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“The Dark Knight” and the American Historical Events during the 1st Decade of the 21st Century

In 2008 one of the most controversial films in the United States (US) history, entitled “The Dark Knight,” has made its debut in the cinemas. The film is regarded as the second film in the current Batman trilogy that received more than $ 1 billion in sales upon its release (Briley, 9). The film garnered one of the highest ratings in terms of gross income in the US film history leading to it being ranked as the 20th best performing film during that time. In the United States alone, more than 75 million people purchased tickets to watch the film while approximately 18 million people purchased copies of DVD justifying the higher amount of sales that were reported (Nolan , 12). Apart from the higher level of performance registered by the film, “the dark Knight” also received and won several Academy Awards including awards from various entertainment and film groups. Most notable award was the Oscar awards, where Heath Ledger won the award for the Best Supporting Actor, highlighting the films critical success as well as increasing its popularity.


Aside from its box office success, a careful analysis of the, historical context, plot, and themes presented in the movie reveals that the film presents one of the most controversial issues faced by the Bush administration during its campaign to fight terrorism. The film is arguably considered a reflection of the actions and activities executed by a state on the war against terrorists. Focusing in the film setting, plot, characterization and theme, the current paper presents a discussion on how the film is different from the real-world actions taken in fight against terrorists. A discussion on how the film contents influence the debates on war on terrorism in America is also presented.

The setting for The Dark Knight can be compared to the post-2009/2011 terrorism activity in America.  However, the location of the terror attack as observed in the scenarios two differ. The actions in the film are held in Gotham City while the terror occurred in New York presenting a clear difference in the settings of the two. As noted by Nolan (21) as much as the location of the terror attacks differs in the film and in the real attack of 9/11, the film has a noticeably post-9/11 aesthetic. This is justified by the nature of the attacks, as well as the nature of destructions of property reported, as indicated by the remains on buildings and affected humans. According to (Nolan, 8) life in Gotham city was scary, shaky, with threats looming everywhere. A similar observation was made in New York with many people avoiding the capital city citing insecurity and possible reoccurrence of the attacks. As much as the location of the terrorist attack differ in the film and real-life setting, it can be argued that the nature of attacks, its effects on the buildings, and humans was similar in all the two settings.

The theme of violence is common in the plot and characters of the film. One example of such violence is the Joker’s morbidity in killing one of the mobs, which he videoed to show to the authorities in Gotham City. Such violent acts are also commonly videoed by terrorists. It has been common throughout the world that when terrorists decide to kill some of their hostages that they do it through beheading. They would also usually video the beheadings and make them available for public consumption. The terrorists that the Bush administration fought were no different to Joker; they all succumbed to violent acts in order to communicate their message of terror.

The Dark Knight story line is framed around the fight against terrorism in Gotham city. The characters are either engaged in terrorism activities or in fight against terror attacks. Joker is notably involved in the film as a terrorist while the actions of Batman and Dent with significant aid from James Gordon (Gotham City’s Crime Unit leader) is to fight the activities of the terrorist. Gordon resumed the position of a Crime Unit leader upon the assassination of the then police commissioner. The main aim of the three characters was to capture Joker and ensure that he does not continue with terror missions in the society.  The tactic adopted by the three identified fighters against terrorism however differed. Dent focused on adhering to the law in the fight against terrorism. His strategy focused on prosecuting any armed criminal with an assumption that they will be involved in responding to the terror attacks in unlawful manner. A significant plot in the story shows the involvement of Dent is a confrontation with a mobster where we unloads a gun from them and forces them to testify their disengagement in criminal acts. Dent adopted a law-abiding approach in dealing with terror issues and in the management or terrorism attacks.

On the contrary, Batman takes a different approach and focuses on working outside the law in restoring justice. Batman uses parallel measures including interrogation methods that are contrary to the law. Batman, on the other hand, believes that such level of adherence to due process will not be able to solve certain types of criminality such as those perpetrated by the Joker. Batman believes that extra judicial acts are indispensible in order to stop the Joker in his terroristic activities. The tactic adopted by Batman and Dent are clear reflection of the strategies adopted in various economies of the world to address terrorism activities. However, focusing on the case of America in the early 21st century, most of the tactics were within the law thus mirrored the actions implanted by Dent. McGowan (11) has pointed out that the approach taken by Batman was parallel to what was used during the president Bush reign presenting a major difference observed in the control and management of terror in the context of the film and in the American real-life situation.

In the film, Batman and Dent, and Gordon, teamed-up to fight diverse mobs – the Joker, included – that plagued Gotham City, by implementing their different strategies. Along the process of fighting the mobs, the Joker manages to kill a woman named Rachel Dawes, to whom Dent fell in love with. The death of Dawes made Dent abandon his idealism about due process and adhering to the law and instead became a vigilante. Dent executed his brand of justice by killing anyone who he thought was responsible for Dawes death. In one of Dent’s killing spree, Batman tried to apprehend him resulting to Dent’s demise. In order to preserve the good image of Dent among the lay people in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne convinced Gordon to announce that Batman was the one responsible for all the killings that Dent did. According to Batman, it is necessary that Dent’s idealism is espoused by the public in order to maintain a peaceful and productive society (Nolan n.p.).

