Is Heath Ledger’s Popularity Entirely an Outcome of The Dark Knight?

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The Greatest Performance of 21st Century

Why so serious?

I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you……Stranger

You know how I got these scars?

I am an agent of chaos”

Didn’t you just feel a prickle inside of you? The sensation unparalleled to any other, heedless to the number of times coursed through them. Perhaps, the one behind these iconic monologues was the man himself ‘Sui Generis’. For those, living under a rock, these are beloved expressions of ‘The Joker’ from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight portrayed by the legendary late Heath Ledger. Unarguably, hailed as one of the greatest performances of all time, and superior among all comic-book based characters. Although, the Mastermind behind the unique prestige of TDK is its extraordinary Director Christopher Nolan, yet it is the transcendent achievement of Heath Ledger that pulls cineastes recurrently.


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Heath described The Joker as, “Psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.” Preaching chaos and anarchy, Ledger and Nolan create an ‘absolute’ antagonist for Christian Bale’s Batman. They together explored the austerity and perplexity of the character, every layer which Heath meticulously poured into his role.

But as they say ‘He takes the best of us first’, On the rueful day of 22 January 2008, Ledger left us all while TDK held under the post-production. To commemorate the spectacle, the Director retained all of Ledger’s scenes as he filmed during the shoot unedited. Roger Ebert stated that Heath Ledger’s portrayal is a “key performance” and pondered whether he would become the first posthumous Academy Award-winning actor since Peter Finch in 1976.(What would have been the chances)

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Nolan quoted on Heath’s performance, “Everything about what he does from every gesture, every little facial tick, everything he’s doing with his voice-it all speaks to the heart of this character. It all speaks to this idea of a character who’s devoted to the concept of pure anarchy and chaos. It’s hard to get a handle on how those elements combine. The physicality reminds of great silent the comedians. It has a bit of (Buster) Keaton and (Charlie) Chaplin about it.The inopportune demise of Heath Ledger, couldn’t hassle his art to stun audience globally. To procure a stature, which undoubtedly remains impossible for many to fathom.

The Actual Problem

However, the debate is yet unabated. Is the popularity of Heath Ledger  entirely an outcome of The Joker? Is Heath Ledger’s legendary status an outcome of TDK? Such questions overwhelmed me, when the internet swarmed with memes and trolls hiring the expressions and monologues of the Clown. Actors and Artists have died earlier, but only a few have garnered such universal acclaim, while others are transformed into the memories of past.


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Allow me to clear this vague, one can comfortably identify with the monologues quoted in the beginning. Probably, one will end up arranging them in order. But if I quote, to exemplify;

He wanted you to know, that he changed his stars after all

You hate me, don’t you? ……Well, I always loved you.

Well, if you can’t fix it Jack, you gotta stand it

The above three monologues are also few of Ledger’s best, but for the fact that it’s trivial before the mammoth persona of The Joker. They are identifiable to either hardcore fans or film enthusiasts, but remain underrated within many circumstances. I thoroughly comply with the situation, regarding actors being announced or referred by their most prominent role. Leonardo DiCaprio was engulfed by the image crisis of Jack Dawson; the role he portrayed in the Titanic (1997), for around 5 years till Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can (2002) aided him. Keanu Reeves is another such example after the huge success of The Matrix Trilogy and the character Neo.

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A Great Performance Overshadowed by The Joker

In the case of Heath Ledger, his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in the Western Drama Brokeback Mountain (2005) was moving, exceptional and realistic as a bisexual Cowboy. He was nominated for the Best Actor category in 78th Academy Awards, but lost to another legend Late Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (2005; Dir: Bennett Miller). Director Ang Lee’s provoking romantic-drama provided Ledger his breakthrough role that amassed rather significant acclaim by critics, yet the general audience were yet to stipulate their share. This Century’s greatest actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, praised Ledger’s performance in the movie describing it “Unique, perfect”, with the final scene to be the most moving one he ever witnessed.

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Therefore, a sense of prejudice can be experienced within his filmography, through the popularity and box-office collections. Honestly, the blame befalls to none; The Joker has turned into an ideology after Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan graced the character. Now, it rather seems near impossible to regenerate the very lunacy, the madness, the influence it has over an entire generation. They set the bars and standards too high to restore the similar success. Yet, as an actor he had accomplished plenty before TDK, proving his affluence and ability.

Yes, it’s irrefutably true that Heath Ledger becoming a Global phenomenon was majorly the outcome of ‘The Joker’. But, for my personal outlook, Heath Ledger remains legend for The Actor he was, rather than the character he played. You’ll agree, I humbly presume.

Spike TV has recently premiered a documentary “I am Heath Ledger”, in Tribecca Film Festival this year.(Watching its trailer was reminiscing, I ran for my handkerchief at its end) Have your share of memories, watch the emotional trailer of this legend as his beloved ones share their halves with the world.

Watch the trailer here: I am Heath Ledger

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