The Dark Knight is set a year after Batman Begins. It opens with the Joker (Heath Ledger) and his band of villains successfully robbing a bank. The Joker kills his accomplices one by one in the process. Following the movie’s introduction, we find that Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) together with Lt James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) have formed an alliance. They plan to capture the Mob’s money deposits. But a Chinese mobster called Lau (Chin Han) foils Batman’s plans by making the money disappear. Lau also escapes to Hong Kong.
The Joker re-enters the story. He promises a consortium of Mob bosses, headed by Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts), that he will get their money back and get rid of Batman. His price is half of the Mob’s money. The Joker then unleashes a reign of terror and chaos, which includes killing Commissioner Gillian (Colin McFarlane), and a Gotham Judge, making an attempt on the lives of Lt. Gordon and Bruce Wayne and capturing Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Bruce Wayne’s ex-girlfriend, and Harvey Dent.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Sadism; organised crime
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
The Dark Knight contains brutal violence enacted against men, women and children. While only minimal blood and gore is shown, this violence is very disturbing and has considerable impact. The Joker is presented as a psychotic agent of chaos. For example:
- A bank robbery orchestrated by the Joker involves armed masked men forcefully entering a bank firing their guns into the air. They drag a screaming woman across a bank counter and point a gun at another woman’s head. On the Joker’s orders, his accomplices execute each other throughout the robbery until only the Joker remains. A male bank worker picks up a shotgun from his office and shoots a bank robber dead, then tries to shoot several other robbers before being shot himself. He is left lying wounded on the ground. A bus comes through the wall of the bank, running over one of the robbers.
- The Joker puts a grenade in the mouth of the wounded bank worker lying on the ground and ties the grenade’s pin to a piece of string. The Joker enters a bus and drives off. The pin is pulled from the grenade, but smoke erupts from it.
- One scene depicts a drug deal between the Scarecrow and his henchmen and a group of gangsters with nearly all men holding machine gun-like weapons. Several Batman impersonators, some wielding machine guns pop up out of nowhere. One impersonator fires his weapon at the drug dealers. Batman arrives in his car and joins the fight, during which he is injured by a guard dog.
- The Joker rams a man’s head down onto a pencil with the pencil disappearing into the man’s head. We do not see the pencil penetrating his head, but the man falls backwards as if dead.
- The Joker inserts the blade of a knife into a mobster’s mouth, and proceeds to tell the mobster that he received his own facial scars when his father attacked his mother and then him with a knife. Following his speech, the Joker slashes the mouth of the mobster (not seen).
- Commissioner Gillian B Loeb drinks a glass of what he believes is scotch, but the glass actually contains acid. He is shown writhing around on the floor and liquid from the glass smouldering on the desk top.
- A Batman impersonator hangs by the neck from a rope with the body banging against the mayor’s window. We then see television footage of the Joker videoing himself torturing the man prior to the hanging.
- A female judge is killed when her car explodes in a ball of flame.
- During a party held by Bruce Wayne, the Joker points a gun at the head of a woman and threatens a man with a knife.
- The Joker terrifies Rachel by holding a knife to her face in a threatening manner. He then tells Rachel the story behind his facial scars.
- Rachel kicks the Joker in the groin and punches another man in the face.
- During a fight between the Joker, his henchmen and Batman, Rachel gets thrown through the window of a high-rise building. Batman jumps through the window and manages to catch Rachel just before she hits the ground.
- The Joker, masquerading as a policeman, tries to shoot the police commissioner with a rifle. The Joker misses the commissioner and hits Lt Gordon instead, killing him. We later see Gordon’s wife being told the news and see her collapse in tears with her young son watching on.
- During a nightclub brawl, Batman punches, elbows and kicks several men, and bottles are broken over people’s heads. Batman dangles a mobster over the side of a balcony rail and lets go. The man falls to the ground and we hear the sound of bones breaking. Later we see the mobster using walking sticks and walking with a limp.
- DA Dent holds a gun to the head of a man tied in a chair. Dent tosses a coin in the air, stating that the toss of the coin will determine whether the man lives or dies.
- During a street battle between the Joker, the police and Batman, the Joker fires at police cars with machine guns and fires a rocket launcher at a police truck, blowing the truck up into the air. Batman in the Batmobile runs the Joker’s truck off of the road. In response, the Joker blows up several police cars and the Batmobile, with the Batmobile later self-destructing. We see the Joker driving a truck through the chaos, stating ‘I like this job’.
- Gordon’s wife slaps him hard across the face when she learns that his death was a deception.
- Batman jams a chair under the door handle of the interview room and slams the Joker’s head into a tabletop twice. He smashes the Joker’s head into a wall mirror and punches him several times in the face.
- Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent are tied to chairs in two separate warehouses. They have bombs strapped to them and are surrounded by drums of flammable fuel. The bombs explode, killing Rachel outright while Batman manages to save Dent. Dent’s face catches fire, leaving Dent with a horribly disfigured face.
- A prisoner in a jail cell falls to the ground complaining of stomach pains. The man’s stomach has a large scar and what looks like a cell phone implanted beneath his skin. The phone rings and there is a large explosion that engulfs most of the police station in flames.
