Oscar and Heath: Dancing in the Dark

jokerThis Thursday, the Academy Award nominations will be announced at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles … I fully expect the late Heath Ledger to be named in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

He’ll win it too.

Why?

Pretty simple, his performance was flat out the most unforgettable of the year.  Ledger was always a welcome presence in good films (A Knight’s Tale) and bad (The Brothers Grimm), but he never commanded the screen like he did in Dark Knight.  I think it was a combination of the off the rails nature of the part, and the macabre makeup he wore for it.

The filthy green hair, the white face, black eyes, and bloody red knife slit of a mouth.  He disappeared into this twisted wreck called The Joker, and spat out a yowl of sadistic pain and malevolence.  It was Shakespearean in scope, and lifted a 20th century pop culture phenomena to the hard earned level of timeless art.

Yeah, yeah all you comic book and graphic novel haters I hear your moans.  Get over yourselves.  The Dark Knight is a breakthrough piece, and it took Ledger’s performance to make it happen.

heathThat’s also what makes his untimely death such a dispiriting loss.  Accurate or not, many tie The Joker’s demons to Ledger’s.  In the end did the role consume him?  I don’t think so.  Ledger made some irresponsible and self-destructive decisions in his personal life.  The discipline and commitment he displayed in his work didn’t seem to translate to the real word.  It’s tragic, but true.

I think you have to be careful not to romanticize his death either.  It was stupid and selfish.  His little girl deserved better.  I felt the same way about the death of Kurt Cobain and you could say the same thing about writer David Foster Wallace.  I like to think that an artist can have an incredible breakthrough moment and then go on to have a long and expansive career.  Bruce Springsteen, Clint Eastwood, Neil Gaiman all qualify.  It’s the paradox of art and free will.

So, on Hollywood’s biggest night Oscar and Heath will be joined … it’s a shame they’ll be dancing in the dark.

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