The Dark Knight movie review: dim hope

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Everything about this is wrong.

It’s wrong that Heath Ledger is dead, that he’s gone and will give us no more like this, a performance that is so heartstoppingly, terrifyingly authentic that it barely seems like performance. It’s wrong that we’ve lost his promise, that we’ve lost what he might have given us a decade from now, two decades from now. I cried for him, watching this, and for us.

It’s wrong that Ledger’s death lends this even more significance than we might have seen otherwise, or at least that his death makes it impossible to separate that terrible fact from the terror-full character he plays here. Because this Joker, in Ledger’s hands, is like a monster sprung full-grown from our collective id, a beast easy to despise because he is so recognizably us, the awful side of us, not necessarily as individuals but as a puppet of all of us, fueled by the mutual societal self-destructiveness — as evidenced by the ongoing collapse of our economies, of our environment, of our inability to stop ourselves going over a cultural cliff — that some of us rage against it to seemingly no effect.

I hate that I have to think that Ledger’s own, in retrospective, clear urge to self-destruct had anything to do with how powerfully he brings to life this gollum of our apparent urge for species-cide. But the possibility seems inescapable. And yet, if it’s true, then the Joker is even more damning an indictment of us all than anyone could have planned for.

This is the kind of shit that The Dark Knight has me thinking. Miserable, depressing shit that makes me want to crawl into bed for a week and not even peek out from beneath the covers. But, of course, I’m a miserable, depressed creature of our modern cultural environment, so I cannot help but see Dark Knight as brilliant, genius even, a wonderful, wretched encapsulation of everything that’s fucked up about the world, and a few very tiny things that might be hopeful about it.

Ledger’s (I’m Not There, Candy) Joker — in Christopher Nolan’s followup to 2005’s zeitgeist-wise Batman Begins — springs from nowhere, here, and everywhere. The Joker just turns up to terrorize Gotham City: he is no one, an always-anonymous man — and a man he is, however psychotic — and he is everyone. He’s that impossibility that we, in the outside-of-the-movies world, have been “trained” to see everywhere, even though they don’t exist, at least not on any meaningful scale: the terrorist with no cause, no politics, who’s just an inexplicable madman unmotivated by anything other than insanity. And yet, how could he be anything other than inevitable in the cesspit that is Gotham City (that is, in other words, perhaps the whole word), where wannabe Batmans dress up in capes and hoods and spray machine gun fire into mobs of bad guys? Where the rules are that there are no rules?

That’s the catch, the out that saves Nolan’s (The Prestige, Insomnia) Batman from accusations of glorifying vigilantism or extralegal adventures in the name of truth and justice and peace. I mean, you can say that, if you want, and I’m sure people will, but they’d be wrong, because Batman here is all about adhering to rules higher than those that are written down, whose spirit and letter can be ignored. That’s explicit here: Batman may be extralegal and without jurisdiction, and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale: I’m Not There, 3:10 to Yuma) may be as psychotic and as much a showman, in his own way, as the Joker, but he knows which rules cannot be broken, cannot be winked at and ignored, and the Joker doesn’t. There is, with true justice, only the spirit of the rules, and contravening them is where evil comes in.

And that is here, too, in Gotham district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart: No Reservations, The Wicker Man), who is on a campaign to wipe out organized crime in the city and is every bit the upstanding boy scout he appears to be… until it all touches him personally. His philosophy — which is about the Batman, but which also hits disturbingly close to home in other ways — is: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” That is bitter, and misanthropic, and cruel, and entirely justified as a way to explain Batman, Gotham, humanity… at least as seen through this dark lens. It’s not a pleasant view of… anything, but it’s hard at this moment in time to see it as other than accurate.

Christian Bale will inevitably get short shrift in all the (justifiable) lamenting over Ledger, which is too bad, because he continues to be breathtaking as Batman. It’s one thrilling thing to see him in the batsuit leaping off a skyscraper, and yet another entirely to see how Bale lends Bruce Wayne the weariness that makes him so poignant: stripping off the batsuit to reveal how bruised and scarred he is… well, as insane as he is, Bruce becomes the lens through which we see the hope. What is worth sacrificing in the name of the greater good. What decency people can muster in indecent times. What it takes for people with principles to make a stand when principles seem unvalued.

If Dark Knight is a nightmare of particularly modern neuroses, then Batman/Bruce Wayne are a tiny ray of hope upon awakening.

