The Killing and the Dark Knight may appear to be disparate at face value—their plots, narrative structures, and characters differ wildly—but their thesis on American capitalism rings similar. Both films speak to a question of masks, the saviorism of wealth, and the foundation, or lack thereof, of American capitalism.
In their get-rich-quick scheme, this incongruent group of men could not be more American. Gambling—as we’ve discussed in this class—is already a typical American attempt to quickly gain wealth without the hard work, a way to live the American Dream without working for it. Here, these criminals plan to then rob a gambling house: a get-richer-quicker scheme within an existing get-rich-quick scheme.
Johnny describes the group by saying that “none of these guys are criminals in the normal sense.” Because this is American capitalism, where we are all everyday criminals, we are all stealing from someone else to get ahead. The White men all look the same—like an average White man—with character arcs that mirror each other, helpless wife at home, in need of quick cash, etc. As Johnny introduces the men, the audience relives the same scene over and over again.
The fact that the scheme is an inside job with the police force further underscores the Dark Knight’s similar thesis, reminding us of the Joker’s own infiltration of the Gotham Police Force. Just as in the Dark Knight, we wonder if we can trust the government to truly protect us if one of their own is willing to rob, steal, and kill to get ahead in this dark America.
The post-war society that Nolan reveals in The Dark Knight mirrors that of the society in The Killing—perhaps due to the United State’s recent decision to go to war with Vietnam and World War II’s revelation about the lengths our government would go to defend themselves. The narrator explains that “Johnny had no choice but to save himself and the money.” But only in this patriarchal, capitalist, American world does Johnny have no choice but to save himself and the money. He does indeed have a choice—just like we all do—but he choses to not sacrifice himself and not become the heroic exception.
The film ends with a scene eerily similar to one in the Dark Knight—so much so that it is obvious Nolan takes cues from The Killing—as Jonny’s millions fly away into the darkness of the night, we are reminded of the Joker’s epic burning of millions and millions of dollars. Money, the film says, literally means nothing. The foundation of capitalism and of our vast economic powerhouse of a country is an empty promise of a better life.