The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist

The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist

Hi. I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. When I think about why The Dark Knight works
so well, the answer always seems clear: The Joker. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen.” There have been psychopathic villains before. Other antagonists with elaborate, twisting
plans… But there’s something special about The Joker. But putting The Joker character into a movie
clearly does not automatically make it great. So what’s special about The Joker in The
Dark Knight? Is it just Heath Ledger’s excellent performance? “Yeah.” Or is there something more going on? Today, I want to investigate this. To examine the function of an antagonist in
a story… And break down why The Joker is the perfect
opponent for The Dark Knight. Exceptionally Good At Attacking the Hero’s
Weakness Let’s begin with a quote from Robert McKee’s
Story: “A protagonist and his story can only be
as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make
them.” So an antagonist must be powerful. The more powerful, the harder the struggle
for our hero. And the harder the struggle, the more compelling
the story. But that’s a little vague. What does powerful mean in this context? John Truby has a good piece of advice about
how to make the antagonist powerful in a specific way: “Create an opponent who is exceptionally
good at attacking your hero’s greatest weakness.” The Joker is exceptionally good at attacking
Batman’s greatest weaknesses. Much of Batman’s power comes from his ability
to intimidate. From his physical strength. And The Joker delights in creating situations
that nullify Batman’s strength. Like when he’s captured Rachel and Harvey
Dent. “Where are they?!” “You have nothing.” “Nothing to threaten me with.” “Nothing to do with all your strength.” The Joker turns Batman’s strength into a
weakness. He can do this because he doesn’t fear death,
in fact he wants Batman to kill him. “C’mon I want you to do it.” “Hit me!” Because he knows Batman’s morality takes
the form of one rule: he doesn’t kill people. So the more chaos The Joker causes, and the
more people he kills… The further he reveals that Batman’s moral
code can also be a weakness. Because the only way to truly stop The Joker
is to kill him, something Batman can never do. But the Joker’s plan isn’t just to beat
Batman, it’s to show Gotham his true colors. He does this by pressuring the protagonist
into difficult choices. According to Robert McKee: “TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices
a human being makes under pressure—…“ “…the greater the pressure, the deeper
the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” So in every story, the forces of antagonism
must increasingly apply pressure to the protagonist… Forcing them to make more and more difficult
choices. Choices which reveal their true nature. As far as pressuring the protagonist into
choices that test and reveal character, that is quite literally The Joker’s plan. After 45 pages of pretty boring set-up, on
page 46 the screenplay kicks into gear when Batman is faced with the first in a series
of conundrums. “You want order in Gotham?” “Batman must take off his mask, and turn himself in.” “Every day he doesn’t, people will die.” By refusing, at first, to give in to this
terrorist demand, we the audience see that Batman has what it takes to do what’s right. But The Joker proves to be unstoppable, always
one step ahead of Batman… In a sequence that I realized is very similar to
another movie with a great antagonist — Se7en. Batman and Gordon investigating a crime scene… Discovering fingerprints that lead them to
the apartment of the suspect — only to find that it’s all part of the antagonist’s
game. Even The Joker’s plan to purposefully be
caught is similar to Se7en. “Detective!” Throughout all this, the pressure on Batman
increases as people keep dying. The people of Gotham turn against Batman,
until the pressure is too much and Batman’s true character is revealed. “Today I’ve found out what Batman can’t do. He can’t endure this.” Batman decides to turn himself in. Harvey Dent claiming to be Batman and taking his place is the only thing that stops him from doing so. The most revealing choice Batman makes is
when The Joker pressures him to choose between Harvey Dent and Rachel. “Which one you going after?” “Rachel!” In choosing Rachel, Batman reveals what he’s
unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good of Gotham. The limit to his resolve. But with The Joker, things are never that
simple. Throughout the film, The Joker forces Batman
into choices that reveal who and what he cares about when the pressure is really on. Batman is forced to face his true self. Let’s look at our final point. Competing for the Same Goal as the Protagonist How do you make sure your antagonist is the
right one for your hero? After all, The Joker may be the right antagonist
for Batman, but completely inappropriate for a different protagonist. Let’s go back to John Truby. “It is only by competing for the same goal
that the hero and the opponent are forced to come into direct conflict and to do so
again and again throughout the story.” This concept helps distinguish your antagonist
and make sure they are the right one for your hero. So how are Batman and The Joker competing
for the same goal? Both of them have their own vision of what
they want Gotham City to be. Batman is fighting for hope, for a Gotham
City without crime. For law and order. And The Joker… “Upset the established order and everything
becomes chaos.” Batman versus The Joker. Law and order versus chaos. In their final scene together, The Joker even
has a line that makes it very clear that he knows what their battle is all about. “You didn’t think I’d risk losing the
battle for Gotham’s soul in a fist fight with you?” They are both competing for the soul of Gotham,
and only one of them can win. I want to take a moment to underline this
point further, because it shows that a relatively measured but specific threat can be extremely
compelling. In the finale, the only lives in danger are
a few hundred people on the ferries. Batman is not racing against time to stop
the villain’s random-machine-of-destruction. When the villain’s plan is to destroy the
whole world, on a meta level we the audience know that can’t happen, because there’s
probably going to be a sequel. But The Joker could have blown up both ferries,
and the film could have had an Empire Strikes Back-esque ending. A powerful set-up for the next film. Again, Batman and The Joker aren’t competing
for the survival of humanity. They’re competing for the soul of Gotham. The stakes are personal, first and foremost. So now we’ve seen how The Joker is exceptionally
good at attacking Batman’s weaknesses. How he pressures him into difficult choices
as they both compete for the soul of Gotham. But what is cumulative affect of these things? What is the greater function of The Joker? “With respect, Master Wayne, perhaps this
is a man you don’t fully understand either.” Throughout the script, Alfred hints at the
lessons Batman needs to learn. “Some men aren’t looking for anything
logical, like money.” “They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned
or negotiated with.” “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” In the beginning, Batman believes that criminals
are simply after money, that there is a logical order to things. But he learns not to underestimate his enemies,
that his strengths can become weaknesses. Batman grows wiser because of the Joker. “Know your limits, Master Wayne” “Batman has no limits.” “Well you do, sir.” Under the pressure of the antagonist, Batman
learns that alone he does have limits. But with the right allies, they can overcome
any challenge. Batman’s resolve deepens because of The
Joker. “People are dying, Alfred.” “What would you have me do?” “Endure, Master Wayne.” And in the battle for Gotham’s soul, he
learns that he’s able to make the difficult choices no one else can. “You either die a hero or you live long
enough to see yourself become the villain.” “I can do those things because I’m not
a hero.” “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be.” Batman becomes the Dark Knight because of
The Joker. The Dark Knight shines as an example of what
happens when the forces of antagonism grow from the protagonist. When they’re inextricably linked. When they’re two sides of the same coin. The Joker isn’t a great villain because
he has an insane laugh and acts unpredictably. He’s great because he has a profound and
specific affect on the story, and on the protagonist. “I think you and I are destined to do this
forever.” The Joker is the perfect antagonist for The
Dark Knight. Hey guys! I had a lot of fun putting this video together,
but I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It actually went through a lot of changes
but I ultimately I learned a lot. And I want to share what I learned with you! So as a thank you for all my supporters on
Patreon I’m going to be doing a blog post detailing the process of making this video. Everything from early version of the script
to early rough cuts of the very different video that it was. And even the screenplay for the film with
all my notes in it. So look for that on my Patreon. If you have any questions about the making
of this video leave them in the comments below along with any suggestions for future screenplays
for me to analyze. And as always please like and share and subscribe
and consider supporting this channel on Patreon. And most importantly — thank you for watching! “The Dark Knight”

