Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight (2008)
|First appearance||Batman Begins (June 15, 2005)|
|Created by||Christopher Nolan
David S. Goyer
|Team affiliations||Gotham City D.A.'s Office|
|Supporting character of||Batman|
Rachel Dawes is a fictional character who first appeared in Christopher Nolan's 2005 feature film, Batman Begins. She was portrayed in that film by Katie Holmes, with Emma Lockhart as a younger version of the character in early scenes. Holmes also voiced Rachel in the Batman Begins video game. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Holmes in the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight after Holmes chose not to reprise. Gyllenhaal also appeared as Dawes on the viral marketing website I Believe in Harvey Dent, giving Harvey Dent her endorsement in the District Attorney election. Over the course of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer's film trilogy, Rachel becomes a tragic figure, after being targeted by the Joker and because of the choice she made between her suitors, Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. The character has not yet made a transition to the comics medium.
Fictional biography 
Batman Begins 
Rachel is Bruce Wayne's closest childhood friend. Rachel's mother worked as a domestic servant at Wayne Manor, and the two would often play together on the grounds. After Bruce's parents are murdered by Joe Chill, Rachel's mother seeks other employment and leaves Wayne Manor with Rachel.
Rachel enrolls in law school and gets an internship at the Gotham City District Attorney's office during her first year. After Chill is murdered for testifying against Mafia boss Carmine Falcone, Bruce reveals to Rachel that he intended to murder Chill himself, and is angry that Falcone had him killed, depriving him of his chance for revenge. Rachel is horrified, and tells Bruce that his late parents would be ashamed of him. She also takes Bruce down to the slums and shows him that Falcone's criminal empire has worsened the poverty created by Gotham City's economic depression, and states that every day more people just like Joe Chill turn to crime out of desperation. Soon afterward, Bruce leaves the United States and Rachel continues her studies in law school. Years later, she becomes an Assistant District Attorney.
Years later, Rachel dedicates her career to eliminating crime in Gotham, in the process making enemies of Falcone and later Dr. Jonathan Crane, Arkham Asylum's corrupt chief psychiatrist. Falcone eventually sends two thugs to kill her, but she is rescued by Batman. Around the same time, Bruce returns to Gotham. Rachel is surprised that he did not contact her, and later feels disappointed in Bruce, taking his playboy façade at face value.
Later, shortly after her boss is murdered, Crane drugs her with his fear toxin at Arkham while she is evaluating Falcone, who has suffered a psychotic breakdown from the hallucinogen. Batman rescues her again, administers an antidote and tells her that Crane is working with the League of Shadows, a terrorist organization led by Ra's al Ghul. He then gives her instructions for a plan to save the city from the League's attack, after which he sedates her and has his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, return her home. She wakes up in her bed, remembers Batman's instructions immediately, and delivers samples of an anti-toxin to Batman's ally, Gotham City Police Department sergeant James Gordon.
The League starts a riot in one of Gotham City's slums, and Rachel is trapped. Crane, who has now assumed the criminal alter ego of "The Scarecrow", attacks her again. She defends herself and a boy caught in the riot by firing a taser at Crane's face, driving him away. Soon, the city is overrun by Arkham's inmates, whom the League has released, and Rachel and the boy are surrounded by lunatics led by Falcone's henchman, Victor Zsasz. Batman saves them at the last minute and gives Rachel a hint as to his secret identity.
Towards the end of the film, Rachel visits the remains of Wayne Manor, finding Bruce and Alfred sorting through the wreckage. She and Bruce share a kiss, but she tells him that they cannot be together until Gotham no longer needs Batman. At the end of the movie's novelization, she is named interim District Attorney.
The Dark Knight 
By the start of the second film, Rachel is in a relationship with newly elected District Attorney Harvey Dent, creating a conflict between him, herself, and Bruce Wayne. Dent soon asks Rachel to marry him, but she does not have a clear answer, being torn between her love for both men.
