2. Joker Crashes Wayne’s Penthouse Fundraiser
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are tonight’s entertainment.”
Joker’s crashing of Bruce Wayne’s penthouse fundraiser for District Attorney Harvey Dent is the kind of moment that wins a man an Oscar, and win Heath Ledger an Oscar it did. Key players Alfred, Harvey, Rachel and Bruce are all present here, but it’s the Joker’s disruptive presence that drives home his power in the narrative.
Christopher Nolan’s choice to move Bruce Wayne from Wayne Manor to a penthouse suite in central Gotham City created the visual representation of Wayne’s billionaire status at the top of the social ladder. Up there he should be safe, but Joker’s crimes know no bounds, and his presence at the penthouse fundraiser illustrates that even class and wealth divides hold no power over him; he will get to anyone and everyone, his impact on Gotham set to be felt no matter the differences people have in societal status.
Technically, it’s a fantastic scene, Wally Pfister’s camera quickly (albeit steadily) swinging around the room as Joker floats around like a hornet, his aura imposing upon the upper classes who are not used to such antagonising appearances and attitudes. As it cuts in closer, we see Joker at his most maniacal, his confrontation of Rachel in particular shedding light on how his story of how he got those scars changing from an earlier scene and thus illustrating how it’s unreasonable to try and reason with him. And all of this is going on whilst cuts of Bruce Wayne marching through the apartment are dropped in throughout, all of it culminating with the literal punchline of “then you’re gonna love me” as Batman and Joker come face to face for the first time, albeit briefly. As Joker throws Rachel out of the window and Batman jumps after her in an attempt to save her, Joker is victorious because he achieves more than he ever aimed to: he learns that Batman has a weakness, and that it’s Rachel Dawes.
It’s one of those movie scenes that even the actors involved insist was special to be a part of. One of the most important scenes in superhero movie history, for sure, but an inspired, tight, spectacularly performed piece of cinema no matter the genre or the subject.
1. The Prologue
“I believe, whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger.”
The epilogue of Batman Begins had James Gordon handing the Batman a calling card: the joker card. It was the kind of moment that brought about huge anticipation for a sequel that already deserved all the attention it was due. With Heath Ledger’s unfortunate and untimely passing occurring between then and the release of The Dark Knight, and everyone in the cast and crew speaking publicly about how outstanding Ledger was during filming, Nolan’s 2nd Dark Knight Trilogy offering wasted no time in solidifying his presence; the opening scene seeing a group of Joker-mask-wearing criminals stealing from the bank of the mob, the Joker pulling the strings.
It’s one of those scenes that reminds you of why you go to the cinema. Shot in full IMAX (the best quality recording equipment in the world) and presented with the smooth pans only IMAX cameras can deliver, every shot was designed from the ground up to be as packed with information, with stakes, with meaning, as any in the film, and the edit worked tirelessly alongside the outstanding score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard to bring pace to the whole operation.
In the very first scene of The Dark Knight, Joker tested the mob in a way we had to watch Batman build up to over the course of an hour in Batman Begins; and he didn’t hit them with prison sentences or beatings, he hit them where it hurt the most… their money. At the centre of so many of the sequence’s frames, Joker’s presence worked vitally to increase the anticipation of Ledger’s appearance even further, his final unmasking in the closing moments of the sequence solidifying Heath Ledger’s Joker as having one of the very best character introductions in cinema history.
So far as memorable moments go, so far as meaningful moments go, there are few more important to superhero cinema than this. In this prologue from Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight, we understood Batman’s threat to be different to all of those he’d faced in Batman Begins, whilst in a much more real way we are reminded of the reasons we watch these films on the big screen. What’s more is that we are offered our first glimpse at the last complete performance of one of the world’s biggest talents, and one who would deliver one of the genre’s best-ever performances, in a manner that feels as monumental in the universe of the film as it has proven to be to each of us out here in the real world.
Recommended for you: Live-Action Jokers Ranked
Do you agree with our selections for the best moments in The Dark Knight? Perhaps you have suggestions for other moments to include? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates on more insightful movie lists.