so, about heath ledger’s joker then…
last thursday was the uk premiere of the “dark knight” and charlotte and i went to watch it with our friend chris. i don’t normally go to premieres but our friend chris is a big blockbuster fan and so it was nice to get swept up into the whole opening night thing.
organisationally the night was a bit of a balls up, however. we ended up getting to the cinema 20 minutes late, by which time we’d already missed the first 5 minutes of the film! i had to do lots of breathing exercises ’cause i’m so anal about seeing the beginning of films i’m bordering on autistic.
things got worse when, predictably, there weren’t any seats left for us (it wasn’t reserved seating). i managed to find charlotte a seat and then had to go and sit on the floor in the very front. it was one of those concave screens and so, craning my neck up, i got something of a twisted view of the film.
in spite of this i found myself drawn into the film from the very beginning (well, the beginning that i saw) and except for the last 45 minutes or so when i got tired i was totally into it!
there has been a lot of talk about ledger’s joker in the buildup, lauding the actor for his performance. predictably, in england, there has been a bit of a backlash with reviewers over-compensating and being overly crtical of leger and saying that bale and eckhart’s performances were better. well, for me, eckhart, while he was pretty good, was definitely not better than ledger and was probably the weakest link in the film. bale was pretty good too but i don’t think i could say he was definitely better than ledger. and the man himself?
haha! i laugh because its such a difficult question. such a loaded question. it is and has been the question for over a year now. but before i go into all my opinions and the thought processes i had during the film, i’ll tell you that the short answer is he’s very good!
one of the citicisms levelled at ledger is that his is a “one-note” performance and, while i can’t disagree with this assessment i don’t think it was a bad thing. also, one man’s “one-note” is another man’s “unvarying”, “uncompromising” or, perhaps “focused”. the way i saw it, ledger’s joker was a performance that just simply didn’t let up. he was in your face, he was there, he was consistent and he wasn’t going to go away. and i think that was a good thing. there is loads one can do with all the various ranges of depth of his psychotic personality but its a potentially slippery slope playing up to them as the character could so easily lose his focus (and with it, the film too). i think the joker that nolan and ledger give us works well because it is a focused portrayal.
this is also not to say that there wasn’t subtlety to ledger’s performance, because under his unrelenting stare there are actually some suprising and hidden subtleties. there are little incongruities that raise their heads, little inconsistencies in the joker’s behaviour and what he says, but which were delivered in the same manner… and when you realise them it adds a little bit of depth to ledger’s joker (and also a little bit more creepiness!).
the first time he walks onto the screen was really cool for me! it just grabbed me. i was captivated. its probably partly the hype but also because its a well-orchestrated scene. its a really good moment and it set up his performance for the film.
it was hard watching, though, not so much because of him being dead but because of all the build up. and the build up was immense even before he died. so yeah, in my mind whilst trying not to expect too much little expectations insidiously crept their way into my mind – and so subconsciously i developed expectations of him to be more than any actor can portray at once…
as a result, initially i found his voice a little odd and found his accent a bit strange accent. its not a strange-strange accent, but more of an accent than he usually puts on. i also didn’t expect him to change the pitch of his voice and just assumed he’d use his natural voice, which is quite deep and which i thought would be quite cool and dark. he also has this little tic, which i found a little annoying but then other people tend to like these things.
not that i think an actor can’t incorporate a tic and change their voice, of course. like i said, i just developed these subconscious expectations…
it also doesn’t help that i’m a comic fan (i don’t know if i’m knowledgable enough to call myself a fanboy) and have seen many different incarnations of the joker. i also have very definite ideas of how he should be, which is rarely satisfied by the way he is presented in any media.
but thankfully, as the film progressed, i got over all these distracting thoughts and feelings and enjoyed ledger’s performance. and its mostly because of how good he was!
seeing is believing
so what was it about ledger’s performance that made me think it was so good? it was his focus and commitment.
also, there’s always that challenge (and the biggest challenge an actor faces i reckon) when the audience asks themselves “do i believe he or she is this character?”. i don’t mean that thorough examination or that piercing stare, i just mean that little almost unspoken question that arises in the back of our minds, “do i believe that is the joker i’m seeing?”. and i did.
and thats all really. much more important than anything else, that is the significant thing about ledger’s performance and the essential criteria upon which we should judge him.
also, i can’t emphasise enough how enjoyable his opening scene was. watching his entrance and his first lines in that scene was an undiluted pleasure. it was a good scene and i simply enjoyed it – i didn’t think, i didn’t assess, i was a little boy again being captivated by the joker.
and so… ? what kind of joker was he?
it took a while for me to see through the haze of my subconscious expectations, but after a while his performance came into focus for me and i realised what he and nolan were going for. they weren’t going for the deepest and most psychological of jokers (although there was some of that of course) but most importantly they were trying to make him real.
this seems a bit redundant to say considering this has after all been the main thrust of nolan’s batmans…! but yeah, they tried to make him real. he was actually a real guy. they were simplifying him, paring him down. just making him a troubled, nasty and focused guy with a bit of a sick sense of humour. (and i mean a bit. because, although he does laugh, except for a few maniacal killings, he hardly giggles his way through the film. and his laugh is often very dry, insincere and ironic.)
ledger’s joker may not have the depth, range and subtlety of a big and colourful character, but to be honest that kind of performance would’ve looked daft in this film – the joker he gives us works perfectly for nolan’s “dark knight”. nolan’s batman films are edgy and realistic and ledger’s performance is made-to-order for his vision. the joker we get in this film is real and dark. and very believable.