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. Exceptional analysis, harmonic word flow and argumentation, calm and soothing voice. You just earned a subscriber, Sir.

  2. The new joker movie is with out having batman in the movie and Jim Gordon is not in the movie and the joker does not fall into liquid this joker movie is done in a different way people behave with him and his mother and his life getting work has clown and a man who wants to make people happy and people pick on him that he can not take it anymore become the joker

  3. I think he’s great cause for other villains like Loki, Thanos, General Zod we knew they would lose at some point but for the Joker I was contemplating whether or not he would win or not. The writing is fantastic and Heath Ledger performance is better.

  4. Joker has always been an amazing antagonist if he was played by the best. He’s the best antagonist because Batman was an unstoppable force against an immovable object, they were destined to fight on forever.

  5. Indeed, just creating a powerful antagonist means nothing. As we see nowadays with series like The Flash, Supergirl, The Arrow etc, the antagonists are a joke. They're almost always more powerful than the protagonist but it gets solved with a stupid way. Not to mention the countless times the antagonist could kill, end, eliminate his opponent, the protagonist, but for some funny reason he doesn't. Because he doesn't have time or the will or he wants to see firstly killing his friends and lastly the protagonist thus supposedly suffering even more. In a nutshell, you know what is going to happen and even how. Hence the greatest antagonist of all time, the joker in this film. All aspects combined, came together, aligned in order to create a masterpiece.

  6. Heath's joker is great and whatnot but, Mr Silver from treasure planet is my all time favourite antagonist.

  7. Please create a video on how to write an antagonist or negative protagonist like penguin from Gotham series on net

  8. I'm so sad that we can never have a sequel to this amazing line up. They can try with a recasted Joker, but it'll be really hard to live up to this.

  9. Reminds me of the Sonic comics.
    The series started with an Adam West Batman silliness but has evolved into more serious dilemmas.
    But one of my favorite parts is the current comic where it's Dr Eggman vs Sonic but you finally get to see why everything goes as it does.
    Eggman gets an admiring sidekick Dr Starline who is the perfect side character who presents them both from his perspective without it being about him and just the plot moving.
    He saw Sonic as kind of like an unbeatable demi god hero who foiled the extremely intelligent and tenacious Eggman where Eggman's goal is the world/worlds while Sonic's is a simple life with his pals.
    But when Starline fought Sonic he thought he had bested a multi dimensional champion and reached a top. But when Eggman berates him and explains how he must beat Sonic at his own game.
    Then Starline finally starts to see why their conflict has lasted so long. Cause Eggman refuse to use a blunt forward attack the easy way while always showing off while Sonic is simply straight forward but kind of over confident and relies on his friends.
    Two methods clashing where one sabotage itself for his own idea of winning properly.
    And Eggman wanting to truly beat Sonic by destroying his bonds either by turning them against him as an obstacle he can't speed out of or to show Sonic that he has enemies and obstacles he can't win. And it also shows Eggman's insanity. Doing the same non subtle flashy entrance and grand plans and expecting a different result.
    Meanwhile Sonic has to face and learn his friends and those he rely on can become an adversary he can't punch or talk to, let alone see as an enemy

  10. I think you're my first film industry YT role model. I'm an aspiring writer looking for his ways. Great great work. You gotta new subscriber.

  11. There is a love and admiration that I feel towards Mr Ledger that no other actor, former or present can replicate. He was truly one of a kind & I hope where ever he is in the afterlife that he has peace of mind and happiness, because he more than deserves it. Rest in peace Heath Ledger.

  12. and thats how christopher nolan ruined all the prospects of creating another batman movie..itz not just a movie..itz a fucking philosophy

  13. leto's joker should be a lesson in acting school on how NOT to be the joker and show the master that is heath's joker

  14. I watched the Movie yesterday for the first time. I was never interested in it before, because I usually don't like DC or Batman specifically. Batman is boring for me personally. And while I have to admit that the film is pretty good and the Joker is great (I love good villains and The Joker was the only reason I decided to watch it in the first place), I still cannot understand all the hype around it. And the movie actually surprised me at one point. I really thought, that they would save Rachel, no matter what. But this is just my opinion. If I were more into DC and Batman and stuff, I am sure I would like it more. But I am not.
    Your video is great. I like those kind of videos.

  15. The Joker truly is a masterful portrayal of ah utterly psychotic villain but.. that isn't the only reason why the Dark Knight works so well. The sound track…. Please, do not forget the unimaginably awesome soundtrack. In a film the sound and the music are both as big a part of the storytelling as the script and the cast.

  16. iM into the videos man…also do add the impact of stills…sounds…and how the characters in parallel plays make the distance harder to transcend

  17. Hey guys! Please please do me a favor and check my page out. I played The Joker and I tried doing justice to the character. So please support. Really appreciate it.