Looking at the construction of Batman’s central vengeance in the film, an argument is presented that the film gives a clear reflection of the fight against terrorism. Going by the characters in the film, the terrorist activities in this case is represented by the actions of Joker. As observed, Joker is identified as a character that is malevolent and causes threats to the government as well as the ordinary citizens. Just as in the case of politically motivated terrorists, Joker is obsessed by acquiring more wealth, thus steal from well planned crime and eliminate any form of evidence. His political motivations are akin to lawlessness as his main goal is to instill fear in the society and cause massive destructions. It is also observed that Batman and Dent the attorney all refer to Joker as a terrorist based on his use of violence to push for his non-ideological agenda in the society. In most of the plots, Joker only focused on in provoking the authority and instilling fear all of which are clear characteristics of terrorism activities. More notable plot observed involves Joker taking organizing a plan to kidnap the attorney and Rachel to make Batman accept their demands, an activity that is mostly common amongst terrorist. From the demands presented by Jokers, his character as well as the activities he engages in qualifies him as a terrorist’s and his actions as terrorism activities.

The actions and reactions between the Joker, Batman, and Dent are a reflection of how terrorism activities occur and actions taken in fight against terrorism activities. As observed, Joker’s activities reflected the actions of the terrorists, while the actions of Batman and the Attorney are employed to counter the effects of the terrorists. While the actions of Joker gives a clear replications of what is observed in any terrorist attack in America, the actions executed by the Attorney and Batman are slightly different from what was observed in real-life management or terror attacks (Fradley, 20). Starting with the similarity observed in the terrorism activities, it is evident that the tactics and tools employed by Joker in the film mirror those that are observed in real-life terror attacks. The acts of violence exhibit by Joker clearly mirrors those observed from other terrorists. While he does not employ mass murder as a strategy, he typically provides warning of his planned attacks that both instill a magnified fear within the society, presenting him with a suitable environment to execute the attack. Joker’s main focus to initiate the attack is high-end public locations that are also the main target of terrorists in real life-situations.

A notable plot in the film also presents Joker and his followers arrange for execution of a terror in different locations, a practice that is common amongst the terrorist of the 21st century. According to Brooker (29) terrorists such as Alshabab, Al Qaeda do not only target the high-end areas but also ensure that their attack affects a significant number of individuals. The approaches adopted to execute terror attacks as observed in the film therefore presents a clear reflection of what is evident in real life.

Terrorists are also known to prioritize the attacks at the expense of their safety. In most of the American attacks, most of the persons involved in the attack, have died with the victims. In most cases, suicide bombers are used by the terror organizers to execute a mission (Honeycut, 11). Similar observation is evident in the case of Joker who does not prioritize his well-being over initiating an attack. In one of the significant plots, he is seen conversing with mob masses saying that he is putting on a jacket containing grenades that can kill if used. To him the pursuit of the larger goal comes over his life. Joker also uses his henchmen as walking bombs, a similar approach that have been adopted by terrorists in Iraq and major war zones of the world. The use of explosives that are either planted in shopping malls, government institutions, and other public areas are other tools used by terrorist in the execution of their attack. Similar observations have been made in the film where Joker admits to using explosives and simple tools such as accessible sharp objectives to come up with explosives capable of destroying high storey buildings. Most of the techniques employed by Joker are similar to the approaches and tools used by various terror groups that caused attacks in different parts of the world in the early years of the 21st century.

Most parts of the Dark Knight film focuses on the strategies adopted by Batman and Dent to counter the terror activities of Joker. The main goal of Batman and Dent is to capture Joker and bring an end to his terror activities. The actions undertaken by the two to achieve their mission however, differs from what is observed in the current world, and more specifically what was adopted by the American in their management of terror attack during the early years of the 21st century. Domestic spying was a strategy adopted by Batman in his management of terror attack. The approach focused on the illegal use of surveillance technology to trace Joker regardless of the potential dangers involved. It is clear that Batman views the approach as immoral, nevertheless he insists on using it as a technique to get rid of the terrorists. The use of surveillance for domestic spying is however, not evident in real-world. America for instance sees the approach as un-ethical, and thus not applicable even when it may be helpful like in case of tracking down a terrorist. Even in the case of the most troubling Al Qaeda leaders, the USA government refrained from the use of such approaches, since it is seen as intrusive, dangerous and unethical to the society.