Or would be, if he weren’t fictional.

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Sara
Sara
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 6:09pm

I would like to see this movie, too, but knowing that Ledger (or a part of him) may, in fact, not have been “acting” (as MaryAnn eludes to) is so sad, so heart-breaking, so horrific that I don’t know if I can watch it. As a psychotherapist, I don’t know that it’s possible for me.
I can imagine what MaryAnn writes of in terms of our entire cultural sickness will be so depressing that I will want to vomit.
I haven’t seen the movie, yet, I already say, what MaryAnn begins this review with…

Jeremy
Jeremy
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 6:14pm

Cannot wait! Going in a large group, and I loved your Batman Begins review too! Gave me insight I never saw into it at first.

Newbs
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 7:20pm

Well, it isn’t really any more comforting, but the Medical Examiner ruled Heath Ledger’s death was accidental, not a suicide — so I’m not sure how accurate it is that he had an “urge to self-destruct” … seems like an unwarranted assumption. Dunno; the whole thing is a shame, regardless.

Sara
Sara
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 7:34pm

Yes, but Ledger was clearly aggitated, asking for meds, having high anxiety, couldn’t sleep, all the signs that we know point directly to the need for psychiatric intervention, not just prescriptions from various physicians. Ledger told others that this role was doing a number on him (or him in this role–what it was bringing him in touch with.) What seems saddest to me is that no one gave him any help or insisted on it even–simply thought perhaps (as many will do–he’ll be OK) and hey, whatever, the angst, it’s really driving an amazing performance. I’ve had patients that if they’d been filmed in a movie would win Oscars. Not to compare them to Ledgers true acting talent at all. It’s that when one has gone over the edge, put that with acting talent and… Ugh. I don’t think I can see this.
Actually, I wonder about the ethics of it even being released. It will surely make tons of money and money seems to be valued above all. My guess is that MaryAnn is totally on target in this review. And in a way that many people just won’t “get.” Which is even more painful.

Mathias
Mathias
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 9:20pm

Saying Heath’s Joker had a hand in his death devalues Heath’s talent and abilities as an actor. His friends and cast members all said he was fully capable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy. It’s a dramatic story that plays well in newspapers and tv reports but it ignores all testimonies of those closest to him.

Anyway, i can’t wait to see this film 3 times on Friday.

I just know i’m gonna love it ‘cuz Nolan can do no wrong.

Sara
Sara
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 9:26pm

MaryAnn says you should see it. So you should go if you want to. Re: friends and cast members comments now (as the movie is coming out) are very different than what they said at his death…and what Ledger himself had said…even on video. My opinion…someone should have intervened and they didn’t. Then when Ledger was clearly deperate, it seems he didn’t get the right kind of help. Only prescription drugs.
The whole thing is very sad but yes it will be a phenomenal performance…I certainly don’t take one thing away from his acting talent. That’s not even the point. Nor is it MaryAnn’s.

Jeremy
Jeremy
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 11:11pm

The angle that this role aided to the demise of Ledger, in any manner, is simply false in all respects. Ledger’s work here was completed four months before his passing, and he had already moved onto another project. The wet, rainy shoots in London on Dr. Parnassus made him come down with illness, and while back in New York, he accidentally mixed too many prescriptions drugs together. He was actually heard snoring an hour before his time of death.

Every actor on the set of Parnassus said he looked fine on the outside, but knew he was coming down with an illness due to the rainy shoot. That was the only glimmer of warning. On The Dark Knight, Ledger wasn’t jumping around in character once the cameras stopped, but instead would sit down and talk with cast and crew of his daughter and the filming techniques on the shoot.

This is not some grisly case of the man dying on screen due to a mistake. This was entirely outside of the film itself.

Sara
Sara
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 11:32pm

Jeremy,
You sound like a personal friend of Ledger’s. Wish your take was the whole deal. Somehow I don’t think it is since he himself said what the role of the Joker did to him…and yeah, it can be three months prior…that’s not long…and then come down with pneumonia (which I think would make things horrible) especially if you’re already possibly depressed. All I know is what I heard Ledger say himself on a video. And it was about the Joker role. The other that you describe heaped on top of Batman would be the icing on the cake.
Anyway, knowing this tragedy, I’m not going to this movie. We do know that it did a number on Ledger and knowing that and with the questions that linger I’m not going to see it. If you can compartmentalize so well, then the issues re: Ledger (even as MaryAnn describes) won’t bother you because you’ll set them aside. I can’t do that.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 11:40pm

Heath Ledger’s death was accidental, not a suicide

We’ve been over this before. As I said then, I’m not sure I believe there’s such a thing as an “accidental” overdose.

