The Dark Knight Directed by Christoper Nolan Basic Notes

This Resource is for students Studying ‘The Dark Knight’ for Year 11 VCE Curriculum AOS1 Reading & Exploring Texts


‘The Dark Knight’ is not a simplistic tale of good and evil. Batman is good, yes, The Joker is evil, yes. However, Batman poses a more complex puzzle than usual: The citizens of Gotham City are in an uproar, calling him a vigilante and blaming him for the deaths of policemen and others. Significantly, the Joker is more than a villain. He is a Mephistopheles [an evil spirit who has sold his soul] whose actions are fiendishly designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies.

The plot involves the Joker’s attempts to humiliate the forces for good and expose Batman’ secret identity, showing him to be a poser and a fraud. He includes James Gordon and Harvey Dent on his target list. He contrives cruel tricks to play with the fact that Bruce Wayne once loved, and Harvey Dent now loves, Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes. His tricks are crueller than he realizes, because the Joker does not know Batman’s identity. The Joker’s ghoulish appearance with a cackling laugh is driven by the belief humanity is inherently evil and any attempts at maintaining order or morality is a ‘bad joke’. Again, he underestimates Batman’s role as a symbol of justice and protector of Gotham City. Both sides are forced to make quick-witted decisions in order to stop the opposing vigilante from doing his desired work.

Good Versus Evil

‘The Dark Knight’focuses on the moral and ethical battles faced by the central characters, and the compromises they make to defeat the Joker under extraordinary circumstances. The Joker forces impossible ethical decisions on each character to test the limits of their morality. The Batman represents order to the Joker’s chaos and is brought to his own limit but avoids completely compromising himself. Harvey Dent represents goodness and hope; he is the city’s ‘white knight’ who is ‘pure’ of intent and can operate within the law. Dent is motivated to do good because he identifies himself as good, not through trauma like the Batman, and has faith in the legal system.

While the Joker corrupted Harvey Dent ‘the white knight’, Batman is willing to take the blame for the murders that Dent committed as ‘Two-Face’ so Gotham City will stay peaceful. Gordon tells his son Jimmy that although Dent was ‘the hero that Gotham needed’, ‘Batman is the hero that Gotham deserves’. In the end, Batman is still ‘a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark night’.

The Dark Knight Literary Elements


Christopher Nolan

Leading Actors

Christian Bale and Heath Ledger

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart


Superhero, Action, Thriller

Date of Release

July 18th, 2008


Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, and Christopher Nolan

Setting and Context

Gotham City, present day, after the events of Batman Begins

Tone and Mood

Dark, thrilling, brooding, philosophical.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Batman vs. The Joker

Major Conflict

Batman is trying to clean up Gotham while also fighting with the supervillain and agent of chaos, the Joker. He is also conflicted about whether to give up the identity of Batman and pursue a normal life.


Batman catching the Joker and then Batman killing Two-Face.


Joker foreshadows many of the evil things he will do with odd asides. Harvey Dent’s corruption is foreshadowed by his observation that heroes either die young or live to see themselves turn into villains.


At the start of the film, the power and influence of the Joker is constantly understated.


Allusions to philosophy and to the comic books on which the film is based.


The Joker is insane and chaotic, but also always two steps ahead, and thus, extremely methodical

Summary of the Plot

The criminals of Gotham City are running scared, because Batman is keeping the good citizens of Gotham safe. The film opens with a gang of men wearing clown masks breaking into the bank where the mob keeps much of their money. The mastermind of the heist is someone named the Joker. At the end of the heist, Joker arrives and puts a grenade in the mouth of the bank manager.

Unaware of the Joker’s presence in their city, Batman and the new DA, Harvey Dent, are working alongside Lieutenant Gordon to put the last of the mob’s money-laundering enterprises out of business once and for all. They believe they have definitively stopped the laundering and crime in the city—until the Joker shows up to sow chaos. Joker assassinates a judge, plants a bomb in a hospital and blows it up, and starts knocking off innocent people in Gotham one by one until Batman reveals his identity.

Batman is determined to fight back against the Joker. For a while, it seems as though he is maintaining the upper hand, until his best friend Rachel, who also happens to be Harvey Dent’s girlfriend, is killed in the crossfire. When half of Harvey Dent’s face gets burned in an explosion, the Joker brings him over to the dark side, encouraging him to seek vengeance for Rachel’s death. Harvey adopts a new name, Two-Face, and Batman finds himself with two madmen to contend with as the destruction of Gotham looms large.

The Joker has clearly been planning his takeover of Gotham for quite some time, and seems to be at least two steps ahead of Batman at every turn. After releasing a threat to the entire city of Gotham, he commandeers two ferries and fills one with citizens and one with convicted criminals. He also fills both ferries with explosives. He gives each boat a master detonator that will explode the other ferry. If nobody detonates the other boat by midnight, he says, he will blow up both boats. Batman is eventually able to subdue the evil clown and none of the passengers on the ferries are harmed.

Harvey is still on the Joker’s side, something that Batman did not realize in his haste to take down the Joker himself. While Batman has been confronting Joker, Gordon learns that his family has been taken hostage by Two-Face. When Gordon goes to save them, Two-Face knocks Gordon to the ground, then grabs his little boy, Jimmy, planning on flipping a coin to decide the boy’s fate by chance. Suddenly, Batman arrives and orders him to stop, telling him that he is blaming the wrong people for Rachel’s death. Two-Face then flips the coin for Batman. It lands dirty side up, so he shoots him. He flips it for himself. It lands clean side up. Then he resumes with his original plan and flips it for little Jimmy. In the definitive moment, Batman gets up and tackles Two-Face, knocking him over a ledge.

Batman bemoans the fact that the Joker still won because he corrupted Harvey Dent, split up their alliance for good, and destroyed one of the best people in Gotham. If the people of Gotham ever discovered the wrongs that Two-Face has done, Gotham’s future will be compromised. Thus, Batman decides to take the blame for the murders that Dent committed as Two-Face, so that the Joker can’t win and the city will stay peaceful.

Gordon is seen destroying the Bat symbol above the MCU building and then begins to chase Batman, who runs. Gordon tells his son that although Dent was the hero that Gotham needed, Batman is the hero that Gotham deserves. A manhunt is issued for Batman and he speeds away in his Batpod. Gordon declares, “He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.”

Justice versus corruptionBearing the burden as sacrificial heroLoss of love
Chaos & destructionHuman nature is essentially goodChance
Terrorism & escalationMorality & ethicsGood versus evil
Symbols & Motifs
Social experimentsMakeupTwo-Face
Joker cardBatmanHarvey as ‘the white knight’ symbol of good
Bruce is BatmanHarvey says he is BatmanRachel’s death
Joker’s scars  
Burning moneyJoker himselfTwo-Face
The Dark Knight  

All Resources created by Online Tutoring using Zoom for Mainstream English Students in the Victorian VCE Curriculum

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