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Christopher Nolan is Still Jealous He Didn't Come Up With This Iconic Line From The Dark Knight

"You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

By Josh Weiss

It's kind of crazy how many iconic pieces of dialogue there are in The Dark Knight (now streaming on Peacock).

The genre-defining script written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer gives every character — from Heath Ledger's Joker ("Why so serious?") to Michael Caine's Alfred ("Some men just want to watch the world burn") — their moment to verbally shine. Makes you wonder why the Academy didn't nominate it for Best Adapted Screenplay.

While Chris Nolan is incredibly proud of the movie, which perfectly distills everything we love about Gotham's Caped Crusader into one thrilling package, he still can't get over the fact that his little brother, Jonathan (otherwise known as co-showrunner on Westworld) came up with one of its most quoted lines, spoken by Aaron Eckhart's crusading district attorney, Harvey Dent: "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Those words come back to haunt us near the end of the movie when Harvey is driven off the deep end by Joker and adopts the sociopathic identity of Two-Face.

Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) glares at The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).

Christopher Nolan is Jealous He Didn't Think of This Iconic Dark Knight Line

“I’m plagued by a line from The Dark Knight, and I’m plagued by it because I didn’t write it,” the filmmaker admitted in a recent interview with Deadline. “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. He says, ‘You either die a hero or you live long enough to become the villain.’ 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.”

For More on The Dark Knight:

Why The Dark Knight Merchandising Team Went to War Over the Color Purple
How The Dark Knight Trilogy Chose Each of Its Iconic Villains
Former DC Creative Director Recalls Working with Heath Ledger on The Dark Knight Teaser Posters

When asked about the memorable line during a chat with Creative Screenwriting Magazine, Jonathan was very humble about how it originally came into existence. "Especially in a collaborative relationship, I think trying to pick apart who did what is counterproductive. I say as a general rule: if you liked it, I did it. If you didn't like it, Chris or David came up with it."

"You work on these things and the themes sit underneath everything. And then, like a volcano, they emerge in places," he continued. "You get a more fully-formed idea of what the theme of the film as you continue to work on it, or it just begins to state itself a little better. So I think that line actually came in after the first or second draft as an answer to the question of ... putting all these guys — Harvey Dent, Gordon, Batman — on the rack of their own beliefs. And the Joker just keeps twisting it."

Christopher Nolan is currently making rounds on the awards circuit following the release of Oppenheimer (now streaming exclusively on Peacock), which landed a total of 13 Oscar nods, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.

If you want to revisit Nolan's whole game-changing series, the entire Dark Knight trilogy is streaming now on Peacock.