Monday, December 2, 2013

Why So Serious? Part 3

This is the final post in my 'Joker' character analysis. This post is not so much about the Joker's character, but more how he affected the other characters in 'The Dark Knight', particularly Harvey Dent.

As always, I've never actually read a full superhero comic, much less a Batman comic. I have read PDF excerpts on the Internet, but that doesn't count. I'm only discussing Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger's take on the Joker. And there are SPOILERS ahead.

Now, onto the post!

The biggest (and basically only) complaint I ever hear about The Dark Knight is Harvey's transformation. Many found it unrealistic and out-of-character. I admit, it does seem a bit odd, but I do not think the writers or Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent actor) are to blame for this. Personally, I think the blame for the oddness of it all lies with Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes) then it does with anyone else. I'm sorry if this offends everyone, but she's a terrible actress. I don't understand why they could not keep Katie Holmes as Rachel. Gyllenhaal always seemed to have a goofy grin on her face, and her line delivery and emotional continuity were simply painful to watch. One of the worst/best scenes in the entire movie is the one scene Ledger and Gyllenhaal share. It's the scene where the Joker crashes Harvey's fundraiser. The Joker's larger than life character makes Gyllenhaal's portrayal of Rachel even more ridiculous.

Okay, rant aside, I think the blame lies with Gyllenhaal because it was impossible to understand why Harvey loved Rachel so much. Rachel was unlovable to the audience, therefore, it's difficult to comprehend why Harvey would change so drastically when she died. I actually found Harvey's transformation difficult to swallow until I read the script for 'The Dark Knight.' As I read the script, I tried to imagine Katie Holmes as Rachel and how she would have portrayed her, and it was FAR more effective. There was nothing wrong with Rachel's writing, but with the actress.

Now that I have finally ranted and settled that the blame lies with Gyllenhaal, I want to explore what exactly the Joker was manipulating in Harvey. Throughout the movie, James Gordon and Harvey Dent have been subtly slicing at the other. Harvey accuses Gordon of having corrupt cops on his 'special team,' and Gordon does accuses Harvey of being to brash and arrogant. Harvey thinks he's being brave and just, while Gordon thinks he is making the most of what he has.

Harvey's brashness/bravery brings him to the attention of the Joker. The Joker sees a man with no known weaknesses. As district attorney, Harvey holds a lot of sway on the city, and many of the citizens have seen him as a beacon of hope. He's liked even more than Batman, who uses shady means to accomplish good deeds.

Instead of simply killing him and getting him out of the way, thus creating a martyr, the Joker decides to twist Harvey's mind into playing into the Joker's game. The Joker is trying to create an anarchy, to show the world that humans are nothing more than beasts. Harvey represents everything that is democracy; justice, order, mercy, and fairness. The Joker targets the part of Harvey that loves fairness and decides to make that his one and only mantra.

So he kidnaps both Harvey and Rachel, placing them both in separate rigged warehouses, and tricks Batman into saving Harvey. Rachel dies. With her dead, Harvey sees no reason to continue being Gotham's "White Knight." He wants justice. He wants revenge. He wants fairness. He becomes consumed by his anger and self-blame. The Joker is quick to direct Harvey's anger to the "schemers," effectively lying, and manipulating Harvey's confused mind into fighting Gordon and the police. If the Joker can make Harvey publicly go against everything good that he stood for, then Gotham will despair and the people would "eat each other."

Lots of people, even after explaining my Gyllenhaal theory, still think the transformation is unbelievable. I like pointing them to a scene that takes place about halfway through the movie. Harvey has captured one of the Joker's henchman, a mental health patient, who wore a badge that read 'Rachel Dawes.' This was the Joker telling the world who he would kill next. Knowing this, Harvey took the man to a deserted section of the Narrows and emotionally tortured him to find information. Most people discount this scene, saying, "He had the coin with two faces on it. He knew he would never actually hurt the man." True. But he was still emotionally torturing the henchman, without knowing or caring that the henchman was already mentally retarded. Personally, I believe physical torture is just a step up, and in some cases, a step down from emotional torture.

