Here's a quote from The Dark Knight, which is commonly attributed to Bruce Wayne's character growth into a better Batman (full quote for better context):

Bruce Wayne: [while in the underground bat cave] People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?

Alfred Pennyworth: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.

Bruce Wayne: Well today I found out what Batman can't do. He can't endure this. Today you get to say "I told you so."

Alfred Pennyworth: Today, I don't want to.

[pauses for several moments]

Alfred Pennyworth: But I did bloody tell you.

Which choices specifically are we talking about, in this movie, or in the entire Batman universe? I've seen this quote used as an example of what makes Batman grow into such a powerful protagonist, but I don't think there was a stark change of character after that dialogue in the movie.

Was it Bruce Wayne's decision to (try to) reveal himself to the public? Or was it the choice between saving one of the two at the end? To me it didn't seem like something he wouldn't have had to decide regardless of other circumstances, if he was put in this position. I don't see it as character growth, but rather as where the forces of evil have led to.

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    Batboxers or Batbriefs. That is the truly difficult choice that only batman can make. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 14:44
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    @MichaelRichardson Batmankini. (Good luck getting that image out of your mind now!)
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 15:22
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    @Graham can it really be any worse than George Clooney's batsuit? Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:38
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    @WayneWerner i.imgur.com/RqjqWov.jpg
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:53
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    @MichaelRichardson - Batcommando. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 21:52

4 Answers 4


That conversation happened when Bruce decided to turn himself in (So The Joker stops killing people)

The way I understand it is Alfred advocating that Bruce Shouldn't turn himself in or reveal his identity, and that people may hate Batman for it, and Bruce instinct itself tell him that he can't sit a round and watch people die, but it's the right but hard choice that will help defeat The Joker eventually.

Alfred is basically saying that revealing his identity now will be a short term solution that will give Bruce peace of mind, but letting people die in order to have a better chance defeating The Joker and endure the guilt and hate in the process is what Batman is made to do.

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    To add to your answer, the idea is that a known figure (e.g. Dent, the mayor, Gordon) would be publically crucified for refusing to comply with the Joker's demands, by the public who are afraid of getting killed by the Joker's ongoing games. But no one knows who Batman is, which means that no one can publically crucify him. At best, they can slander Batman's reputation, but not physically attack or ostracize the actual person. (This is why America refuses to negotiate with terrorists, so the President doesn't get crucified by public outcry when the US refuses to yield to the terrorists)
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 13:22
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    @Flater Is it? The way I understood it, the reason America refuses to negotiate with terrorists is because it both legitimizes them and also, at the same time, paints a target on America's back. (ie. if terrorists know America will be willing to negotiate with them, they're more likely to pick on America.) Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 22:29

What Alfred means here, is that Batman can make right choices when needed and which no one can make.

Joker knows that Batman has a rule that he will not kill anybody. So he turns this moral code into Batman's weakness by creating chaos and killing people. The only way to stop this would be to kill Joker which, of course, is something that Batman will never do.

Joker also wanted to show the true colors of Batman to Gotham and he does so by try to make him make difficult choices.

To quote Albus Dumbledore,

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

When Joker demands that Batman should reveal himself in front of people of the Gotham. Batman refuses it and try to do what is right thing to do, but Joker was always way ahead of him and apparently successful like the time he gets caught.

In the meanwhile, more people die and pressure on Batman increases. When it was too much and people of Gotham turned against him, he decides to turn himself in. But this time Harvey decides to take his place.

Batman also got to make more difficult choice to make when Joker captures Rachel and Harvey.

Throughout all these events, Joker makes him make choices that reveal what and who he truly cares about and also what he actually is.

After all these events, he finally learns to make choices that no one else can make and becomes a Dark Knight. He decides to take blame of killing Harvey Dent and present himself as a villain and Harvey as a hero to people of Gotham. Thus, corrupt people and criminals can stay locked in jail under the Dent Act.

From The Dark Knight Rises,

Blake turns to Gordon, who stares at the TV.


These men, locked up in Blackgate for eight years, denied parole under the Dent Act. Based on a lie.


