Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ledger's Lethal Legacy

Death dealt a jarring blow in Hollywood for putting a sudden and abbreviated end to the career of rising star Heath Ledger. Today, it is firing up the publicity for this year's highly anticipated film "Dark Knight", and is at the core of the film's marketing activities. The mystery surrounding Ledger's passing has added an enigmatic dimension to the complicated character he plays in the film, which co-stars believe he poured his soul into. The role of "The Joker" was a personality whom Ledger described as "a psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with no empathy inside him whatsoever". Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker consumed him until he could figure out the motivations and processes behind the criminal's mind. The indelible performance of Jack Nicholson was another factor Heath had to contend with.

The portrayal of a deviously wicked character, who delights in subjecting his victims to painful deaths while menacingly taunting them in the process, can only be the product of a convoluted mind completely absorbed in the evil that he applies with unabashed glee. This is the essence of the Joker, a man who is totally blinded by hatred which becomes his reason for living; and where he finds an uncanny fulfillment in its full expression by way of revenge. The superb handling by Jack Nicholson of this role stands out as the benchmark performance for the characterization of the Joker. He effectively wiped out the previous actor who played the part on television, and became the quintessential villain for the 70 year old comic book classic, Batman. With the exception of Danny DeVito's Penguin role, Nicholson is regarded as the ultimate Batman archfiend.

The profound immersion of Heath Ledger in the same role has produced a chillingly demonic persona that is morbidly terrifying and disturbingly penetrating; and video clips used to promote the film never fails to elicit hair raising fears that people talk about after its short preview. The images stick to the mind as if the Joker has possession of some portions of one's mental faculties. Heath inhabits the character with such grim determination, creating a sense that one is witnessing the workings of the Joker. It goes beyond just being a great piece of acting, but a vision of a black and twisted soul that has ceased to be human.

There seems to be a unanimous agreement that Heath Ledger more than held his own against the performance of Jack Nicholson for the same part. Some have opined that Jack seemed to be having fun in the film, at times dishing out a giddy scene in the process. Ledger's creation runs into the same character vein but with a much deeper sinister intent. Co-stars have noted how he suffered sleepless nights in a role that he said seemed to be changing his own personality to match the character he plays. And it scared him. This is not Ledger's last film, but it will be his legacy as a great actor. The characterization is in the realm of the darkest recesses of man's capacity for evil, and Heath gave his soul to the role. This is his signature role, one that will be the basis of comparisons with future performances if he had lived. It's what probably killed him, but the choice was worse if being alive meant being the Joker.



Right Truth said...

The Batman movies always had a cartoon-like look, like the comic books. I think Ledger took this to the furthest extreme. His character doesn't look the same, he looks/acts evil. Previous characters, like Nicholson's, were a joke, pardon the pun, viewers could relax and laugh at them. Not so with the Ledger character.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Debbie,

I agree with you completely. He is either a great actor or someone who went overboard on this particular role.

However, there is no denying that his compelling performance has surfaced a new element in the character of the Joker, one that is truer to the author's original intent.

The TV Batman series was a light treatment as it was designed for kids; such that the caricatured characters were bad jokes. The animated series was a little darker.

From the time this series "Batman Begins" was re-started, it has hewed very closely to the original concept. Heath's performance is truly frightening. :-) --Durano, done!