Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is one of the most celebrated superhero films of all time. Nolan was able to capture the essence of everyone’s favorite Gotham City billionaire vigilante, and give fans the Batman they always wanted. But the film's real success came from the portrayal of The Joker by Heath Ledger, whose performance has the gold standard for not only Joker, but for comic book movie villains in general.
#TheDarkKnight is damn-near flawless film, and I personally wouldn’t change a thing; however, there were some changes Nolan made from the script that are quite interesting in retrospect. Most recently, storyboards from 2007 have appeared that show a slight difference in the 'The Party Crashing Scene'; specifically, when Joker throws Rachel Dawes out a window and Batman dives out after her. Even though the changes are small, they could have had a larger impact then you might have thought.
The Party Crashing Scene
After #TheJoker arrives at Bruce Wayne's fundraiser, #Batman jumps in and tries to stop Joker and his henchmen. The Joker gains the upper hand while Batman is preoccupied, and he manages to grab Rachel. The Joker shoots out a window, and precariously holds Ms. Dawes out of it.
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Batman commands that Joker “let her go!”, to which Joker replies, “Poor choice of words”, and sends her out the window. She begins to slide down the glass embankment of the building, and Batman dives after her immediately. Batman manages to grab her hands, and then proceeds to slow their descent with the use of his cape. He manages to slow them down a bit, but the two crash down on top of a taxi feet first.
The Alternate Storyboard Version
This scene has gone on to be a cinematic classic, but the original storyboard exposes some major differences. The Joker still tosses Rachel out of the window, but this time he intentionally block Batman's path, and Batman must push him out of the way.
By taking the time to punch Joker out of the way, Batman loses a few precious seconds, meaning he misses his chance to grab Rachel with his hands. Batman also attempts to slow his descent on the slope of the building, instead of sliding on his belly like he did in the film.
After he secures Rachel’s feet with the grapnel gun, Batman realizes that he can’t fight gravity and uses his legs to propel him forward. Using his momentum and the grapnel cable to pull her towards him, Batman catches up to Rachel and brings her into his arms.
The rest of the events play out the same as they did in the film. Batman tries to slow their descent with the use of his cape, but is only partly successful. He doesn’t slow them down enough, and the two land feet first on to a taxi cab below. Batman and Rachel then roll off the front of the damaged taxi, and we see a shot of the taxi driver, who is utterly shocked at what just happened.
Why Are The Differences Important?
The storyboard version completely changes the Joker's motives. By blocking Batman from saving Rachel, Joker is no longer trying to distract Batman so he can make his escape; instead, he's actively trying to kill Rachel. The Joker’s plans all revolve around forcing Batman to make choices; choices which will lead him to break his own personal code. By blocking Batman, the Joker is taking away his choice. If this scene went unchanged, the Joker would've more of a psychopath, but less of a methodical anarchist – and that would fundamentally change the character.
The scene as we see it in the film perfectly introduces the relationship between Batman and Joker. It is the first real back-and-forth between the two, and marks the beginning of Batman coming to understand the Joker. If the scene has remained as it was in the storyboards, Batman's understanding of the Joker would've been compromised — and it would have set up a completely different dynamic for the rest of the film.
These storyboards are a great reminder of how the smallest change to a film could have unforeseen effects on the film as a whole. The Dark Knight is a masterpiece, and a large part of it is Christopher Nolan’s vision. He knew the specific version of the Joker he wanted to bring to life, and every decision he made supported this vision. If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight in a while, I suggest revisiting it, because it only seems to get better with age.
Do you think the unused storyboards would have changed the motives of the Joker?