Uneccessary Debate: Nolan’s Rachel Daweses

We at GWW love Batman.  Some would say the affection even ventures to the unhealthy.  These people are obviously deranged villain-types, so ignore them.  Batman wins. Your argument is invalid.


 Rachel Dawes was a made-up character, so luckily there’s no nonsensical ‘canon v. non-canon’ debate in this discussion.  At the core, Dawes actually makes sense and is an interesting and fitting addition to Nolan’s Batman-verse.  However, there is little debate between fans, non-fans, and devotees (hand raised) alike that the two actresses portraying Bruce Wayne’s childhood crush were weak points of an otherwise spectacular trilogy.  They irked in their own unique ways and meant far more in death and absence than in actual screentime.  At least you could understand them… Enough jibberjabber.  These two really grind my gears, and I sleep in a Batman snuggie.  Let’s get to it.  Drop everything.





Pre/Non-Batman Cred


This seems to be a runaway victory for Gyllenhaal.  She is a fine, fine actress.  I love Stranger than Fiction and she has an interesting, well-regarded career overall.  An added plus?  She has been happily married to Peter Sarsgaard for years, with children who as they grow up have quite a peculiar family filmography to cull through between their parents’ resumes.  Both Peter and Maggie, in my book, are pleasantly odd (if you’ve been reading any other posts, you know that could be another tagline for our mindset here.) and have been in multiple films worth your time.  Though I wouldn’t want to explain to my kids what was going on in Secretary or why daddy was in Green Lantern… Katie Holmes is odd.  Not the pleasant kind of odd, methinks.  She was on Dawson’s Creek, which despite anything negative we could (and have) said about regarding the show, was a cultural phenomenon.  She’s not a particularly good actress by most counts, though was assuredly funny on How I Met Your Mother in a guest role as ‘the slutty pumpkin,’ an excellent storyline.  But let’s come right out and say it.  Whether it be via brainwashing, money or other means, she was very much involved with Tom Cruise and all his weirdness.    Though reports lead us to believe she wised up and got out in the interest of her daughter, Suri (name aside, points for that mothering if true), that relationship is multiple points against her.


Winner: Maggie Gyllenhaal, mostly by Tom Cruise default (despite her fine acting resume.)



Irritation Factor


This is really an umbrella category with several parts underneath.  Some of it is just scripting, too.  From their voices (and lines they’re both forced to deliver) to the pursed-mouth skeptical face, the character of Rachel Dawes irritates.  This is a crucial category in this made up debate. The character, and therefore both actresses, are tasked with a purse-lipped skepticism & self-righteousness that seems silly on Holmes and haughty on Gyllenhaal.  To read too much into the characters, one could argue Holmes’ version in Begins is, well, the beginning of Batman, so all characters demonstrate a level of immaturity.  However when we get to the recast of Rachel in TDK, she becomes pretty quickly dislikable.  From merely the way she says ‘Harvey‘ (“HARRRRRVEY, I know this case backwards.”  I won’t even link to that clip it bothers me so) while talking to a still-handsome Aaron Eckhart to her spectral voice-over narration of her letter to Bruce, her lines for the most part grate my eardrums.  Maybe I just don’t like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s delivery?  I’m not alone in speculating on this stuff, by the way.  Her character gets more than troublesome in The Dark Knight.  Regardless of how you feel she treated Bruce (again, this link is an example of people devoting WAY too much time discussing this…), she’s also kind of rude to Alfred.  This is of a more personal note, I just don’t like her tone when she talks to Michael Caine, especially given their backstory.


Winner, by losing? – Katie Holmes, the lesser of two irritants.


no. lawyered. no.

No. Lawyered.  End of discussion.


Believability as a Lawyer


Sorry, Katie Holmes Slutty pumpkins, Scientology and any association with the movie Jack & Jill disqualify you from being named to any position of power. Please feel free to file an appeal with your state’s Supreme Court or alien overlords.


Winner: Gyllenhaal, racking up the by-default victories.




Amount of Fight In Them


Apologies, Ms. Holmes, but I love this scene.  You get drugged and help for sure in Batman Begins, but only Mrs. Gyllenhaal gets complimented by the Joker.

Winner: Gyllenhaal, who apparently has got a little fight in her… 




Impact on Batman/the Story


“Will,” you might say, “this seems like an especially ridiculous category among ridiculous categories – Rachel dies in The Dark Knight, is this another default win, you cop-out artist?” First of all, spoiler alert, jerk.  Second of all, in a twist worthy of M. Night ‘I-will-never-have-not-made-The-Happening’ Shyamalan, you would be wrong wrong wrong.  While Rachel’s death certainly shapes Batman, I would argue the whole series, and Nolan’s take on Batman, is set up by his unmasking (see what I did there) in Batman Begins and the dynamic established in that first film.  Bruce Wayne’s relationship and trust in Rachel from Begins-ing set up, yes her death, but also the larger story arc completed/fulfilled in The Dark Knight Rises.  Some folks may not love the ending of that final chapter, but in Nolan’s Batman-verse, it makes sense and fits the characters’ established throughout the story/stories.  Your concerns with that ejector seat/ final cafe scene are supported and valid, however remain a separate discussion entirely.  Bruce’s trust of a conveniently named young officer and the broader understanding of the role of Batman cannot happen without Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in the first groundbreaking film.  She wins for starting an interesting narrative arc.


Winner: Katie Holmes.  Rachel’s death in TDK means nothing without the first film, and her ‘what we do’ line, while cheesy, is the least terrible.



You might think upon this close examination that Maggie Gyllenhaal has won.  You’d be wrong.  Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes was the less-awful of two bad choices.  We all win, because no one wins.  Truthfully, they both kinda sucked.  Especially compared to the ladies of The Dark Knight Rises.  


So Marion Cotillard wins.






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About Author: Will McMahon

Will has eclectic movie, television and music tastes. He likes Batman, horror movies and Mark Ruffalo. Has seen every episode of 'The O.C.' at least twice, so take him with a large grain of salt. Accomplished beard grower. Bad movie enthusiast. Lyrical genius. Some have said he is a real-life version of Nick Miller from 'New Girl.' No word on whether or not this is a compliment.