  18. “Batman grows wiser BECAUSE of the Joker… Batman’s resolve depends BECAUSE of the Joker… Batman becomes the Dark Knight BECAUSE of the Joker.”

    In some interpretations of Mr J, that’s exactly what he has been trying to do the entire time, considering himself Batman’s greatest ally for the lessons he teaches him. In his mind he keeps the Bat sharp and in top form.

  19. Okay but batmans code is really fucking stupid. Like what so you're gonna hold onto your precious rule and let the Joker live so he can kill a shit ton of people?

  20. A philosophy and a good point or two makes the Joker what he is. Nobody cares when soldiers die and money is an idiot's motive; he's not wrong about that.

  21. one thing the dark knight needed was early on have batman successfully save the day and get positive publicity in the media from the public and politicians…it would have shown the arc of batman's from hero to the anti-hero aka the dark knight.

  22. My English teacher played this for us in class 2 years ago because our lesson was on antagonists. Pretty cool that something I watch casually was being played as something for educational purpose

  23. I was about 13 years old when I saw this film in theaters and I never understood the hidden meaning behind Joker vs Batman. Now that you explained it perfectly, I also understand the meaning behind the title, The Dark Knight. I honestly just thought it was Batman loving black rofl

  24. The host of this video goes in greater depth in describing the role of joker……
    But
    Joker would hv said "Why So Serious"…..

  25. The reason the Batman/Joker relationship works so well, the reason it has always worked, is because, at their core, Batman and the Joker are the same. People always talk about how Ledger's Joker is characterized as a nihilist, but what many people don't get is that Batman is just as much of a nihilist himself. Both Batman and the Joker share the same view:  that life is meaningless and random. It is their reaction to this belief that differentiates them. The Joker chooses not only to accept, but revel in the unpredictability of life, whereas Batman chooses to struggle against it. Humorously, this is best demonstrated in the much maligned Batman v. Superman:  Dawn of Justice movie. In the scene where Batman is about to kill Superman, he says, "My parents only taught me one thing; that life only makes sense if you force it to." Despite that movie being kinda shitty, that one line really did sum up the Batman character pretty well. This is better exemplified in the finale of The Dark Knight. After the Joker corrupts Harvey Dent and Batman has to kill him, Batman chooses to take the blame for it because he knows that the impact of people seeing the world like the Joker (and he, himself) does will be calamitous. If people saw how little the world made sense by seeing their "white knight" turn into a murderer, their faith would be destroyed. Thus, Batman hides the truth from them. He is literally, as Affleck's Batman might say, "forcing life to make sense". This version of the "nihilistic Batman" is portrayed most famously in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. The Batman of The Dark Knight is somewhat different. Initially, he starts out as something of an idealist. A bitter, cynical idealist, but an idealist nonetheless. Remember, Batman has no concept of criminals behaving in an irrational manner when the film starts; he firmly believes that people are driven by logical motivations. Alfred has to tell him that some people "just wanna watch the world burn". Only at the end of the film does Batman realize just how senseless the world can be. By the end of the film, he and the Joker see the world in pretty much the same light. It's just how they react to it that separates them.

  26. You should have put Bill Finger above Bob Kane. HE IS the damn creator of batman. Kane's early vision was NOTHING compared to when he asked Bill for Help. Kane was a scumbag that secured the rights permanently and locking out Finger of any real financial recognition. He had a tragic last part of his life, fuck bob kane.

  27. I think this film is underated in fact, because today people just remember the performance of Heath and give him all the credits. Yes, he is incredible, but it's not the only thing incredible in this film: the scenario is such as the performance of other actors. The development of Harvey Dent is really interesting, this is the same for Batman. A lot of good things of this film are forgotten now..

  28. Do one of these for Handsome Jack from borderlands 2 please, because he’s an amazing villain on the level of this Joker.

  29. Physically they are polar opposites as well. Batman is dark, grim, brooding; Joker is bright, cheerful, and scarily happy.

  30. I think a great video topic would be… the difference between Action (The Dark Knight), Psychological Thrillers (Seven/Silence of the Lambs) and Horror (Saw) when all have similar types of great antagonists with similar traits (several steps ahead, seemingly ordinary, trying to prove a point for their greater ideals). Is it simply the the competency of the protagonist? Superhero (Batman) vs. Detectives (Seven/Silence of the Lambs) vs. Ordinary people (Saw).

  31. Judge Vincent Furlong I called for The Hague court . Either way you die in cheateau dif .

    Vladimir Putin: Melania daddyie . please get all Philadelphia police radio 911 calls and then review all Pennsylvania court records . I ain’t Batman I don’t touch people .

  32. 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

  33. 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 .

  34. 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 .

  35. 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 .

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

  37. 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.

  38. 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!

  39. 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!!

  40. 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.

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