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Ethical and Moral Dilemmas Faced by Characters of 'The Dark Knight'

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Film as a visual culture (especially in today’s world) has multiple purpose and aims to educate the viewer while also entertaining them and giving them the chance ponder over the human experiences throughout. Naturally not every film manages to obtain the goals previously mentioned, in fact many don’t even attempt to. Films that manage to entertain and provoke discussion are handy projects that can be used for education. When attempting to create a piece of work that tackles the tricky concepts of moral standing and honesty through a human experience it can often be the case that a filmmaker will fail to capture the audience’s interest. Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ not only entertains the viewer but also opens them up to serious ethical and moral issues which are faced by characters within the film. Instances of these moral dilemmas include different characters lives hanging in the balance and Batman having to choose which one he goes to save. Although the movie itself is a work of fiction, similarities between it and the ethics of human life and wellbeing in modern society are present throughout the film.

From the beginning of the film and right through to the end Bruce Wayne-Batman has a number of times where his honesty is tested. The most important issue that he faces in the film is outlining his own values and then being able to stick to those values while living his life in too very separate ways. One as Bruce Wayne, a billion-dollar company owner. The other is Batman, a crime fighting vigilante. Wayne makes Batman a crimefighting vigilante who where’s a mask, hiding their true identity. Even though Batman is wearing a mask and therefore protecting the man (Bruce Wayne) behind it he still ardently opposes killing people (even guilty criminals) as he knows he is not the law. Both Bruce and Batman stay true to their intentions and retain their honesty and integrity by never killing anyone. This is surprising as Batman regularly finds himself in circumstances where violence is bound to erupt. The figure of Batman allows Bruce to not only tackle Gotham’s criminals but also protects him and the people he loves from harm. It also protects his company from public disapproval.

The importance of the connection but also the difference between Bruce and Batman is put under immense pressure throughout the motion picture by its main villain, the Joker. This firstly takes place when the Joker has planted himself with the various mob bosses that run the Gotham underworld and given Batman a warning: for every day that goes by without the Batman revealing his true identity the Joker will kill someone. The Joker shows his complete disregard for a moral compass here as he is threatening the lives of innocence in order to force Batman into making a decision. Throughout the whole film the Joker is presented as a man with no moral compass and someone who couldn’t care less about ethics. To show that he is serious the Joker begins by murdering a man who had been inspired by Batman’s crime fighting abilities and dressed up as the hero of the film. Here Batman has to know make a very hard choice. He can refuse to reveal his identity and allow the killing of a person every day he does not, or he gets rid of the mask and Batman entirely which risks the safety of his loved ones and himself.

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While Bruce tries to track down and capture the Joker, he has to consider what the consequences of the choice he makes will be. Does he keep his identity a secret in order to preserve the image of Batman, Gotham’s primary way of keeping the streets safe? Or reveal his identity in order to bring a stop to the Joker? At first Bruce wants to keep the true identity of Batman a secret however, the Joker begins to kill more people and as a result the choice is trickier. Alfred, Bruce’s butler, is the only person who knows his secret and he argues that Bruce needs to keep his identity as Batman a secret due to the figure of Batman having a platform to make a difference and serve the citizens of Gotham. Alfred also doesn’t think that Bruce should not let a madman like the Joker get his way. There is however another person who knows Bruce’s secret, his childhood love Rachel. She argues that he should give himself up and reveal Batman’s true face in order to stop the innocent people from being murdered. Her argument is tainted by the fact she has told Bruce before that they can never be together as long as he is Batman. There are several moments in the film where Rachel’s integrity is tested. An example of this is when she is confronted by the Joker face to face and is revealing her identity as Bruce’s long-time friend. This put her in immediate harm’s way, and she could’ve been killed yet she remains honest. Rachels committed stance in regard to her integrity acts as a demarcation compared to Bruce and his idea of keeping his crimefighting persona and also his love for her.

Justice is a key idea that runs through the entire film. The whole idea is based on Batman, who fights for justice outside of the law. Batman as a character is juxtaposed with Harvey Dent who is the District Attorney for Gotham. His aim is to fight the crime that has plagued the city as well but compared to Batman, within the constraints of the law. Dent is also in a relationship with Rachel. Although Bruce does not want them together, he also doesn’t want to see Harvey Dent fail as Bruce sees Dent’s success through official legal paths, as a way for him to stop being Batman and be with Rachel. Both Dent and Batman show opposing ways in which justice can be obtained and implemented. At the climax of the film however, their two separate approaches end up colliding first with an ethical dilemma faced by Batman and then Harvey after his moral code has been destroyed and he decides to adopt a new way to dealing justice: through the flip of a coin.

Towards the end of the film Batmen is in the midst of getting the Joker to tell him where Rachel and Harvey are who have both vanished. The Joker created a scenario in which both Rachel and Harvey are sitting in separate buildings, both surrounded by extensive amounts of explosive. Joker gives Batman the location of Dent and Rachel but only allows time for one of them to be saved. Batman must decide whether to rescue Rachel, the women whom he loves. Or should he rescue Harvey, the one man within the police and government that can bring peace to the city of Gotham. This is a difficult dilemma as not only are the stacks high but also the decision has to be made right in that moment. Although the choice is made to be overly dramatic for the purpose of film making it is not too dissimilar to the decisions a surgeon has to make in an emergency or in a quick amount of time. Many members of the healthcare system have to consider their own morals and values while also considering the patients values and quality of life.

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Ethical and Moral Dilemmas Faced by Characters of ‘The Dark Knight’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Ethical and Moral Dilemmas Faced by Characters of ‘The Dark Knight’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Ethical and Moral Dilemmas Faced by Characters of ‘The Dark Knight’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2023].
Ethical and Moral Dilemmas Faced by Characters of ‘The Dark Knight’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 May 24]. Available from:
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