Jonathan Nolan Shares The Origin Of The Dark Knight’s Most Famous Line

Early in The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent tells Bruce Wayne the line that’s become synonymous with the film: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Director Christopher Nolan recently admitted that he didn’t initially understand what the line was meant to convey. The line itself was conceived by Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote the script. During a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan shed some light on the origin of that line.

“It came later in the script,” said Nolan. “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 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.”

At the beginning of the movie, even Bruce thinks that Harvey is the hero that Gotham City really needs. But even before Harvey and Bruce lose Rachel Dawes because of the Joker’s twisted plans, Harvey shows his dark side when he threatens one of the Joker’s goons. Once Harvey is left heavily scarred and mourning for Rachel, he unleashes his Two-Face persona and fulfills the promise of the line he gave earlier in the film.

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