On Batman (…duh…) (TPQ0058)
This post really isn’t about The Dark Knight because, frankly, there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. I saw it, I thought it was great. There are some people who didn’t like it, some people who want to bitch about it. Whatever The Dark Knight is, it’s about ten thousands times more of it than any Batman movie ever was. Go see it, even if you’re going to hate it, because if you *are* going to hate it, you’re never going to hate any movie quite as much as you’ll be able to hate this one.
Of course, if you do hate it, it’s probably because you’re a sissy.
Anyway. So, Heath Ledger, as the Joker. There’s an interesting phenomenon going on here, where after Ledger died, everyone was all, “OH GOD HE WAS SO BRILLIANT POSTHUMOUS OSCAR!” And then the critics, because it is their job to be critical, fought back. “Well, he was good, but he wasn’t brilliant. Let’s not give him extra points because he died.”
The critics are over-compensating. Ledger’s performance is maniacally marvelous, precisely for this reason: there is not a trace of Heath Ledger on screen. You want to know why folks seem to not be bothered, while they’re watching the movie, that Ledger died? It’s because you don’t recognize him. Not a single word betrays a hint of his natural inflections. He does not take a step, or twitch his creepy face, in a way that resembles his own form and movement at all.
One critic suggested that this absence of self represented less the creation of a character, and more the “annihilation of self,” and suggested that it was partly responsible for Ledger’s suicide. This is retarded for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is not simply the annihilation of self; Ledger’s Joker is a completely-formed character. He’s a fractured, schizophrenic character, yes–but a meticulously broken mirror is harder to make than a whole one. The Joker’s radical insanity is actually a more difficult act to pull off than the more standard crazy you see in Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent (which he did a great job at, by the way).
Secondly, the annihilation of self is actually the goal of acting. Everyone who is good at acting strives for it, because one of the first things that you learn, as an actor, is that all of those inflections, movements, and patterns of behavior that identify you as “you” are completely mutable. You can change them, to seem like a different person. THAT’S WHAT ACTING IS.
Thirdly, I don’t know what this deal is with people who think that actors go crazy from the parts they do. Every actor I know that got messed up by a part was already messed up in the first place. That’s because that’s how it works; you don’t become crazy to play a crazy man in a movie–you ACT LIKE a crazy man. You do it thoroughly, sure, but that doesn’t give you schizophrenia. There are plenty of actors whose performances in films and onstage ended up taking a toll on their psyche–usually, these are actors who are severely depressed or neurotic to begin with (it’s a profession that attracts neurotics), it’s usually the product of playing a role too close to yourself, rather than playing the alien from Planet Fucking Crazy, and it’s mostly the result of the regular demands placed on you by the production schedule.
The fact of the matter is, none of you know what was going through Heath Ledger’s head. I don’t know, either. Leave off the speculation, critic (he’s remaining nameless a) for courtesy’s sake, and b) because I don’t feel like looking him up).
Anyway, posthumous Oscar? Oscar determination always happens according to weird trends. Sometimes, the Academy awards it for a body of work, rather than an individual performance. But then, next year, they feel bad about slighting someone else’s really good performance, and so have to award it this year for someone who deserved it last year. Sometimes, they’re hard-core about only giving it to the best performance, sometimes they give it to sentimental favorites.
I don’t know. What I can say is: whatever set of standards that allowed Johnny Depp to be nominated for Jack Sparrow, that nominates Nicholas Cage for Charlie Kaufman, or, shit Jack Nicholson as that asshole in As Good As It Gets, must necessarily include Ledger’s performance as the Joker.
Whether or not he’ll win depends a lot on who else is up this year, but I can truthfully say that it deserves at least the nomination.