Dying a Hero

Forgive me, for a moment, if I briefly talk about a personal bugbear.

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Harvey Dent spoke those words in The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman film that I’m not ashamed to admit I don’t fully understand.  I’m not a particular clever guy, but I’d like to think I could at least follow the plot of a Batman movie.

Not so with The Dark Knight.  Seriously, that movie stops making sense about halfway through, and I just kind of go along with it.  I know the Joker’s amoral and seemingly irrational, and that Batman struggles to beat him without becoming him, and how they’re two extreme halves of humanity, but that’s about it.  And to be fair, I know most of that from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.  Everything else is just drama and chase scenes.

Now, I might not be intimately familiar with the winding details of the film’s plot, but I’m pretty sure I know what “you either die a hero…” means.  Yet it seems to be misused to an alarming degree on the internet.  People quote it whenever any previously admired public figure or company does something deplorable.

I’m all for personal interpretations and such – hell, I wish people would talk about their opinions on what stuff means all the time – but to use another bit of trite internet slang: you’re doing it wrong.

People seem to think the line refers to Harvey Dent living long enough to see himself become the villain, because he went on a bit of a rampage at the end.  But it’s not.  Harvey Dent died a hero.  It’s about Batman living long enough to see himself become the villain.  His vigilantism, once seen as heroic, becomes a reason to hate him.  That’s the whole point of the speech at the end.  Were these people just watching it for the punching?

Public opinion on what is moral will always shift as time goes on.  If health gurus are heroes for saving us all from obesity and disgusting food, you can bet your arse that one day we’ll hate them for taking away the simple pleasure of a sausage supper.  And a can of Irn-Bru to wash it down.

If this were any other film, I’d be content to write it off.  But, god damn it, it’s the only thing about that movie I felt like I really understood.

PS I know about that it would’ve been better if they’d just blamed Harvey’s death on the Joker instead.  But, as illogical as it seems, it still makes a lot more sense in the context of what the movie was trying to achieve than the Bat Sonar.

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