What really sets Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy apart from Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s films isn’t necessarily their music (Danny Elfman arguably composed the definitive Batman theme music for the first Batman), action sequences (which are surprisingly few and far between), or even their boldness in taking the series in a new direction (you could say the same thing about every one of the first four Batman films).
No, the true difference between these films is the speeches. Christopher Nolan is a great writer, and he allows his characters to express themselves with some choice words. The earlier films didn’t have many poignant speeches that stuck in people’s minds, but Nolan’s films are packed with them.
So let’s go through the top 10 speeches in the Dark Knight trilogy from great to best. I think you’ll find No. 1 surprising at first and yet absolutely true once you think about it.
The Dark Knight Trilogy Special Edition (BD) [Blu-ray]
10. Rachel Dawes: I’m Going to Marry Harvey Dent
Rachel Dawes: Dear Bruce, I need to be honest and clear. I’m going to marry Harvey Dent. I love him, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. When I told you that if Gotham no longer needed Batman we could be together, I meant it. But now I’m sure the day won’t come when you no longer need Batman. I hope it does; and if it does I will be there, but as your friend. I’m sorry to let you down. If you lose your faith in me, please keep your faith in people. Love, now and always, Rachel.
Wow. What a bold move to completely remove Bruce Wayne from the equation in the Harvey-Rachel-Bruce love triangle. They introduced Rachel in Batman Begins to have some kind of callback to Bruce’s normal life before his parents’ murder, so when they went and pulled the carpet out from under us by killing Rachel and having her love Harvey more than Bruce, it was a complete surprise and punch in the gut.
These few sentences would have completely devastated Bruce if he had ever read them. It’s a good thing Alfred interceded. And this is just the first one on our list, meaning nine others are better than it.
9. Bane: Then You Have My Permission to Die
Bruce Wayne: Why didn’t you just kill me?
Bane: You don’t fear death; you welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.
Bane: Yes. But not of your body – of your soul.
Bruce: Where am I?
Bane: Home. Where I learned the truth about despair, as will you. There’s a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth: Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy. So simple. And like shipwrecked men turning to seawater from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope. So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe that they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to stay in the sun. You can watch me torture an entire city. And then, when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny. We will destroy Gotham. And then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.
Why is this better than Rachel’s devastating letter? It comes right after Batman has been thoroughly beaten by Bane. We’ve never seen Batman so out of his league physically. Now we get to see that he’s also met his match mentally. Bane is as intelligent as he is strong.
Rachel wasn’t trying to hurt Bruce, even though she knew her words would sting. Bane, on the other hand, does everything he can to make Bruce suffer. Bane has a lot of other good lines, but this speech is his finest.
8. Jim Gordon: A Dark Knight
Jimmy Gordon: Batman. Batman! Why’s he running, Dad?
Jim Gordon: Because we have to chase him.
Jimmy: He didn’t do anything wrong.
Jim: Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.
The Dark Knight ends on a high note with Gordon’s stoic narration. This deserves a spot on this list because even though it’s short it says a lot. After all the talk of being incorruptible, Batman finally broke his one rule by killing Harvey, Gotham’s symbol of hope, after Harvey had lived long enough to see himself become the villain. We’ll get to that quote in a minute, too. But first…
7. Harvey Two-Face: The Only Morality in a Cruel World Is Chance
Harvey Two-Face: It’s not about what I want; it’s about what’s fair! You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time! But you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair. His son’s got the same chance she had: 50-50.
Batman: What happened to Rachel wasn’t chance. We decided to act, we three.
Harvey: Then why was it me who was the only one who lost everything?
Batman: It wasn’t.
Harvey: The Joker chose me!
Batman: Because you were the best of us. He wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall.
Harvey: And he was right.
After all of Harvey’s speechifying about standing up to corruption in the police department and doing his best to protect the ones he loves, he is finally brought to this bitterly disappointing moment. His pain consumes him and he’s left with just one thought: revenge. The fact that we’ve seen Harvey’s rise and fall through this film adds extra weight to these words, elevating it above the earlier entries. But even better than this one is Harvey’s quintessential speech, which comes next on this list.
6. Harvey Dent: You Either Die a Hero…
Harvey Dent: When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn’t considered an honor; it was considered a public service.
Rachel Dawes: Harvey, the last man who they appointed to protect the Republic was named Caesar, and he never gave up his power.
Harvey: Okay, fine. You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
The Roman Empire is a good analogy for Harvey. It was destroyed from within, not from an enemy outside its gates. Harvey had bad tendencies that he tried to keep in check, but he couldn’t hold them at bay forever and he finally gave in to his worst desires.