The adoption of enhanced interrogation is also evident in the film Dark Knight. Upon arrest of the Joker after a long chance from the police, Batman engages him in an enhanced interrogation that is contrary to the law. He does not give the suspect a chance to respond to the question and engages him in a fight as a way to gain more information from him (McGowan, 12). Despite the objections he receives from Dent, Batman is reluctant to employ lawful means of extracting information but rather uses beating continuously that cause more pain to the suspect. The approach may be used in certain instances in real-life, through it is not acceptable in any American jurisdiction. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty and thus are entitled to be engaged in a legal process if any information is needed from them. The attacks on terrorist during Bush’s administration relied overly on laws thus no cases of enhanced interrogations were reported.

It should be observed that the events, characters and the ideologies that they represent are related to the historical events in US history during the first decade of the 21st century; particularly, the events that took place after 9/11. In 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center where bombed, resulting to the deaths of thousands of lives. The particular perpetrators were unknown although the government claimed that the attacks on the towers were related to Al Qaeda – a terrorist organization lead by Osama Bin Laden. Based on Bush’s speeches, this terrorist organization has no clear philosophical reason as to why they are spreading terror in the US, except, perhaps to their jealousy to the Americans’ way of life (Briley n.p.).

In order to execute justice, the Bush administration obstructed the due process of law in identifying and processing suspected terrorists. One of such efforts that obstructed due process was the establishment of the Guantanamo camp, where suspected terrorists were subjected to diverse physical and psychological tortures in order to extract information from them. The Bush administration’s decision to violate the American laws regarding torture can be paralleled to that of Dent; after experiencing a terrible crime, Dent decided to let of his idealism and succumb to extra judicial means to achieve justice. Another important parallelism is George Bush willingness to lie about the activities in Guantanamo, even denying that there are tortures that happen there (Myers n.p.). Such lies are consistent to those of Batman and Gordon in order to preserve Dent’s image or idealism. George Bush and his administration must have lied about Guantanamo in order to make sure that the lay Americans would not succumb to extrajudicial acts in finding justice. The tortures and similar extra judicial acts were perceived as necessary evils in fighting crimes, but such necessary evils should be done by few people.

The outcome of the strategies adopted by Batman in the fight against terror proved to be effective following the arrest of Joker. Nevertheless, it is observed that a number of deaths also arose from the actions of Batman. The approaches adopted were only effective in addressing the issue at hand, but were less effective in addressing issues of terror. A number of deaths arose as well as significant loss of property was reported. Most of the approaches adopted were also contrary to the rights of humans therefore questioning their reliability in addressing the issue. At the end of the film, it is observed that Batman is not a person that just fights evil, but also bears some resemblance to it. This is due to the number of deaths that he caused along his actions of dealing away with Joker and other terrorists. Portray of torture and domestic spying also presents the fighter as evil. Critics of the actions of unlawful counter-terrorism attacks have therefore pointed out that as much as they are capable of resolving the terror issues, they are less effective in a society consisting of law abiding individuals and persons who desires ethics in any activity.

The inappropriate nature of controversial terrorism attack should however, not be used to justify failed attempts in addressing terror issues. In fact, Les (10) has pointed out that the unlawful nature of the actions observed in the film cannot be used to justify the unsuccessful nature of the counter-terror strategies adopted during Bush’s administration. The film gives a clear discussion on how the society at large should refrain from unlawful strategy in their fight of lawlessness. Thus occurrences in the film should therefore be used as a process to guide the actions of those involved in fight against terror so that they do not became criminals in their attempt to eliminate criminals in the society.

Although it is a fiction movie, the political or ethical issues presented in “The Dark Knight” parallel to those of the issues that the Bush administration faced during its campaign against terrorism. Such parallelisms make the film more than just a means to entertain its audience but to also raise important questions about law and order. The film raises many important ethical and political questions that every person should ask: Should the government indulge in extra judicial acts in order to achieve justice, and should the public be barred from knowing such truths? The film, indeed, deserves its box office achievements; it did not only excel in cinematography and special effects, it also excelled in raising important issues that current societies face.

Works Cited

Briley, Ron. “The Dark Knight: An Allegory of America in the Age of Bush?” History News Network. 2008. [Accessed 24 Aug 2017].

Brooker, Will. Hunting the dark knight: Twenty-first century Batman. IB Tauris, 2012.

Daniels, Les. Batman-The Complete History: The Life and Times of the Dark Knight. Chronicle Books, 2004.

Fradley, Martin. “What do you Believe In? Film scholarship and the Cultural politics of the dark Knight Franchise.” Film Quarterly 66.3 (2013): 15-27.

Honeycutt, Dirk. “Film Review:‘The Dark Knight’.” Web Site. The Hollywood Reporter 6 (2008).

McGowan, Todd. “The exceptional darkness of The dark Knight.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 51 (2009).

Myers, Steven Lee. “Bush decides to keep Guantanamo.” The New York Times. 2008.[Accessed 24 Aug 2017].

Nolan, Christopher. “The Dark Night.” Warner Brothers. 2008.