It’s the 7th anniversary of the death of Australian actor Heath Ledger, today – January 22nd 2015. I remember the announcement of his death coming with an echo of sorts, brought about by the bellow of a catalog of Hollywood big-wigs proclaiming that his role in The Dark Knight(2008) would be his crowning achievement; his mountain top.”What a shame he won’t live to see the rewards”, they said. Michael Caine, a legend of the industry, said it was “the greatest performance I’ve ever seen”, and legend dictates that he was so shocked by the quality of it that he even forgot his lines at one stage. The Dark Knight ultimately profited from such remarks; raking in thousands of casual film goers into the comic book world of Gotham and making a billion dollars to prove it. Heath Ledger’s death was a powerhouse of a promotional opportunity, but regardless of what we had heard about this performance previously, little could prepare us for what sort of transformation we were about to witness.
“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you stranger”
From scene one, he was the man to watch. Witnessing his last completed project, his posthumous goodbye, was a treat in of itself. But, upon removing the mask of the Joker, this scene became metaphorical of how Heath himself had bonded with the character; how they had become a single entity, and a moment in time. What could have so easily become a piece of admiration towards the talent of a young actor lost too soon, became a thrill ride alongside a character that we couldn’t turn away from. Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight was so special that it made us forget to appreciate Heath the actor, and instead made us believe and stand in awe of the character he was portraying. Even with the months of hype for his performance, we remembered the character – that’s how special it was.
He went on to win the Academy Award for best supporting actor at the following year’s Oscars, breaking new ground for superhero comic book movies, and then the cold reality of his death set in. We’d never see him again. Not Heath, not Joker, and not Heath’s Joker. In becoming the character he wished to portray as well as possible, the character had become him. Internally, by association, and by popular decree. Heath Ledger’s posthumous display changed a character 70 years old to fit the mould of his body, it was that good.