First of all, let's watch it, courtesy of GIFSoup:
1. The Pencil Trick Wasn't Chris Nolan's Idea - While Chris Nolan gets a lot of credit for the pencil trick, it was actually dreamt up by Chris Nolan's brother Jonathan. Jonathan Nolan has co-written a lot of his brother's movies, including Memento, Inception, and two of the Dark Knight Trilogy movies. He apparently also has a twisted sense of humor. Chris Nolan wasn't planning to film the scene, but Heath Ledger read it in the script and insisted on keeping it in the movie.
2. Chris Nolan Thought the Trick Was Impossible - Chris Nolan wasn't sure how they would pull off the trick without actually hurting the stunt man. Among other things, they considered making the pencil CGI. In the end, the stuntman just pulled the pencil away before his head hit the desk.
3. The Pencil Trick is All in Your Head - The scene is horrifying, but if you watch it closely, you realize it's all in your mind. You don't actually see the pencil going into the thug's head, and there's no shot of him lying on the ground with a bloody pencil in his eye. In reality, our imagination makes it far more brutal than it could have been.
4. The Pencil Trick Probably Wasn't Lethal - Yes, it actually is possible to kill someone with a pencil to the brain. By driving a pencil into the eye, it can penetrate the brain and cause death. However, most likely, it wouldn't have killed the unfortunate thug. Scientific American explained that objects penetrating the eye are common, but rarely fatal. This is the path they described:
An object entering the orbit where your eye sits has two options: it either breaks through the back of the orbit or follows the path of least resistance. If the object enters with enough force—like a bullet—it can exit the back of the orbit, as the bone there is relatively thin. If the force is lower however, the path of least resistance is directed by bony brain anatomy. A small diameter object like a pencil would enter the orbit, pass through the superior orbital fissure, follow grooves in the sinuses, and enter the brain underneath the frontal lobes, near (or in) the cerebellum and close to the brain stem.
In other words, if the pencil trick were pulled in real life, that thug would have suffered severe brain damage, but not been killed.
5. The Pencil Changes How We See the Joker - As detailed by Overthinking It, the pencil trick causes such an impact, because it triggers so many changes of perception in a brief period of time. Think back to that moment when you first saw The Dark Knight. When he walked into the gangster's meeting, we only knew the Joker from the bank robbery. We still weren't sure who he was, except as a cold-blooded killer. At that moment when the Joker says, "How about a magic trick" and takes out the pencil, he takes on a new form - as an entertainer. We think we're about to see something funny or magical. But when the Joker kills the thug, suddenly he shifts back into a killer, but now we see his psychotic and brutal sense of humor. Many in the audience expected something along the lines of Jack Nicholson's Joker where he killed people with a joy buzzer or squirting flower. The pencil trick made us redefine the Joker in our minds. This was a man who would kill someone with a pencil.
6. We Weren't Laughing - The most disturbing part about the pencil trick is that it's not really funny, at least not to most of us. With Jack Nicholson's Joker, we all laughed with him as he killed with his twisted puns and comedic toys. Heath Ledger's Joker was different. Most of the time, with The Dark Knight's Joker, he was the only one laughing. I mean, how many of us howled with laughter while he got beaten by Batman in the interrogation room. It was like the Joker's humor was on a different level. This ethos was particularly true with the pencil trick. While I know his "it's gone" line got a little bit of a laugh, most of the audience I was with reacted with horror, not laughter. It's kind of funny to make a pencil disappear by impaling a man's eye, but not as funny as the Joker saying he had a bat in his belfry.
7. The Pencil Trick Caused Complaints - The Joker's pencil trick has been called "perhaps the most astonishingly violent scene to ever make it into a 12A movie in the U.K." As a result, The Dark Knight triggered the most complaints to the British Board of Film Classification in a decade – over 200 complaints. Forty two percent of all the letters they received in 2008 were about The Dark Knight.
What do you think of the pencil trick?
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