This belongs on this list at this point because it’s the most memorable line Harvey says, just ahead of “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” It defines him so much that Batman repeats the line when he decides to take responsibility for Harvey’s crimes and essentially see himself become the villain to protect Harvey’s hero status. But even this emotionally charged speech is edged out by Alfred’s heartfelt plea next.
5. Alfred Pennyworth: It’s Time We All Stop Trying to Outsmart the Truth
Alfred Pennyworth: I’ve sewn you up, I’ve set your bones, but I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Wayne family.
Bruce Wayne: You’ll leave me?
Alfred: You see only one end to your journey. Leaving is all I have to make you understand. You’re not Batman anymore. You have to find another way. You used to talk about finishing, about a life beyond that awful cave.
Bruce: Rachel died knowing that we had decided to be together. That was my life beyond the cave. I can’t just move on. She didn’t, she couldn’t.
Alfred: What if she had?
Bruce: She– I can’t change that.
Alfred: What if, before she died, she wrote a letter saying she chose Harvey Dent over you? And what if, to spare you pain, I burnt that letter?
Bruce: How dare you use Rachel to try to stop me?
Alfred: I am using the truth, Master Wayne. Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day. I’m sorry.
Bruce: You’re sorry? You expect to destroy my world and then think that we’re gonna shake hands?
Alfred: No, no, no. I know what this means.
Bruce: What does it mean?
Alfred: It means your hatred. And it also means losing someone that I have cared for since I first heard his cries echo through this house. But it might also mean saving your life. And that is more important.
Bruce: Goodbye, Alfred.
Early in Batman Begins, Alfred says that he will never give up on Bruce. So this scene is particularly shocking because it seemed like he would never abandon Bruce, especially when he clearly needs guidance. But Bruce isn’t willing to listen, and he’s so self-destructive that Alfred has to turn to desperate measures to get his message across.
Michael Caine’s acting in this scene is impeccable. You really feel like he’s on the verge of tears at losing someone he’s loved like a father. He makes this speech particularly poignant, and it definitely deserves to be among the top 5.
4. Ra’s al Ghul: Your Parents’ Death Was Not Your Fault
Ra’s al Ghul: Your parents’ death was not your fault. It was your father’s. Anger does not change the fact that your father failed to act.
Bruce Wayne: The man had a gun!
Ra’s: Would that stop you?
Bruce: I’ve had training!
Ra’s: The training is nothing! The will is everything! The will to act.
Ra’s: You are stronger than your father.
Bruce: You didn’t know my father.
Ra’s: But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief until the memory of your loved one is just poison in your veins. And one day you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed so you would be spared your pain.
This is something that had never been addressed by any of the previous Batman films. How does Bruce deal with the crushing emotional weight of his parents’ death? I mean, sure, he dresses up and fights crime, but that’s only part of the answer. How did he get to a point where he was in control of his emotions and he could use his anger for good, not evil?
Batman Begins finally answers these questions. Bruce realizes he wasn’t responsible for his parents’ murder and he doesn’t have to keep carrying that baggage. Now he’s free to use his anger to fight injustice rather than create more of it as a coward with a gun.
For solving this riddle in such a smart way, this speech beats out almost all the others. But there are still three left. Which ones are even better? Let’s start with one from another memorable villain.
3. Joker: I’m an Agent of Chaos
Joker: Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things. The Mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth. It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hm? You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blowing up, nobody panics because it’s all “part of the plan.” But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos, it’s fair.
It’s eerie watching the Joker manipulate Harvey with blatant lies and subtle half-truths in this scene. It’s like we’re watching Satan tempting someone to do something he knows is wrong, but the Joker makes it sound so logical that Harvey is totally sucked into believing it’s true in the end.
Virtually everything the Joker says is creepy and unsettling, but this scene hits home even more because it’s so personal. He just killed the love of Harvey’s life and then he’s able to convince Harvey to throw away everything he stood for. Such master manipulation is why the Joker is the best main villain of the series, and that’s why he takes his rightful place ahead of Bane and Ra’s al Ghul on this list.
2. Alfred Pennyworth: Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn
Bruce Wayne: Targeting me won’t get their money back. I knew the Mob wouldn’t go down without a fight, but this is different. They’ve crossed a line.
Alfred Pennyworth: You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.
Bruce: Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. We just have to figure out what he’s after.
Alfred: With respect, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that you don’t fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anyone who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.
Bruce: So why steal them?
Alfred: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because 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.
Alfred makes a lot of great speeches in these three films, but none are better than this one. We get our first insights into what makes the Joker tick. How could someone like this exist? What does he want? Why is he so cruel? None of these have terribly logical answers. He is simply evil and he wants nothing more than to destroy anything good that he sees.
