This essay contains spoilers to the movie. Though this movie is well over seven years old, we would still hate to be “those guys” and ruin it for you before watching it. That said, you have been warned!
When I was growing up in Cold Spring, Kentucky, my best friend, Craig Bush, and I would pretend to be superheros. Our favorite comic book was the X-Men and he would take on the role of Cyclops and I had the privilege and honor to be Wolverine. I’m sure it is natural to find oneself as one of the main characters of the story. Usually it is the protagonist, the hero who saves the day. Well, I can admit it is at least for me, anyway.
I’m sure if I was still in second grade when The Dark Knight film came out I have no doubt Craig and I would have fought over who was Batman. One of us might have gotten stuck with commissioner Gordon or Alfred (neither are bad characters, they are just not Batman), but, I know for a fact neither of us would have chosen Harvey Dent. As I said before it is most natural to want to identify with Batman, the hero, but if I were truly honest with myself, knowing who I am underneath, I would most easily identify with Harvey Dent.
With all the attention given to Heath Ledger as the Joker (and rightly so), the character of Harvey Dent, played wonderfully by Aaron Eckhart, gets easily overlooked. However, Harvey Dent plays a crucial role in The Dark Knight, and our understanding of human nature. As the plot unfolds in the film, we come to see the Joker’s bigger plan of causing chaos and anarchy in Gotham. The plan is to corrupt Gotham’s White Knight, Harvey Dent, and crush all hope placed in this supposed savior of the city.
We see this plan executed perfectly by the Joker, by taking away Harvey’s love, Rachel Dawes, and mutilating half of his body by an explosion. Joker’s plan to corrupt Harvey is apparently crystallized in the hospital scene where he lies and deceives Harvey into believing everyone is at fault but him. Harvey’s despair overtakes him and gives in to becoming the villain Two Face.
At least this seems to be how the movie wants to portray the fall of Harvey Dent, but I wonder if we saw signs of Harvey’s dark side even before the Joker killed his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes. We see this White Knight image displayed throughout without any chinks in the armor until he goes along with the plan by Batman to kidnap Lao and bring him back unlawfully to Gotham. This is only a portent of what it is to come when Harvey apparently is willing to kidnap a criminal who tried to kill Commissioner Gordon and even use force in his interrogation. There is even an exchange about Harvey’s nickname being Two-Face before he became the District Attorney. I wonder if this is an allusion to the darker side that shows up later.
So, where do we fit into the character of Harvey Dent? Like I said before, it seems that Harvey Dent had this darker side with him much before the Joker exposed it. I am sure that this is true of all of at some level. There is a dark side of us that we choose to keep hidden until the very thing that we love, that we idolize is threatened or taken away, and we are exposed. Or more simply, we want people to see a White Knight image, and that is what we portray ourselves on the outside. This is especially a problem in the church, where at times we choose not to be honest with who we really are. And like the film, when all hope and faith is placed in this façade of who we want people to believe us to be, there is great danger when the other side is revealed.
So, is there any good news in this post? One of the most beautiful things about superhero movies is seeing the reflection of salvation and even justification in the arc of the story. At the end of the film when Two-Face falls to his death, the side of his face that is facing up is the marred, burnt side. This is an intentional shot by Nolan beautifully illustrating what Harvey Dent had become and how he was about to be seen by the people of Gotham. However, Batman, the hero and savior of the movie, decides to turn his face to expose the unblemished side as he claims he will take on his guilt, his crimes, and all the evil things he had done, and present him as clean, pure, and good.
Is this not a shadow of what Christ has done for us? Though one must overlook some of the imperfections of this analogy, it is a good example of how Christ has taken on our guilt, crimes, and all the evil things we have done. 1 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
When we truly reflect on what Batman did for Harvey, it really does not compare with what Christ has done for us. Batman took the blame for Harvey by lying about it. Christ, who lived a perfect life, took the full punishment for our transgressions, so that as we die with Him we are raised with Him, that we too might walk in the newness of life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The main reason I see mankind as Harvey Dent, is that like Harvey we are in need of a savior. Thankfully, we have Christ.