Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is almost inarguably the best superhero movie ever filmed. The movie was a perfect blend between realism and fiction, showing us how Batman could – hypothetically, of course – function in our own world without too many issues.
Now, aside from that, the movie also offered us a lot of memorable moments and quotes, one of which is the:
“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…”
This article is going to reveal all the necessary details about this famous quote from Nolan’s movie. You will find out who said it, when they said it, and under what circumstances, as well as what it actually means and how it can be related to some similar, real-life concepts. We’re also going to tell you where it was used aside from the original source.
Meaning of the “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…” Quote
The famous “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…” was first used in Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight. It was said as a response to Julius Caesar becoming the dictator of Rome to protect the Republic for a short time, only to remain there, not wanting to give up his powers until he was assassinated on the Ides of March.
The discussion at hand was Batman and his vigilantism, where the characters wondered how Batman could even operate outside the law, as the city had no means to control him.
Sure, Batman was the good guy then, but what if things went south at one point? To those for who Batman was just a masked vigilante, a symbol, there were some doubts that he could become a tyrannical enforcer of his ideals. But Harvey Dent still supported him.
And this is the result of that support. The quote was actually a reference to the fact that heroism isn’t eternal and that a hero will be perceived as a hero up until a point where he simply won’t be anymore.
So, he either has to die while he’s still ahead or, if he lives long enough, he will certainly lose the public’s trust and become the villain. This is why the role needed a refreshment, in Dent’s words, this is why, he thought, Batman needed a successor.
The quote is also fairly symbolic because it foreshadowed Dent’s own downfall. Dent was viewed as Gotham’s White Knight, a true hero fighting for a clean city.
Yet, as the story progressed, he suffered several tragedies that left him scarred and turned him into the villainous Two-Face, who would ultimately clash with Batman. The irony of this moment was strong and it was a powerful piece of character development, regardless of the tragedy that surrounds it.
Now, the history of philosophy has several similar quotes referring to this issue. One of the most famous ones is:
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche’s quote from his book Beyond Good and Evil is one of the German philosopher’s most famous quotes, especially the second part. It means that a person has to be strong enough to not succumb to the temptation of becoming what he fights against; it is likewise a “support” of heroism and a warning similar to Dent’s, that there is a fine line between remaining a hero and becoming a monster.
This is some A-grade existentialist philosophy, as we find a very similar principle in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, most notably Existentialism is a Humanism, which is a continuation of his magnum opus, the philosophical masterpiece Being and Nothingness.
There, Sartre stipulates that no one is born either a hero or a coward, and that we choose what will become of us, with there always being a possibility for a hero to stop being a hero, and a coward to cease being a coward.
Whether Nolan was directly influenced by these or some other philosophers, we don’t actually know, but the ideas behind these quotes and theories are completely the same.
Where Is the “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…” Quote Originally From?
The quote was first used in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the second part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, released back in 2008. The movie was based on a screenplay written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who wrote it from a story written by the former and David S. Goyer. There have been similar quotes throughout the history of philosophy, but this one seems to be completely original.
The source of the quote is the screenplay, as follows:
No, come on- how could you want to
raise children in a city like this?
I was raised here. I turned out OK.
Is Wayne Manor in the city limits?
Rachel gives Dent a withering look.
The Palisades? Sure. You know, as
our new D.A. you might want to figure
out where your jurisdiction ends.
I’m talking about the kind of city
that idolizes a masked vigilante…
Gotham’s proud of an ordinary man
standing up for what’s right.
Gotham needs heroes like you- elected
officials, not a man who thinks he’s
above the law.
Exactly. Who appointed the Batman?
We did. All of us who stood by and
let scum take control of our city.
Wayne watches Dent. Sees his passion.
But this is a democracy, Harvey.
When their enemies were at the gate,
the Romans would suspend democracy
and appoint one man to protect the
city. It wasn’t considered an honor.
It was considered public service.
And the last man they asked to
protect the republic was named
Caesar. He never gave up that power.
Well, I guess you either die a hero
or you live long enough to see
yourself become the villain. Look,
whoever the Batman is, he doesn’t
want to spend the rest of his life
doing this. How could he?
Batman’s looking for someone to take
up his mantle.
Someone like you, Mr.Dent?
Maybe. If I’m up to it.
Natascha reaches up and covers the top half of Dent’s face.
But what if Harvey Dent is the caped
If I were sneaking out every night
someone would’ve noticed by now.
Dent takes Rachel’s hand. Rachel glances at Wayne. Awkward.
Well, you’ve sold me, Dent. I’m
gonna throw you a fundraiser.
That’s nice of you, Bruce, but I’m
not up for reelection for three
years. That stuff won’t start for-
I don’t think you understand. One
fundraiser with my pals, you’ll never
need another cent.
Who Said “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…”?
As we have established, the quote was first used in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a 2008 superhero action movie focusing on Batman. The Dark Knight was the second part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, coming after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. Now that we’ve explained the context and meaning of the quote, let us see who actually said it.
If you’ve seen the scene we linked, you’ll see that it was Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart) who uttered the quote during a debate on Batman. Harvey Dent was a big supporter of Batman and the two of them even collaborated before Dent’s tragic downfall, and this phrase was actually a way of showing his support to Batman’s cause.
Most Famous Uses of the “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…” Outside of The Dark Knight
With postmodern culture being what it is, it didn’t take long for this epic quote to become a part of Internet culture. It was often used in a variety of contexts, mostly satirical or comical, especially to depict the “downfall” of someone who was supposedly a “good guy” in the beginning.
It was also used to reference different real-life or fictional events, where such a transition has been shown.
Here is our selection of the best memes that use this quote as a starting point:
This one is actually a proper reference to the events of The Dark Knight, Well, this one’s actually interesting and true. Ice Cube starred in many family comiedies, unlike his former colleagues like Tupac or B.I.G., who were shotThis one’s actually a Marvel (MCU) reference, showcasing just one example of how Marvel refurnished former heroic characters into villainsA good reference for all Game of Thrones fans who will understand the meaning behind this memeWell… this one speaks for itself, really. It’s more funny than anything else, but it’s great how the guys managed to connect this.And a classical twist on the quote, actually showing how it can wor the other way around as well, as Piccolo entered the world of Dragon Ball as a villain, only to re-enter it as a hero.