Great Scene: “The Dark Knight”

Some scenes just surprise the crap out of you. And then later, when you think back on it, you realize how well conceived it was from a story point of view, how perfect it was. In the movie The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a paragon of virtue, loses the love of his life Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) directly because of a trick the Joker (Heath Ledger) plays on Batman (Christian Bale). So when the Joker shows up in Dent’s hospital room, there to recover from burns he received the night of Rachel’s death, we have no idea what the Joker is doing. Why the hell is he here?

In thinking about it, we realize that the Joker knows how crushed Harvey would be at losing Rachel, how much fury and anger he would have, how deconstructed he is. As it turns out, it’s the perfect time for the Joker to work another of his crazed schemes — by putting a pistol in Dent’s hands and pressing the barrel of the gun into his (the Joker’s) forehead, literally putting Dent into a position where he can kill the man responsible for Rachel’s death, the person he loved more than life itself. But then the Joker says this:

INT. DENT'S HOSPITAL ROOM -- CONTINUOUSThe Joker leans in, pressing his head to the gun's barrel.THE JOKER
It's the schemers who put you
where you are. You were a schemer.
You had plans. Look where it got
you. I just did what I do best-
I took your plan, and I turned it
on itself. Look what I've done
with this city and a few drums of
gas and a couple of bullets.
Nobody panics when the expected
people get killed. Nobody panics
when things go according to plan,
even if the plan is horrifying.
If I tell the press that tomorrow,
a gangbanger will get shot, or a
truckload of soldiers will be blown
up, nobody panics. Because it's
all part of the plan. But when I
say that one little old mayor will
die, everybody loses their minds.
Introduce a little anarchy, you
upset the established order and
everything becomes chaos. I'm an
agent of chaos. And you know the
thing about chaos, Harvey?
Dent looks into the Joker's eyes. Finding meaning.THE JOKER
It's fair.
Dent looks down at the coin in his hand. Turns it over, feels
its comforting weight. Shows the Joker the good side.
You live.
He turns the coin over. The flip side is deeply SCARRED.DENT
You die.
The Joker looks at the coin, looks at Dent admiringly.THE JOKER
Now you're talking.
Dent FLICKS the coin in the air. Catches it. Looks.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

As we are able to delve deeper into the Joker’s world view, even though it’s exposition, it’s riveting — and a great scene.

[Originally posted November 14, 2008]

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