Sara
Sara
Tue, Jul 15, 2008 11:53pm

Agree completely, MaryAnn. I’ve sat beside many a patient in intensive care on consultations, hoping they’d pull through. Some made it, others didn’t. They just wanted to get some sleep, get rid of pain, whatever. They wouldn’t have said, I am intentionally trying to kill myself. Something(s) in life became too overwhelming and symptoms became too difficult…”accidental overdoses” happen more often than people seem to realize.

Jeremy
Jeremy
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 12:56am

Accidental perscription drug overdoses do indeed happen, and unfortunately are on the rise. Not to say there wasn’t abuse involved here, which is why a DEA investigation is still underway into who was prescribing. However, Ledger had actually only taken two prescriptions before heading to bed. Unfortunately, this was still too soon to the previous medications he had taken hours before, and his body toxicity became overwhelming. The best we can take away from this incident is the awareness of the growing problem, and learn form it.

Anywho, I leave you now with a recent story about Ledger and his time in Chicago:

http://tinyurl.com/59xz7b

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 1:35am

Jeremy,
I agree with much you say. Also, though, the interview in the UK (during The Dark Knight)Ledger says he can’t sleep, is exhausted, and has gone for nights and nights with only two hours of sleep, his mind wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop thinking. Not a good picture. And one that could lead a person (when this stuff just continued and continued) to try to quiet the thoughts, get some sleep, relax, just sleep–anyway possible. The Joker was a role that would freak any actor out if they played it to the hilt in the way Ledger did on two hours of sleep, mind racing, always in character, anxious, observably jittery, etc. The warnings were there in the UK interview. There were other issues–his family life (Michelle and his child), the pneumonia (which can exacerbate any obsessive thoughts and depression.) I also think Ledger was the kind of guy (well, it’s pretty obvious) that hid his feelings well. He would try to act upbeat even if he wasn’t, that kind of thing. But jittery, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t sleep, mind racing, exhausted… Sad, sad, sad. And preventable with correct intervention. That’s what bothers me so much. As MaryAnn said, a story for our times…so much preventable with proper attention and intervention. But if the problems aren’t seen, or are ignored, or are brushed off, crashes inevitably occur.

Chris
Chris
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 2:23am

You should stop with all the assumptions and what ifs. What use does it have? You simply don’t know if it was suicide and any thinking about it will do you no good (which is apparent when I read your comments). I know that some of you won’t be able to switch those thoughts off at will but perhaps you should try to focus on the positive things instead. For one: He gave a wonderful performance and will be loved for it by Batman-Fans and Non-Fans alike for a long time to come.

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 2:36am

It was NOT suicide (as you argue above–I didn’t say it was.) That’s not the point. If you can’t see the events (not event) that led up to his demise, then there’s nothing to say. His death could have been prevented. Knowing that…and knowing what he himself said, I won’t see the film. But you will. Fine for you. My experiences and what I know and see are different than yours. I’ve talked to many Batman fans (and Joker fans for that matter) that said they weren’t going. So, hey, it isn’t just me.)There are those who recognize a psychological train wreck (even if highly talented) in action over a period of time–and one that is alone in the midst of it–alone and miserable and can’t even sleep. KNOWING that in advance, I won’t go. I’d thought I might, but I won’t.

Chris
Chris
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 3:06am

I’m not Jeremy.
Of course there were events that led to his death. Otherwise he wouldn’t be dead. Would you say that there would be a 100% guarantee that he would live now if he hadn’t played the Joker? Of course, you wouldn’t say that. 50% perhaps? Who knows? He said that he never slept well if he invested as much thought in a character (it was the same with previous films). Perhaps he shouldn’t have made films at all.
You claim to be one of those who recognizes a psychological train wreck? And you can recognize him as such after some video interviews without actually seeing im in person? Or did you know him?

