Christopher Nolan Says He’s 'Plagued' by Harvey Dent’s Classic Line From 'The Dark Knight'

The oft-quoted, HOV-paraphrased "You either die a hero..." is arguably one of the most widely cited lines in film history.

Christopher Nolan holding a César award, in formal attire, at the 49th César Ceremony
Image via Getty/Marc Piasecki / WireImage
Christopher Nolan holding a César award, in formal attire, at the 49th César Ceremony

The Dark Knight’s most oft-quoted line, not to mention one of the most quoted lines in film history, has “plagued” director Christopher Nolan for years.

"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain," Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart, says in the 2008 film at a dinner also attended by Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne. Later, Bale's Batman also delivers the line when deciding to take the fall for Eckhart's Two-Face.

In a recent interview with Deadline centered on Oppenheimer, which seems poised to take home Best Picture at next month’s Oscars ceremony, Nolan looked back on his initial feelings about the line in question while noting its prescience in relation to his latest work.

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“I’m plagued by a line from The Dark Knight, and I’m plagued by it because I didn’t write it,” Nolan said, per Mike Fleming Jr. “My brother [Jonathan] wrote it. It kills me, because it’s the line that most resonates. And at the time, I didn’t even understand it."

In fact, Nolan suggested he wasn't immediately sold on keeping the line in the final draft.

"He says, ‘You either die a hero or you live long enough to become the villain,'" the director, whose Tenet recently returned to theaters, said. "I read it in his draft, and I was like, ‘All right, I’ll keep it in there, but I don’t really know what it means. Is that really a thing?’ And then, over the years since that film’s come out, it just seems truer and truer. In this story, it’s absolutely that. Build them up, tear them down. It’s the way we treat people.”

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The sustaining reach of Dent’s philosophical musing is self-evident, from a flurry of memes over the years to a paraphrasing in Jay-Z’s verse on Ye’s 2010 MBDTF track “So Appalled.” It's the kind of line a writer dreams of, the kind that permeates culture in a way that's undeniably permanent, ultimately becoming a shorthand, of sorts, for its core message.

As for The Dark Knight’s larger legacy, that too is permanent. Last year, for example, Steven Spielberg argued that the beloved DC entry should have been nominated for Best Picture.

In the run-up to this year's ceremony, where Oppenheimer and Dark Knight star Cillian Murphy is also expected to take home Best Actor, Nolan has been everywhere, including moderating a must-watch Q&A for The Curse with Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie.

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