Before it was proven to be false, there was an ugly, persistent and disturbing rumor going around that the studio guys at Warner Brothers were thinking about using some leftover footage of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in their upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. Holy Zombie Resurrection, Batman! Didn’t this fat cash cow of a movie franchise make enough money already? Thankfully, Christopher Nolan refused to do it.
Ledger’s death was a tragedy, but pimping his last performance in a bad, overrated comic book movie would have felt like spray-painting graffiti on his tombstone and then selling tickets of the vandalism. Besides, although it was fun at first, watching Ledger devouring the scenery got really boring after a while. Other than being a compelling and ferocious exercise in technique, I thought it was a hollow triumph. It was depressing seeing the gifted Australian actor turn himself into a green-haired Al Pacino.
Ledger was much better than that. When he did work that he cared about (and let’s be honest, The Dark Knight was his first â€œI’m gonna be a millionaire!â€ movie), Heath was able to pour his immense talent inside an empty shell of a character lying dormant on the page and transform it into something luminous. Take the quiet, heartbreaking, kick-in-the-gut tragic story of Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, for example. Ledger’s brave performance left deep footprints in our memories that wouldn’t go away because we recognized that man as someone we knew, and felt his painful loneliness. But the Joker isn’t a real character, he’s just a noisy, bogus, and cheaply-manufactured gimmick that you’d only see in a comic book. Who cares?
Unfortunately, the Joker might be the only role of Ledger’s tragically brief career that people remember.
When a boss is interviewing job applicants, it’s usually the last interview at the end of the day that beats out everybody else because he’s the only guy that the boss clearly remembers. The Joker was a big performance in a big movie that made big money, so it’s not surprising that Ledger’s other roles in smaller but better movies are forgotten. The Dark Knight took up so much space that there wasn’t room for anything else. And of course, it being his last movie is a lucky and unexpected bonus for those greedy bean counters at Warner Brothers.
No, we’re not exploiting poor Heath, they’d probably say. We’re honoring his legacy.
Death was the best thing that ever happened to Heath Ledger’s career. It’s too bad he’s not around to enjoy it. Then again, it’s more money for them, right?