On Heath Ledger’s Last Performance

August 6, 2008 at 1:49 am (Movies)

Shef and I haven’t been able to stop raving about Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. We got to go to the midnight premiere and we sat up front–far enough so that our necks wouldn’t snap but close enough to immerse ourselves completely into the movie.

And let me tell you, that is the ideal way to enjoy the movie.

Heath Ledger didn’t just perfectly portray the Joker, he blew every other version of the Joker in the Batman universe out of the water. The movie jumped outside of the box so many times, defying supervillian conventions left and right, rendering the Joker as an over-the-top villian but an extremely believable one. While we eventually discover in a movie the villain’s past and understand his motivations, you don’t get anything from the Joker. I loved that they incorporated his compulsive lying problem in the film (“Do you wanna know how I got these scars?”) and you could tell that it wasn’t that he was trying to gather sympathy– he was just that much of a bleeding sociopath, completely absent of structure in his thinking.

The animated series painted the Joker as a debonaire psycho hell-bent on destroying Batman, Nicholson’s Joker was twisted and morbidly playful, whilst Ledger’s Joker was nothing but a demented, nihilistic, cold-blooded sociopath. He was a deranged ball of total anarchy and antipathy, an “agent of chaos” that didn’t really want anything in the world but to make it crumble. The fact that he didn’t have a past made him all the more terrifying: you didn’t know his buttons. You didn’t know his motives. You didn’t know what he was going to do next. He didn’t care about anyone; he hardly cared about what could happen to him. He was pure chaos, unpredictable and mercilessly destructive. As long as he was alive, things that held up the foundations, structure, and security of normal social life came tumbling down.

Ledger created the perfect antithesis to Batman. Batman utilizes all of these specially crafted suits and gadgets and vehicles while the Joker’s clothes were labeless and custom, his gadgets were jugs of gasoline and household explosives, and his vehicles were hijacked. Batman became an upholder of justice because his tragic past while Joker is an agent of chaos because he simply “does.” Batman sees each life, even the Joker’s, as something to be spared and salvaged, while Joker sees all people as primitive animals who have deluded themselves into thinking they are something more.

In a way, the Joker is perhaps far more intelligent than many other villains, perhaps even Batman himself. While his cynicism in humanity was proven wrong in the final scenes of the film, he still had a very taut understanding of the primal survival instincts of man. Humans are, in the end, society and technology and art and religion aside, another species of animal trying to survive on this planet. They only believe they are higher beings because they’ve enforced order upon the world. The Joker knows that underneath this illusion of order is fear and he snatches that advantage to rile everyone up. They are merely animals for him to observe and laugh at, to prove to everyone that he is right.

Take a look at Batman himself, after all. He even has to resort to brutality and “evil” to achieve justice.

In the end, I almost had to cry; it seems tragic that such a talented, incredible actor had to pass away before he saw the fruits of his labor, before he got to see how blown away the world will be at his performance. At times, it was next to impossible to see his face in the character; he throughly dissolved into this character. If he had to die, at least he left with a bang.




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