It’s fitting that Alfred, Bruce’s trusty butler and confidante, should take the runner-up spot on this list. Which brings us to No. 1. Who managed to outdo Alfred, the Joker, Harvey, and everyone else in the Dark Knight trilogy at giving a memorable speech? Let’s find out.
1. Carmine Falcone: You Always Fear What You Don’t Understand
Carmine Falcone: Look around you. You’ll see two councilmen, a union official, a couple off-duty cops, and a judge. Now, I wouldn’t have a second’s hesitation of blowing your head off right here and right now in front of them. Now that’s power you can’t buy! That’s the power of fear.
Bruce Wayne: I’m not afraid of you.
Carmine: Because you think you got nothing to lose. But you haven’t thought it through. You haven’t thought about your lady-friend down at the D.A.’s office. You haven’t thought about your old butler. Bang! People from your world have so much to lose. Now, you think because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate. You’re, uh, you’re Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham; you’d have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn’t know your name. So don’t come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.
More than Alfred, more than Ra’s al Ghul, more than Rachel, and more even than Bruce’s parents, Carmine Falcone is what made Bruce Wayne become Batman. This speech touches on everything that Batman fights against and stands for. Bruce realizes he needs to conceal his identity to protect those he cares about. He gets the idea to run away to a foreign country to experience the world as a pauper. He sees how deep the corruption runs in Gotham City and how hard it will be to find people to trust. And he learns that he always needs a plan instead of recklessly bursting into a situation he doesn’t fully understand.
Falcone’s speech is so far-reaching, it’s surprising that it’s delivered by a character who turns out to be a small player in the grand scheme of things. But there it is. His speech beats all the rest.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Great list! But what about the Joker interrogation scene with Batman?
Sorry for not responding for so long. I was out of town. Thank you for your comment.
Very good point. That scene is absolutely amazing. I just felt that the Joker’s interaction with Harvey Dent was even better. Batman is incorruptible, but Dent is sadly fallible. Seeing how the Joker tries to manipulate Batman is so interesting, to say the least. I also wanted to include his second origin story of his scars where we discover he has no past. That was so brilliant. But I wanted to focus on each of the main villains’ best speech and give attention to other good characters. Maybe I should have used the Joker’s interrogation speech instead of Two-Face’s speech. Too late now. I’m so glad you like the list, though. 🙂
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Nolan’s problem is that all of his scenes are about exactly what they’re about. There’s no subtext. There’s no subtlety. It’s just straight, in your face exposition. That may impress the general masses who tend to miss subtleties, but to those who understand how writing works, it’s embarrassing.
I’ve never that perspective on Nolan’s films before. Thanks for pointing it out. I can see that a bit. He does foreshadow things in his speeches quite often, but yes, they’re very self-contained within their own films. He’s not exactly a series builder like George Lucas. He just does amazing films that stand alone very well.
Christopher Nolan takes *a lot* of storytelling shortcuts, skipping out on vital scenes and instead settling for one character explaining everything to another. Here are some examples from just the 10 instances above…
-Rachel: But now I’m sure the day won’t come when you no longer need Batman.
-Bane: You don’t fear death; you welcome it.
-Jim: Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. … Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian.
-Harvey Two-Face: You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time! But you were wrong.
-Batman: Because you were the best of us. He wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall.
-Alfred: You see only one end to your journey. … You’re not Batman anymore. You have to find another way. You used to talk about finishing, about a life beyond that awful cave.
-Bruce: Rachel died knowing that we had decided to be together.
-Ra’s: You are stronger than your father.
-Ra’s: But I know the rage that drives you. … And one day you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed so you would be spared your pain.
-Joker: You were a schemer, you had plans…
-Alfred Pennyworth: You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation.
-Alfred: …because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.
-Carmine: Because you think you got nothing to lose. But you haven’t thought it through. You haven’t thought about your lady-friend down at the D.A.’s office. You haven’t thought about your old butler. Bang! People from your world have so much to lose. Now, you think because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate. You’re, uh, you’re Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham; you’d have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn’t know your name. So don’t come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.
Geez…can Nolan spell everything out in a simpler way? All these words, this exposition, stands in for the scenes that are supposed to illustrate and examine and *show* us what characters are thinking and feeling. This is the amateur’s method of getting information to the audience.
Where is the scene that SHOWS Bruce doesn’t fear death?
Where is the scene that SHOWS Gotham doesn’t need Batman right now?
Where is the scene that SHOWS Bruce is stronger than his father?