At one point, the Joker confronts Rachel at Dent's fundraiser, holding her at knifepoint. Batman arrives and fights off the men, but the Joker grabs Rachel and throws her from the skyscraper window. Batman jumps out the window after her, breaking their fall on a car below.
Rachel is next seen at the funeral of police commissioner Gillian Loeb, who was murdered by the Joker. Masquerading as a police honor guard, the Joker attempts to assassinate the mayor but fails when Gordon puts himself in the line of fire. One of the Joker's henchmen is quickly caught; Dent flies into a rage upon seeing a tag with Rachel's name on his shirt, marking her as the next victim. Dent promptly threatens to kill the man, at which point Batman intervenes. Rachel then takes shelter in Bruce's penthouse at Dent's insistence. There she and Bruce briefly rekindle their romance. He admits that he desires to turn himself in as Batman and hopes they could eventually be together, to which Rachel states if he turns himself in they would not be allowed to be together. He leaves for Dent's press conference, where he sees Dent claim to be Batman and take Bruce's fall. Rachel is disgusted, and gives Alfred an unsealed letter to be delivered to Bruce "when the time is right." She promptly leaves the penthouse.
After Batman and Gordon capture the Joker, Rachel and Dent are kidnapped by corrupt Gotham City police officers working under crime lord Sal Maroni's payroll working under the Joker's orders. Batman interrogates the Joker and soon learns that the lives of both Dent and Rachel are at stake. The Joker tells Batman that he must choose which one of them to save and gives him both locations. However, the Joker has switched the addresses, with the intention of orchestrating Dent's downfall. Batman speeds off, believing that he is traveling to Rachel's destination. Both Rachel and Dent are tied up in rooms surrounded with gasoline drums and a phone-bomb, allowing them to talk to one another. Rachel tells Harvey that she accepts his proposal and wants to marry him. Batman arrives at Dent's location in time to save him, but Gordon arrives at the other too late, and Rachel is killed in the explosion. The loss of Rachel, in addition to his disfigurement, drives Dent insane and he becomes the murderous Two-Face, seeking revenge on those he holds responsible.
Upon her death, Alfred reads Rachel's note intended for Bruce, in which she reveals that she intends to marry Dent. She explains that while Gotham may come to no longer need Batman, she now feels that the day will never come when Bruce no longer does. She urges Bruce not to give up faith in other people, even if she has disappointed him. When Bruce relates to Alfred that his only solace is the knowledge that she would have waited for him, Alfred decides to burn the note, sparing Bruce the pain of the truth.
The Dark Knight Rises 
Rachel doesn't appear in The Dark Knight Rises, but is mentioned several times. Additionally, a picture of her appears in Wayne Manor, in Gyllenhaal's likeness. Bruce is portrayed as still mourning Rachel eight years after her death, having given up the mantle of Batman and rarely leaving Wayne Manor. When Bane attacks Gotham City, Bruce decides to become Batman once more to oppose him. In an attempt to stop him, Alfred finally confesses to Bruce that Rachel chose Dent and that he burned the letter in order to spare Bruce the pain. This revelation puts a severe strain on Bruce's relationship with Alfred, who then leaves Wayne Manor when Bruce decides to continue as Batman. Throughout the film, Bruce keeps a picture of Rachel. After Bruce and his allies defeat Bane, Talia al Ghul, and the rest of the League of Shadows, Bruce fakes his own death and passes his legacy as Gotham's Dark Knight to a young Gotham City police officer named John Blake (whose legal first name is revealed to be Robin), and enters a relationship with Selina Kyle. In doing so, he invalidates Rachel's fear that he would never be able to let go of being Batman and live a normal life.
Gyllenhaal has acknowledged her character is a damsel in distress to an extent, but says Nolan sought ways to empower her character, so "Rachel's really clear about what's important to her and unwilling to compromise her morals, which made a nice change" from the many conflicted characters whom she has previously portrayed.