Dark Knight Co-Writer Reveals Truth Behind Line That Plagues Christopher Nolan


  • The Dark Knight’s
    co-writer, Jonathan Nolan, explains Harvey Dent’s iconic line of dialogue: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
  • Jonathan explains that “not everbody wants to be a hero.”
  • Christopher Nolan is “plagued by” Dent’s words, because he didn’t write them.

“Why so serious?” The late Heath Ledger spoke those iconic words as the Joker more than once during the course of filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Batman movie, The Dark Knight. However, even though that line uttered by the Clown Prince of Crime has so much impact in the film, it’s another line of dialogue that Nolan is actually “plagued by.” While attending the SXSW film festival to promote his upcoming Prime Video series, Fallout, Nolan’s brother, Jonathan, elaborated on the now famous line uttered by actor Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. Jonathan, who served as a co-writer on the film, told The Hollywood Reporter:

“It came later in the script. We’ve done a version or two of the script where we were looking for
something that would distill the tragedy of Harvey Dent, but that would also apply to Batman
. The richness of Batman is in the way this principled, almost Boy Scout-like figure is wrapped up in this kind of ghoulish appearance and his willingness to embrace the darkness. So, I was looking at Greek tragic figures.”

The Dark Knight

Release Date
July 14, 2008


Why so serious?


Nolan continued:

“The first part of that line is ‘you either die a hero’ — and that part’s important, because not everybody wants to be a hero; it’s engaging in heroics that puts you in this space, where you have this binary outcome.
The idea is, there are people who put themselves on the line and so often that wager turns on them. It’s also that old idea of absolute power corrupting absolutely

“It felt uniquely resonant to the tragedy of Harvey Dent and the tragedy of Batman,” concluded Nolan. “The fact that it resonates with people beyond the film is gratifying. I was proud of that line.”

‘Not Everybody Wants to Be a Hero’

The Dark Knight is unquestionably one of Christopher Nolan’s crowning achievements in a career loaded with memorable movies. However, the success of the film, which generated over $1 billion during its theatrical run, doesn’t change the fact that Nolan feels “plagued by” Harvey Dent’s (Eckhart) line of dialogue. And adding insult to injury, those words are actually repeated by Batman (Christian Bale) after Two-Face is killed at the end of the movie. Christopher Nolan said in an interview with Deadline:

“I’m plagued by a line from The Dark Knight, and I’m plagued by it because I didn’t write it. My brother [Jonathan] wrote it.
It kills me, because it’s the line that most resonates. And at the time, I didn’t even understand it
. He says, ‘You either die a hero, or you live long enough to [see yourself] become the villain.’”


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The line which plagues the filmmaker is first spoken by Harvey Dent (Eckhart) before he transforms into Two-Face. Bruce Wayne (Bale) and his date Natascha (Beatrice Rosen) bump into Harvey and Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and they all end up having dinner together. During the night, they discuss the Batman’s influence on Gotham City, and that’s when Dent offers up his opinion by saying those now famous words. Nolan continued:

“I read it in his draft, and I was like, ‘
All right, I’ll keep it in there, but I don’t really know what it means. Is that really a thing?
’ And then, over the years since that film’s come out, it just seems truer and truer. In this story, it’s absolutely that. Build them up, tear them down. It’s the way we treat people.”

The three installments comprising Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), are available to stream on Max, at the time of this writing.

Fans can stream or binge-watch all eight episodes of
when the series drops Thursday, April 11 on
Prime Video.


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