A lie to keep a city from burning to the ground. Gotham needed a hero, someone to believe in -


Not as much as it does now. But you betrayed everything you stood for.


(looks at Blake) There's a point. Far out there. When the structures fail you. When the rules aren't weapons anymore, they're shackles, letting the bad get ahead. Maybe one day you'll have such a moment of crisis. And in that moment, I hope you have a friend like I did. To plunge their hands into the filth so you can keep yours clean.

Script Source and Source

  • I've heard the "Joker wants to reveal Batman's true colors" phrase before, in the same texts. What does that mean? What's there to reveal? (that he's the best hero ever? I don't get it) ((except for Batman's inability to kill Joker and prevent many more deaths that way, I don't know what bad things exist about Batman to reveal)) Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 19:31
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    One thing I can think of that could be called difficult is for Batman to call himself the villain and Dent the good guy whom he killed. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 19:46
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    @user1306322 Keep in mind that Joker has (very twisted) principles of his own; also he is extremely methodical, like Batman; and he's willing to do things that no sane person would ever do, like Batman. Joker wanted to show (to himself, even if no-one else noticed) how similar he is to Batman. Batman is every bit as desperate to do the right thing as the Joker is to create mayhem. The essential difference between them is which set of principles they choose to subscribe to, and why.
    – jpaugh
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 16:31
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    ... Batman is every bit as smart as the Joker (a worthy opponent), but has different constraints. Joker won't kill Batman because it would mean an end to the fun. Batman won't kill Joker because it would mean an end to his moral code. Joker wants to oppose Batman, and maximize the fallout; he doesn't necessarily care who 'wins' in the end, as long as the game is fun. Batman wants to minimize the violence, and doesn't actually want to 'play' at all.
    – jpaugh
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 16:37
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    Except... screenrant.com/times-batman-has-killed-people Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 19:20

The mayor, the police chief, the commissioner, officers.... they are all public servants, constrained by rule of law and answerable to the populace at large.

Sometimes that's great, but sometimes the populace at large can make poor decisions, as well, based on emotion, lack of understanding, lack of perspective.

Batman does not answer to the public in any direct sense. He can't be voted out of the office of "vigilante thug," because it's something he chooses to do entirely on his own. He isn't constrained by the budgets handed down by city hall, or the chain of command, often managed by those who have to factor in political calculations.

If he needs to hold someone upside down over a 12 story drop to the street below to extract information, he can ignore the laws that say pubic servants are not allowed to do that, are not allowed to act upon that kind of information ("fruit of the poisoned tree") and are not allowed to ultimately bring people to justice by those means.

Batman is able to do all of these things that other's can't. That can be good or bad, depending on the perspective, but he isn't bound, regardless. Criminals can be stopped. They can even be apprehended. If he wraps them all up, including with incriminating evidence he obtained outside of legal methods, the police didn't administer those illegal methods, they aren't responsible for their use, they, through following the rule and letter of the law, were still able to obtain that information, in good faith, so long as Batman doesn't directly collude with them ahead of time. By acting independently, he's able to see the criminals brought to justice.

The only constraints are his own conscience and ethics, and his actual physical limitations. He's able to do things others are not, because of that.

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    That's an interesting take. I completely forgot about that. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 3:54

It's important to look closely at what Alfred is saying:

They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.

Remember, Batman is the Dark Knight - he lives on the edge between right and wrong. He's not supposed to be everyone's favorite! He can make a choice that is unpopular but still right, and "get away with it."

Bruce wants to be liked (as we all do), but Batman does not care about that sort of thing.

  • I thought that's a given for Batman's character. He would never choose to be liked over saving people's lives. Doesn't sound like one of the choices only he can make, but the only choice he can make. (but maybe that's it, idk) Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 19:38
  • @user1306322 sure, but look at Bruce's dialogue here - he can't bear that burden in this case. That's what Alfred is saying he has to do.
    – JasonB
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 21:19
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    @user1306322 To me, this dialog is about the formation and solidification of that part of Batman's persona; the Batman who "would never choose to be liked over saving people's lives." He even had to decide whether to let people die to prevent more people from dying later. After this event, what else could ever shake him from his principles?
    – jpaugh
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 16:26

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