Wow! Ten years flew by faster than you can say “MCU.” But before the MCU was the global juggernaut we know it to be, there was Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT Trilogy. THE DARK KNIGHT came out 10 years ago this month and it still is the jewel in the crown of comic book films.

The reason that THE DARK KNIGHT still stands tall is that it had (and has) so much to say. It was an impeccably deep blockbuster filled with messages about the confusing, morally grey modern world. This has always been why I have gravitated to THE DARK KNIGHT. Every time upon rewatch, you can learn something new.

THE DARK KNIGHT didn’t just entertain me for two hours, it changed the way I think. It made me look at the world in a different light. Here are 5 lessons I learned from watching THE DARK KNIGHT.

1. All It Takes Is A Little Push

The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger’s Joker sparks chaos throughout Gotham. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

THE DARK KNIGHT is special in how it shows the crumbling of society. At the beginning of THE DARK KNIGHT, it looks like Gotham is secure under the triumvirate of Batman (Christian Bale), Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). By the end of the film, it has fallen under the chaotic sway of a lunatic.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) remarks to Batman in the film that “It wasn’t hard” to drive Harvey Dent insane. He could’ve really been referring to the whole city. Indeed THE DARK KNIGHT reminds us that our world is never as stable as it seems. We often take the institutions around us for granted. THE DARK KNIGHT points out that we are unwise to do this. The Joker easily uproots the very idea of law and order in the city of Gotham. All he leaves behind is chaos. If chaos could reign in Gotham, we must ask ourselves, why not in America? Hell, is it reigning already?

2. Make Your Own Luck

The first half of THE DARK KNIGHT defines Harvey Dent as noble, charismatic, and honest. What really defines Harvey, however, is his sense of will. Indeed this is what makes him capable of staring criminals in the face like no other Gotham politician. This is because Harvey is a man who seeks to drive fate — not let it drive him.

We see this most clearly when Harvey remarks to Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) “I make my own luck.” We discover exactly what he means when Rachel discovers that his lucky coin is two-headed. Harvey’s courage and drive permit him to do what he believes even when it seems impossible. He’s an inspiring figure because he tells us to believe in ourselves and our ability to achieve our goals.

This is another reason why Harvey’s descent into madness is so tragic. He is a man who has lost all sense of willpower and feels like a slave to fate. For much of the film, we believe, like Dent begins to, that there is no point in trying to be decent when the remorseless world has other plans.

Batman’s nobility, of course, is the rebuke against this. When Batman saves Gordon’s son from Two-Face at the end of the movie we see Dent’s coin fall on heads. This is Nolan showing his true colors on the matter as he suggests that people still can have a positive impact if they will it. Dent and The Joker are wrong. We can make our own luck.

3. People Are Two-Faced

Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent represents the multifaceted nature of humanity. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

On the subject of Harvey Dent, THE DARK KNIGHT beautifully captures the multifaceted essence of humanity. With Dent, we see a person who has the potential to do great deeds in saving Gotham but who also has the potential to cause great harm through acts of violence.

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Dent isn’t the only character in the film showcasing multiple faces. For instance, Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), crime boss and tertiary antagonist of the film, condones the Joker’s actions at the beginning of the film. He supplies the Joker with men, funds, and supplies so that the clown can help him retake the city and defeat Batman.

When Maroni learns that the Joker is only after chaos, he shows remorse. He tells Gordon “it’s too much” and actually helps the police capture the Joker. Maroni’s character shows that even the villains of Gotham have redeemable qualities. Before likely dying at the hands of Two-Face, Maroni expresses his love for his wife showing that even villains have loved ones.

Almost all of the characters in THE DARK KNIGHT are not totally good or bad. The main characters who aren’t two-faced are ironically Batman and the Joker. Both of these men are characters who are literally disguising their faces. It is fascinating (if not cynical) that Nolan shows that the only way to truly dedicate yourself to an idea is to put on a mask to cover your true self.

4. Watch The World Burn

One of the most fun parts of watching THE DARK KNIGHT with someone who hasn’t seen the film before is seeing their reactions to the Joker. The film really revolves around the mystery of the Joker and the revelation of what he is. For much of the film Bruce clutches onto the simpler and easier opinion that the Joker is after something concrete like money or power. But as Alfred (Michael Caine) fantastically states in one of the movies most famous quotes:

“Some men aren’t looking for something logical like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just wanna watch the world burn.”

It’s a frightening idea that there are some people who live only to cause suffering and destruction in the wake of others. However, it is a reality of our world. In fact, President Obama used this aspect of the Joker to better understand ISIS. The realization of the Joker’s true intentions is pivotal in the film. It really is cemented when the Joker burns “his share” of the mob’s money driving the point home that money is literally worthless in his eyes in relation to destructive substances like “gunpowder and gasoline.”

It is at this point that Batman sees the Joker as he truly is – the chaos-obsessed lunatic. When he realizes this, he is better equipped to confront the mastermind. It is crucial that we recognize that evil exists and that when it rears its head, it is essential that we identify and confront it.

5. Become The Villain

Neither glory nor recognition awaits Bruce in his crusade. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

While the Joker is the most enthralling part of THE DARK KNIGHT, I still believe the film is a Batman film through and through. THE DARK KNIGHT is really about Batman coming into his own and discovering what he has to do to save his city. Whereas at the beginning of the film, Bruce was starting to doubt his role as Gotham’s savior, by the end he commits to the role of “Dark Knight.”

In the film’s finale, Bruce finds the true purpose of Batman. He realizes Batman’s role is not to be a public hero. Instead, he dedicates himself to defending Gotham from the shadows. This frees Batman and Gordon to commit to the lie that Batman is a murderous villain and Harvey an innocent hero. But as the villain, Batman is able to do what he never could as a hero. He can be the boogie man inspiring fear and keeping criminals in line while serving as an antithesis for Dent’s heroic sacrifice.

The power of this lie is truly enthralling to me and makes me question the eternal morality of honesty. We are always told to tell the truth and to be our best selves. However, what if lying can save lives? Batman becomes a victim of his own lie so he can help protect Gotham. Nobody appreciates Batman’s deeds but that doesn’t matter to him. What matters is he saved his city.

Sometimes we have to lie to our friends and families to protect them from harsher truths. While we prefer honesty, sometimes we have to make this hard decision to help others. Sometimes we have higher duties than honesty.

THE DARK KNIGHT — A Cinematic Masterpiece

These are only five of several more lessons that I learned from THE DARK KNIGHT. Honestly, this list could be 50 points longer but I figured I would have to end it somewhere. THE DARK KNIGHT is one of the movies with the greatest impact on my life. What is amazing is that it continues to impact it. I continue to return to the film to understand complex ideas, relationships, and themes that I struggle with.

THE DARK KNIGHT captures the complexity of the world and the rampant darkness within it. However, THE DARK KNIGHT also manages to make art, beauty, and understanding out of our world’s greatest questions and that is why I hold it in such high regard.

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