So as you can probably imagine, Heath Ledger is much on my mind lately, what with the anniversary and the movie awards season and the year-end retrospectives on people who have died in 2008.
While I've been meaning to go back and see at least some of his other films, I haven't gotten around to it yet, what with school and all, as well as cultivating a social life for myself here in Sioux Falls, which has been so important to me because forming close relationships with other people is what makes life worth living, particularly for an Idealist like myself, and with Heath's death serving as a memento mori, I really didn't want to waste any more time in this sort of social vacuum in which I'd been existing for roughly two years.
But anyway, I was just watching a clip of an interview that Heath gave about Brokeback Mountain, and I realized I don't know if he had played any other roles in which he had to age as much as (or more than) he did in that film. Nevertheless, I still feel that that was an astonishing accomplishment for a young actor, to age a character 20 years over the course of a film. I always think of the character of Ennis Del Mar as burdened down by society's expectations, and as the years go by he becomes more and more burdened with his secret and the failure of his marriage, the lies he tells to himself and others, and finally the loss of Jack. And during all that time it's always and only on his mountain excursions with Jack that he can lay down that burden for a while and feel free and be himself. At the end of the movie the sense that I always get of him is that he's so world-weary, so spiritually crippled by the burdens that he's had to bear, and Heath's portrayal of that is so beautiful and inspired. When speaking about the role, he often talked about Ennis' rigidity and emotional guardedness and how his few words had to fight their way through clenched teeth and pursed lips, and for that reason I find the moments of tenderness that he portrays in the film all the more poignant; there are the obvious examples of the flashback and the scene with the shirts, but there are other, smaller moments too, so small that they defy description, but so significant and so achingly beautiful. It's awe-inspiring; even now--perhaps especially now--it fills me with wonder: how did he do that? how did he accomplish such a magnificent feat? And yet, at the same time I really don't want to know because that would spoil the magic of it--the heart-breaking, melancholy magic.
Not to take away from his accomplishment in The Dark Knight, which was also incredible. The two roles and two performances were so different that there's almost no basis of comparison between them except that they were performed by the same actor; the same genius at work but achieving two entirely different ends. It's still so sad to imagine what he might have accomplished, but I think there's a strong argument to be made that he'd already reached the level of virtuosity.