Now that The Dark Knight‘s been out for a bit over a week, reviews and commentary are appearing all over the place. One particular topic of note among feminist fans is the movie’s treatment of the Rachel Dawes character.
I don’t think I have to warn you that these links and quotes contain massive spoilers.
*Rachel, with Maggie Gyllenhaal portraying her, a great improvement over the first movie. Rachel is motivated, good at her job, and she stands up to the Joker, so I have to give the movie points for giving her guts. But in the end she’s a plot device and she gets killed. However, because she’s a likeable plot device where there was effort to make her a real person, her death hurt and it made Bruce and Harvey’s story work even better, because I liked her and was sad at her death.
Digital-Eraser was less than pleased with the movie’s treatment of the character:
Sure, Rachel Dawes got to do things in a limited capability in Batman Begins. But in The Dark Knight she takes a back seat out of plot necessity, since Harvey Dent needed to be established as the big star attorney. So Rachel ends up becoming the audience-perspective person, asking Harvey things her character should already know, so that Harvey can explain it to us. With her finishing his sentences for him when she suddenly “gets it,” I guess trying to make her appear to us as though she’s not completely dumb. (Why they didn’t just set up Harvey Dent as the best friend in the first movie, I don’t know…did the story really benefit that much from having a love interest, something the Batman comics are able to manage without?)
But Rachel Dawes isn’t even what bugged me about the movie. Sure, I rolled my eyes at Rachel becoming yet another cliche Woman In Refrigerator, allowing Harvey Dent to go off on a “you touched my stuff” rampage. But I was almost glad just to have her off the screen, because her character being so completely useless as anything but Love Triangle Girl was starting to get on my nerves. Yeah, she gets to deliver a hit to the Joker, but only light enough so that he can make a comment about her having “spunk” and then dismiss her as being any threat whatsoever
While the blogger at Forgotten Panopticon finds Rachel’s role in the film interesting:
Throughout the film, all the major characters save one choose to break into a new identity, sometimes foolishly, and all are forced by chaos and destruction back into their old molds, sometimes tragically. Rachel Dawes suffers in this the most. She has moved on from her childhood friend Bruce, while keeping his dangerous secret, and established a relationship that is nurtured by her career and ideals, not in conflict. Bruce, meanwhile, has come to see her more as a symbol than his friend, as his “last hope for a normal life.” He asks her to wait for him, and she wavers, but chooses instead to marry the man who is more her partner, and is targeted for assassination because of her work and position—not solely for her connection to a male protagonist.
Rachel becomes a Woman in a Refrigerator, but in an interesting way: textually, she refuses to be defined as part of either man’s self-image and chooses her own future, one that abets her own crusade. After all, it certainly would have been easier to live as the wife of a billionaire, protected and wanting for nothing, than to actively face intimidation and assassination (and more immediately, the hours and numbing drudgery) as a prominent civil servant. Her death is her own martyrdom—she is chosen as a victim not because she is Batman’s girlfriend but because she is an effective, and legitimate, prosecutor. She is part of the Joker’s criminals-and-crimefighters paradigm, not a bystander.
So what did you think?