All in all, the Joker proved that he could indeed manipulate one man into falling from goodness. That is part of the reason why I think 'The Dark Knight' is so gritty. It's not the violence or the darkness of the city. It's the fact that the Joker was right. Some men are monsters. And if you can turn the right man into showing his true face, you can destroy a city. Batman had to take the blame for Harvey's fall. People aren't surprised when something dark gets darker. But when light turns to darkness? That's when the chaos begins. The Joker knew all of this, so I think that is why he did not manipulate Batman as hard as he did Harvey. Killing Batman wouldn't do anything except spoil the Joker's fun. Killing the White Knight, on the other hand, would do nothing but add more pawns to the Joker's side of the game.

Hope you enjoyed this series on the Joker as much as I enjoyed writing it! :)


  1. excellent analysis!

  2. I enjoyed this quite a lot.

    The other thing that one has to take into account is that Nolan was trying to create the character of "Two Face" - in the Batman Cannon, Harvey Dent DID become Two-Face through a tragic accident. I think the audience needs to accept that it isn't just Harvey's FACE that suffers after the explosion, but his MIND as well. Perhaps it isn't realistic to believe that Rachel's death would drive him over the edge... if he hadn't been through an emotionally and mentally traumatizing accident... but add in the trauma of the explosion (and the dangerous chemicals that were part of that explosion... and the knowledge that in Batman's universe, dangerous chemicals almost always result in some sort of deranged criminal mastermind...) and you have a fairly believable progression from White Knight to Deranged Lunatic Criminal.

    Nolan said he wanted to distance the Batman Franchise from the insane Katie Holmes Personal Life stuff (with Tom Cruise) that was going on at the time of the shooting of this movie, that's why she didn't come back to play Rachel. At least, that's what I remember being said.

    My biggest beef with the movie was that they KILLED Two-Face/Harvey Dent at the end... and that it wasn't believable that they couldn't just blame all the deaths Harvey caused on the JOKER... why did BATMAN have to take the blame? Seemed like a fairly large plot hole.

    But then, it set up Dark Knight Rises for all sorts of ridiculous plot holes... so I guess Dark Knight had to have at least one. sigh.

    Batman Begins was still the best of the trilogy, IMHO. :)

    1. That's very true. I haven't researched the comic Two-Face as much as I have the Joker, but I have noticed that chemical=psychopath seems to be a trend in the Batman universe.

      Okay, that makes a lot of sense about the Katie Holmes thing. But still. Surely they could have found a better actress for such a major franchise. I noticed that Heath Ledger had acted with Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal's brother, in a different movie, so maybe that had something to do with it.

      My brother told me that Nolan was originally planning on having four Batman movies, the third one would have featured the return of the Joker and another villain. It was also going to introduce Robin. Nolan had thought up until the very end of filming that Two-Face would be a villain in that movie. You know the scene where he I believe he kills or threatens to kill one of the corrupt officers? The scene ends with his coin spinning on the table. That was going to be the last the audience would have seen of Two-Face. For some reason, Nolan decided to change the script to give the "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain" line closure. I'm not sure what I think about it. After watching the Honest Trailer, I do wonder why they couldn't just blame it on the Joker. Maybe they were afraid he would deny it in Arkham, and since he hadn't had any qualms about owning up to the other people he murdered, everyone would think he was telling the truth about Harvey. That's pretty far-fetched though...

      I'm glad I'm not the only one who found The Dark Knight Rises fairly ridiculous. Everyone seems to think I'm crazy for not liking it. *shrugs*

      I do love Batman Begins, but I think I'm too much of a writer fan of the Joker to like it more than The Dark Knight. :P

    2. :) Oh I'm so glad that you think Dark Knight Rises was a bit ridiculous!!! Hooray!

      My brother's opinion of why they killed Two-Face off at the end is that the makeup artists did FAR too good a job with his scars, and that Nolan realized nobody would want to watch the movie if he was in too much of it. LOL shrug. It's possible.