Musical Themes in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Part 3 of 6: The Dark Knight

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Like Batman Begins, the music of The Dark Knight was composed by both Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Of course many themes from the first movie reappear in this second instalment, but it also has several new themes of its own, especially in connection with Batman. What follows is my film music analysis of these themes.

“Batman Troubled” – Accompaniment

In Batman Begins, we hear lots of the repeated D-F motive in the strings as accompaniment for Batman’s themes. While this is still present in The Dark Knight, a new figure is more pervasive:


Hear this figure at the start of the following clip:

otice that the D-F motive is still present here but hidden amongst a flurry of other notes. A couple of scenes make use of this figure:

  • When Gordon is on a roof with the Bat-signal at the start of the film, hoping that Batman will arrive
  • Throughout the finale with the “boat-game” crisis

Why should Batman get a new accompaniment in this movie? Probably because the situations he now faces force him to question the validity of Batman as a crime-fighting symbol. For example, should he give in to the Joker’s demand to reveal his identity? Should he give Batman up for the sake of being with Rachel? And after Rachel dies, Bruce asks whether Batman is causing more harm than good. These questions leave Bruce/Batman troubled throughout the film and so it is appropriate that the music should reflect this new-found sense of self-doubt.

“Batman Troubled” – Theme

This self-doubt even spills over into Batman’s brassy two-note theme of D-F. Although there are plenty of statements of the “signifying” and “heroic” versions of the theme (see Part 1 of these posts), the F is sometimes sounded together with a C#, creating an awkward-sounding diminished fourth! This interval doesn’t imply any chord in the theme’s D minor key, and so leaves us as unsettled—or troubled—as Batman himself.


Hear this theme in the following YouTube clip from 1:07:

The “troubled” theme occurs in these scenes:

  • When the Joker is driving the trailer truck and Batman is motorcycling to meet him
  • Many times during the boat crisis finale

The “Threat” Theme

On a couple of occasions, we hear a theme that wavers from D to C# and back to D again:


Hear this theme in the following YouTube clip from 0:48:

Because this C# is never a part of the sounding chord, it acts as a dissonant note in need of resolution. And when it was present in the themes above, it gave the music a “troubled” sound. So you might say that the C# has the same unsettling effects on us as the Joker’s psychotic schemes. In other words, just as the situations in The Dark Knight are a constant threat to the people of Gotham City, the C# is a constant threat to the chord being sounded.

This motive is most clearly heard in two scenes:

  • When Fox sees Batman’s use of the citizen’s cell phones to find the Joker
  • When the convicts and citizens are boarding each of their large boats

1 thought on “Musical Themes in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Part 3 of 6: The Dark Knight”

  1. Brilliant. I always felt like this soundtrack was trying to tell me something, but I could not understand the language. It is amazing how you broke it down and explained the notes as if they were words in a sentence. Music is the language of the soul.

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