Where is the scene that SHOWS Bruce thinks he has nothing to lose?
Where are these scenes? They don’t exist. Nolan takes the cheap shortcut and has someone verbally explain all the inner thoughts of a character instead of designing scenes that actually back-up the words being spoken.
I’ve read the Interstellar script. He hasn’t changed. He’s still using the dummy method to get as many fans as possible, to ensure the audience has as little thinking to do as possible.
The first rule of screenwriting is SHOW, DON’T TELL. But this seems lost on Mr. Nolan.
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Ok, here I go:
9. You stated Batman had never been so out of his league physically. Now, now. Remember that large black man who kicked the bejesus out of Michael Keaton’s Batman in the 89′ Batman movie?
3. Christopher Nolan said he wanted to make The Joker “psychologically credible”. You stated that The Joker used blatant lies and half-truths…well…
a. The Joker admitted that if he caught a car like a dog he wouldn’t know what to do. When the ferry passengers don’t blow themselves up he was finally stupefied.
b. The Joker did jack up schemes to show how pointless they were.
c. When The Joker killed Rachel, it genuinely wasn’t personal too him.
d. When gangbangers and soldiers die on the news, nobody really gets up in arms about it.
e. A couple of drums of gas and a couple of bullets. That is really all it takes to get people riled up.
f. Chaos is fair. Everyone gets a piece of it.
The Joker never really “lied” about anything he did…except for maybe how he got those scars.
1. Carmine Falcone, like The Joker is just another thug with a gun. Not as brilliant and intelligent, but very much alike. I think Falcone and The Joker like Yuri Orlov in “Lord Of War” are just telling a vigilante (and or the audience) about the nature of human nature.
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Great post. I love the dialogues in Christopher Nolan’s movies.
I’m a huge fan of batman instead I’m batman lol . I truly admire the persona of batman because I’m emotionally attached with him because this movie and this movie is very important for my life , but I always think that their is something missing which I didn’t get , now I read this blog which shows me what I had missed , it was a secret ambition of every character in their work which they ve done in this movie , now I can say without any doubt that I’m batman 😌, just becuz of this blog , n its a very intellectual n very good blog , thank u for creating this Mr Robert lockard.
Love the list but your missing one I believe beats all , it moved me and put a greater perspective on life for me and the rest of the film. When Banes doctor tells Batman that fear is an important thing to have.
A very good list. I’d like to give an honourable mention for Rachel’s speech to Bruce from Batman Begins (the one in the car, after the hearing with Chill). I thought that one was excellent. It might have even been something of a catalyst for Wayne, bringing him from the path of an angry and vengeful-minded young man to a path towards eventually becoming Batman.
Precisely. I often think that the three people indirectly responsible for Wayne becoming Batman in Nolan’s continuity are, in order: Joe Chill (the unintended murder of the Waynes), Rachel (appealing to Bruce’s compassion and empathy towards others, calling him out on his self-centeredness and lust for vengeance), and, as noted in this excellent article, old Falcone (laughing Wayne off as the pampered “Prince of Gotham”, and telling him about the power of fear and the abuse of power).
Years ago, when I first watched Batman Begins and saw the building blocks of the origin story fall slowly and logically into place, I quietly cheered when Wayne looked at that snubnose revolver in the harbour and threw it away angrily. It’s such effortless exposition of a crucial “This is when he vowed to never use guns while fighting corruption and crime !” moment. And it’s all the more impactful when you realise he threw away the gun already before he decided to confront Falcone. If the order of the scenes was reversed, I get the impression it could point to a different subtext about Wayne’s thinking. That he becomes disgusted with himself and throws away the gun before meeting face-to-face with Falcone seems to imply he’s already on the right track (for lack of a better word), but isn’t quite there yet. Given what follows in the verbal put-down scene with Falcone, Wayne really seems to get a lot of life lessons in that single day and evening, heh. Though he might not have the training, the experiences or the know-how yet to become Batman, he gains at least something of a psychological foundation for later becoming a masked detective and crimefighter.
Harvey: Then why was it me who was the only one who lost everything?
Batman: It wasn’t.
I felt this exchange deserved a pause for reflection. It showed how stoic Bruce Wayne had to be, in contrast to Dent, in order to do what’s right. They both lost the love of their lives trying to do good, but they react differently.
Missed the best…. “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets with an immovable object”. Best dialog in the trilogy!
The Joker could definitely have his own top 10! 🙂
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Excellent article ! Enjoyed it a lot. 🙂
These were some of the most thoughtful superhero films made to date, both in their darkest and their gentlest moments. Often genuine character studies at heart. A trilogy that will stand the test of time.
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