Heath Ledger’s Joker – My unpopular opinion
Mine is not a popular opinion. Basically, I just don’t find his performance of Joker in The Dark Knight to be “all that” as the kids might say in the 70s/80s.
It may be possible to attribute it to hype, as I first watched it several weeks after it’s release, by which point Ledger had already passed away and the world seemed to be in this “best thing ever” frenzy. That’s not to take away from what an achievement it was to capture such a thing on celluloid (do they even use celluloid anymore?), but I think it may have been ruined for me before I even got to watch it. “The bit with the pencil!” I kept hearing over and over, “The bit with the pencil!”
To me The Dark Knight was a story based around his “joke” being the corruption of a good man, Harvey Dent, and to create chaos/entropy. “Some men just want to watch the world burn” as Alfred (Michael Caine) put it so well. Batman is almost secondary to the whole thing. Was the marketing too heavily based around Joker? I remember the publicity for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace being purely around Darth Maul, and the disappointment at how few scenes he is, and his ultimate end. Rather than being called The Dark Knight, it may as well have been renamed Joker: A Batman Film.
Heath Ledger is a shining light in this film. Christian Bale’s Batman “voice” ruins any immersion I had in any scene he opens his mouth just by how ludicrous he sounds. Ledger’s Joker voice is a cut above by miles, but yet lacks the pants-soiling menace of Mark Hammill’s animated Joker. Beardman reminded me of the one scene I truly thought this was a terrifying Joker, where he has a hostage he is filming with a hand-held camera. He mentioned to me that Ledger shot and directed that scene himself, and I think if the rest of the film had been of similar quality that he would have been much better.
My endearing memory of Ledger’s Joker is a guy who is constantly licking his lips. Beardman couldn’t remember this, and I assure you if you go back and watch it, you will see him do it constantly. It’s like when you notice a singer take a breath before every line, you become so aware of it it’s all you can hear (Muse, I’m looking at you). He’s creepy, yes, and the bit with the pencil was cool, but he’s just a creepy guy who licks his lips a lot to me. All of the other cool moments such as action sequences and ‘splosions I wouldn’t attribute directly to Ledger.
I would certainly not wish to show any disrespect to him or his achievement in being awarded a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but I really do feel that the fact that he had died during filming and that he was this super scary character swept up a lot of viewers and they lost all objectivity.
Or I could be completely wrong. It’s a great film, no doubt, but it’s not the greatest. It’s not a film we’ll look back on in 20 or 30 years and study in great detail it’s mis-en-scene and subtleties. Inception, another Nolan film is a far more interesting and valuable study.
Consider this can of worms opened!