- A man is tied to a chair placed on top of a pile of money. The Joker sets the money on fire, burning both money and man.
- Bruce Wayne drives a sports car recklessly and deliberately crashes into a police convoy.
- Two Face shoots dead the driver of a car. The car flips over and bursts into flames. He punches a woman in the face.
- Two Face takes Commissioner Gordon’s wife and children as hostages, threatening to kill them if his demands are not met. He knocks Gordon to the ground and points a gun at Gordon’s head. Two Face then threatens to kill Gordon’s wife, and points his gun at her and Gordon’s children. Two Face holds a gun to the head of Gordon’s young son and threatens to kill the boy. Batman knocks Two Face and Gordon’s son off the top of the building, killing Two Face. We see his broken body lying on the ground below. Batman is able to save Gordon’s son.
- Two ferries loaded with passengers have drums of highly flammable liquid wired to explode. The Joker tells the passengers on each ferry that they can save their own lives by triggering a detonation devices wired to blow up the other ferry.
- Several hostages are dressed by the Joker to look like gangsters with guns. Dozens of police aim their guns at the hostages. Batman punches, kicks and attacks several policemen, knocking them unconscious in an attempt to prevent them from shooting the hostages by mistake.
- Several guard dogs attack and maul Batman. Batman punches one of the dogs and throws a second dog through the air.
- The Joker attacks Batman with a metal bar. We see the Joker punching Batman in the face, kicking Batman and knocking Batman to the ground.
- Batman fires knife blades (that come out of the sides of Batman’s gloves) into the Joker’s face (we see cuts on the Joker’s face) causing the Joker to fall from the top of a building. The Joker is saved by Batman and left dangling upside down from a rope.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are several images likely to scare and disturbing children in this age group. For example:
- Half of Harvey Dent/Two Face’s face is burnt away, leaving him with a horrifically deformed face. We can clearly see exposed eyeball, cheek muscle, jawbone and teeth with the image resembling a skeleton.
- The start of the movie contains images of men wearing masks while robbing a bank. The masks are clown-like and have a menacing appearance.
- The Scarecrow wears a scary-looking sack over his head.
- The movie contains images of several large, scary guard dogs that attack and maul Batman.
- The Joker has a very intense presence that is scary, sinister, evil and threatening. He is completely remorseless when he kills. The Joker’s face is covered in clown-like paint with red paint emphasising the scars that the Joker has on the side of each of his cheeks. He has a threatening evil voice and laugh, and he makes numerous disturbing violent threats against people’s lives.
- We see vivid images of Harvey Dent thrashing around on the ground with the left side of his face on fire.
- Bruce Wayne stitches up a bloody gash on his own arm.
- In a couple of scenes, guard dogs attack Batman. We see Batman punching the dogs and throwing the dogs through the air. We hear the sound of the dogs yelping in pain.
- The Joker tells vividly violent stories about how his face became scarred. One story is of how the Joker as a young boy was forced to watch his father brutalise his mother with a kitchen knife before being brutalised himself.
Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the above-mentioned violence and disturbing scenes.
Children in this age group and some adults could also be disturbed by some of the scenes described above.
There are some sexual references in this movie. For example:
- While standing on the deck of a yacht surrounded by bikini-clad women, Alfred makes mildly suggestive remarks about applying suntan lotion.
- Rachel holds Harvey’s hand and suggestively asks him to take the rest of the day off. Harvey refuses.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
There is some use of substances in this movie. For example:
- The Scarecrow and the Mob do a drug deal.
- People hold glasses of wine/champagne at a party and in a restaurant.
- Bruce Wayne holds a glass of wine but doesn’t drink the wine. When not observed, he discards the glass’s contents.
- Police Commissioner Gillian B Loeb pours himself a glass of scotch. He then comments on how he uses scotch to help when under pressure.
Nudity and sexual activity
There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie. For example:
- We see Bruce Wayne/Batman’s naked torso including several large scars, which are the obvious results of previous violent encounters.
- A Russian ballet troupe are seen in bikinis on the deck of a yacht.
- A man and a woman kiss each other on the lips in a couple of scenes.
- Women wear evening dresses with low-cut tops that reveal cleavage, shoulders and back.
- At a party, a man and a woman hop up from a couch in a rushed manner when disturbed. The man is tucking in his shirt and the woman is rearranging the top of her dress.
None of concern
The Dark Knight contains infrequent low-level coarse language and put-downs.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Dark Knight is a dark and disturbing action thriller. The movie’s visual effects are superb and Heath Ledger provides a performance that makes the Joker appear believable and disturbing. But even some adults might find some of the movie’s content disturbing. It is definitely not suitable for children and many younger adolescents.
If you are watching it with older adolescents, you could talk about the values of self-sacrifice and perseverance. This movie could also give you the opportunity to discuss attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:
- the dilemma of ordinary people forced to choose between killing other people and saving their own lives
- circumstances in which it could be acceptable to break the law in order to achieve a greater good.