100 thoughts on “The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist

  1. Klu kix klan : norristown Pennsylvania who care where Nette say she is

    Nette she is all the real estate stamps of dark knight properties in Pennsylvania. Richard knight loses all his homes houses apartments buildings garages and cars . Thanks for the rides but naw old man .

    Richard knight go stay at 6715 Lincoln drive Philadelphia Pennsylvania 19119

    Police house census police

  2. The Richard knight I will kill 24/7 and I ain’t even reaching you over your disrespect to my retired army officer grandfather willie Powell . That’s how I spell army .

  3. The man hasz I get your concerns about my car but you are not the Otis ball . And (Spain’s) : the Otis ball called me under the el train . So Mary Loveland treat Otis ball medically and Otis ball is divorced from all his wives .

  4. The art class of the Philadelphia school district teacher coy please arrange Hague court proceedings for my son and family court . Furlong my DHS case initially opened when I was a minor initiated by the older Caucasian judge Matthews is still open and unresolved .

  5. To the professor doctor zanan all your Anna Nicole jokes on me are considered sexual harassment in the eyes of the EEOC .

  6. It's actually pretty easy to see why these two work well, and fairly basic. On one hand, you have an extreme, and on the other is its polar opposite. Cut a hole into a sheet of paper, and Batman would be the paper circle, where the Joker is the hole left behind. For all their depth of character, their relationship is entirely one-dimensional.

  7. It's how the joker gets to batman psychologically, he isn't physically tough really it's how he plays narcissistic games and pushes him to his limits.
    Bane beat him to a pulp but didn't really attack him mentally.the joker rules!

  8. Jokers character gets better and better with every movie. Ledgers Joker was epic and incredibly hard to top after Jack Nicholsons version yet he topped it bar none. Jerrad Ledo: BRILLIANT version and fit for that movie and might have been boring without Ledo. Phoenix ' version was excellent and self supporting without a Dark Knight…hard to do. Kudos!!

