Remember The Dark Knight? Who can forget Harvey Dent’s tragic line, the one which foreshadowed both his own downfall and the character arcs of so many of those around him: you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
The question I have often come back to is whether Harvey could have ever died a hero. Sure, they gave him a hero’s funeral, a hero’s legend, and a hero’s holiday (the second Monday of Gothamuary, presumably), but we the audience knew that he had been a villain ever since he got half his face burned off and a dead fiancee, and subsequently decided to murder everyone he held accountable.
Or do we? Is it possible that Harvey was a villain all along? Was he a white knight corrupted by The Joker, “the best of us,” as Batman called him, or was he just another corrupt politician with no ethics or heroism to speak of?
Let’s break down what I consider to be the potential evidence that the Harvey Dent of The Dark Knight was a villain all along.
Remember Harvey’s first scene, in which he shows up to court late and shrugs off his girlfriend/assistant’s frustration that he is late for a major case? He then reveals his father’s lucky two-sided coin and immediately jumps into the trial. Within one minute, his key witness reverses his testimony and takes out a gun, attempting to kill Harvey. The gun misfires, Harvey takes it, dismantles it, and identifies it as being Chinese, all while quipping clever one-liners.
Sure, it’s a movie, so we have to suspend some disbelief, but what is going on here? Did blind luck and a jingoistic sense of justice really just prevent one of the main characters from getting shot in the face during his first scene? Or did Harvey Dent plan the entire thing?
What’s the evidence? Well, let’s consider what we know about him. As the film goes on, we see that Harvey indeed does make his own luck, through the use of a double-sided coin. Meaning that any gestures made with this coin have been rigged gambles. Sure, it’s cheeky and fun, but this does apparently include some fundamental aspects of his job, along with his first date with Rachel Dawes. Is I make my own luck not a reference to his coin, but a reference to the supposed luck that’s about to go down?
Notice that neither he nor Rachel are rattled in the next scene, to the point where Harvey casually assure her that he is “fine.” Well, why wouldn’t he be? He doesn’t seem to have minded getting shot at. Whether or not she was in on this remains to be determined as well.
Now, let’s consider some of his other strange behavior throughout the film: a) accusing Gordon of corruption and the theft of millions of dollars, with the question you gonna count me in? b) a quick turnaround on whether he views Batman as a villain, the moment Batman begins treating him as an ally c) the violent interrogation of one of Joker’s henchmen d) the acceptance and encouragement of Batman breaking every law imaginable in order to violently retrieve Lau from Hong Kong.
And this is all right up until the part where his face gets burned and he begins his killing spree.
There are also some other hints, one important one being that we hear suggestions that Maroni has people inside Dent’s office, but we never see who. Dent is concerned with the cops he knows to be corrupt (Ramirez, Wuertz, etc) but never attempts to root out corruption in his own office.
All of this points in one strong direction: Harvey Dent was corrupt from the beginning, and had agreements made with Maroni or others. It’s unclear exactly who. But this is why he went after Maroni and the others with such intensity: he felt as if his actions had all been in the game, and when The Joker interrupted things, Harvey’s belief that he was an untouchable white knight whose corruption was just another piece of the system (corruption alongside Gordon, Batman, Lau, and all the others) caused him to collapse and go after the people who he felt should have been the victims.
Of course, I am still apt to believe my other theory regarding Batman, which would suggest that the reasons for Harvey Dent’s personality quirks were related not to his own corruption, but because he was just another actor playing a part in the living theater that was Bruce Wayne’s life.
For more like this, try Batman’s Privileges, and the Realities of Batman Incorporated