviate slightly, the biggest question has been: Where do you go after “The Dark Knight”? Well, it’s pretty simple. While the potential premise for the third film is just as risky as “The Dark Knight” with some of Nolan’s touches it could be just as urgent a crime thriller as the second in the series. Now on the run from the law and in hiding, Batman is still fighting crime two years after Dent’s “death” but almost like a ghost to evade the law who are amping their forces and proving to be a deadly force.

Gordon now in his chair must keep them back while splitting his allegiances to his job and his confidante. But Dent (now as Two Face) breaks free from Arkham Asylum and now takes the reins of the local mafia where he uses his connections to grab power. Here he hires two agents, an assassin named Deadshot, and the Catwoman. They’re assigned to find out who Batman is once and for all. While Deadshot and she constantly battle for Batman’s head, The Catwoman is pulling heists all over Gotham and Batman is trying to stop her and finds an equal in the female warrior who proves to be quite up to the challenge in matching his bravery, strength, and wit. Picture it as “To Catch a Thief.” This forces more focus on Dent, introduces another realistic villain/ally/romantic interest in Catwoman aka Selina Kyle, and we have a third film. But then that’s assuming we’re given more glimpses in to the psyche of Two Face.