  9. Heath Ledger's Joker was terrible, he barely even looks like the joker. Jared Leto is obviously much better because, he acts and looks much more like him.

  10. The Joker possesses madness, wit and genius, all tangled up in one twisted mind. Arguably the compelling characteristics as to why he is considered by many as the greatest villain of all time.

  11. David S. Goyer wrote both TDK trilogy and Man of Steel and in both The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, the hero and villain have the exact same goals. In MoS, Superman and General Zod were fighting to protect their people so although their was a world engine that could destroy the world, Superman IS earths protector and this was a way of him becoming the person he was meant to be, while also fighting someone who wanted to restore the civilization he had lost by terraforming someone elses world. Comparing Supermans finale versus Batmans is idiotic considering both would automatically have a sequel. It was just more understandable for Man of Steel since it was the first one while TDK was already a sequel

  12. Nice analysis and but a GREAT difficulty to understand the need to discuss so seriously a banality (my apology for being the only person to attack this film).

    If the limit is entertainment, Dark Knight stands well at 5 or 6 of 10: banal score and perpetual conflict –

    Popeye was here before; Bruce Lee in fight sequences and absurd-banal stories is better; Star Wars with the originality does not compare;
    big human issues – why not e.g. Men's Destiny by Sholokhov; temporary incompetence – Fellini's 8 1/2).

    Why these superheroes living in trivially absurd world and exist only in US blockbusters?

    Is it because French, English, Irish, South Americans, Russians, Italians, Turks cannot create them? NO, no, no 100x.
    Is it because US needs to pose super-banal problems in a format of entertainment in order not to solve them but to procrastinate (aka is it because we need the next sequel to the current blockbuster book or film or TV series thus to kill the time)?

    Great individual who glides, kicks, punches, defeats legions of enemies and comes to discuss and contemplate his incompetence whilst all we need is the last and minimal problem

    (destroy – or not – a protagonist who creates problems for a mass of people but this would stand against his principles
    which in this case is 5th commandment – "Thou shall not kill").

  13. The joker loses. He is surprised to see batman at the construction site (no back up plan for luring him in then)
    He is surprised when the boats don't blow each other up, and tries to manually detonate them, thereby breaking his own rules. Rachels death and Harvey's descent were only strike backs. The joker himself gets busted, put in prison, is never seen again. He's finished.

  14. I never think of other antagonists in the movie that you wanting more when you watching them other than heath ledger’s joker…he was just beyond everybody else…like Michael Jordan in basketball..heath was that good..

  15. Let's be fair, while most of the greatness of the Joker comes from him being the perfect antagonist for batman, a lesser man than Heath Ledger wouldn't have been able to truly pull out the potential of the joker. Although to be even fairer, from what i saw in the trailer of "joker", Joaquin Phoenix might be able to rival Heath Ledger.

  16. I think the irony of the Joker is human society only lets people be as good as they let them be. The fundamental flaw of humanity is that we’re self serving individuals who agree to a collective thought of social contract that often shows humanities hypocrisy.

  17. “Was it just heath ledgers excellent performance?”


    Well that was probably the shortest video essay I’ve heard in my entire life

  18. Rises: How to heighten the stakes and show our hero at his/her utmost ultimate downfall and emotional turmoil.

  19. Society teaches us to hate straight white males. Those who can overcome this great evil succeed in life. Those who don't become incels

  20. League of Assassins, Talia al Ghul, Nyssa Al Ghul, Lady Shiva, David Cain were left in the dust.

    Anarky and Joker in the same film would've been an interesting.

  21. Joaquin Phoenix is right up there in my opinion, the script he was working with was weaker, but the performance is right up there with Ledger…not better because NOTHING will be better than Ledger, but I think Phoenix stands with it, as a much different but equally good performance

  22. It's a real shame that Heath Ledger died , because the sequel to the Dark Knight could have been teh most amazing sequel ever!!!

  23. I really love movie analysis like this I just wish you wouldn't read the definitions and terms from a book and just stick with your layman's term break down of the concepts. Big fan though!

  24. Seeing the jokers “why so serious” poster GAVE ME CHILLS. Seeing brokeback mt., and observing how well he got into his character and how he portrayed it… gave me a clear insight of how well he was going to take on this role. He did not disappoint.

  25. While watching this video, I realized that almost everything said in it could be applied to Thanos and the Avengers in Infinity War. Thanos is immensely powerful and pressures the Avengers into making difficult choices (what they are willing to sacrifice in order to keep the stones from him) and ultimately turns their strength ("we don't trade lives") into a weakness.

  26. One of the most powerful things about the movie is that the joker did what Batman never could. He cleaned up Gotham by doing it exactly the wrong way, the most antithetical to Batman way. The mob is bankrupt, the alcoholic commissioner is replaced by Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent’s legacy is protected, and the Batman who he views as worsening the city’s problems, is out of the picture. All of this by the most unbatman means

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