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 3:20am

I’d say yeah, from watching the UK interview, I could see things fraying apart for Ledger. I know the signs…seen them for years. But that’s not really the point. MaryAnn addressed the issues of our entire culture in her review and that seems to go completely unaddressed with no concern of what she is pointing to. What this movie symbolizes. It’s not for those that are simply going for an action picture as MaryAnn makes clear. And, I think, many will miss what she is saying in this excellent review. It’s strange to me and I could be very wrong about this, but it seems that I am overwhemingly outnumbered by males on these posts. Not sure what that says. And byt, I hated Sex and the City movie. Loved In Bruges.
This movie has more dynamics that I think I’d clearly get and would make me feel as MaryAnn (horribly depressed myself) and then add the loss of Ledger to it. But everyone must make up his/her mind whether to go or not.

PaulW
PaulW
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 9:40am

Can we focus on the movie and not on the conspiracy theories?

JoshDM
JoshDM
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 10:50am

I do believe there’s a sort of thing as an accidental overdose.

Look, when you suicidally overdose, it’s generally the same pill. Heath died from a bad combination of pills.

D
D
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 11:03am

Changing the subject a little, do you think he hgas a chance of getting an oscar nomination for best supporting actor (and if he does, do you think that would be apropriate, like, should some family member go get it)?

Jeremy
Jeremy
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 11:33am

If it so happens that way, I’d love to see Daniel Day Lewis accept the award on Ledger’s behalf to give to his family. Lewis’ tribute to Ledger at the award ceremonies was quite moving, even though he had never known the man.

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 11:49am

Daniel Day Lewis is one to throw himself completely into a role and says it’s a very dark place (if the character is)…can be very disconcerting or worse. Combined with all the things Heath had going on, Lewis was concerned evidently–or either afterward could see why events spiraled downward. Lewis would be a good one to accept any award if the family didn’t want to. Why not Michele Williams (if she wanted to)?

Nick Plowman
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 3:12pm

http://fataculture.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/review-the-dark-knight/

Just reviewed it myself, and I concur with you indeed.

Newbs
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 4:01pm

We’ve been over this before. As I said then, I’m not sure I believe there’s such a thing as an “accidental” overdose.

Maybe you’re right, but I’ve been a lot more conscious of how many sleeping pills I take since then, just the same… it’s weird how something like that can become a part of your own life in such a tiny way. For some goddamn reason I think of Heath Ledger ever time I can’t sleep.

Regardless, I agree with the above poster who said this speculation might “devalue” his performance. Then again, I haven’t seen the film yet. Maybe I’ll hate it. Maybe I’ll think Jack’s Joker was better. Either way, I’m going to have a hard time separating the performance from the life, but it seems important to try.

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 4:11pm

Nick,
What in particular do you concur with MaryAnn about? How did the Ledger issues (whatever they may be, however you might feel or not about them) affect you? Did you feel horribly saddened as MA discusses. Did you see the movie as a mirror held up to our culture? I had planned to see this movie, but the Ledger piece of it (in all it’s confusion and ambiguity) makes me turn away. I don’t want to remember Ledger this way. Even if he is dynamic–I suppose I’d prefer to remember him as the confused and profoundly sad, but very dear cowboy in Brokeback Mountain, than the manaically pathological, lonely, sick Joker. Sure, I’d like to see Bale et al, but I don’t think that Ledger’s performance will do anything but depress and as I said, make me feel really ill. Such a waste, as MA begins her review (or gets to that point–the sadness, the loss.)
For those who can comparmentalize, push aside such things, view the film as film only, forgetting the real lives of the characters, I say go, but otherwise, I think it would haunt in a awful way.

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 4:22pm

Newbs,
If you think of Ledger every time you can’t sleep…seems that this movie will haunt. I can’t separate the actor from what happened to him not long after the making of this film, and knowing what he said about his mental state during the making of the film. And for those who would jump on me for saying this, I am clearly aware of the pneumonia he had and that would play a key (bacterial/viral illnesses can make one even more depressed, anxious, etc., if the problem is there to begin with.) Why should we separate the characters from the real people when something is involved like this (Ledgers’ death)? Why should we not think of it? And in thinking of it, how can it not get in the way? Unless as I said, one has the capacity (and I don’t think of this as a positive characteristic) of being able to compartmentalize feelings. Instead of integrating them. Bomber pilots compartmentalize all the time. Lots of people do in situations where if there was integration there would be a different outcome.
There is also the saying in psychiatry that’s used all the time…”accidentally on purpose”…sometimes we aren’t so aware of our unconscious issues as we’d like to think we are.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 4:40pm

I agree with the above poster who said this speculation might “devalue” his performance.

Another thing that is wrong about this movie, that I hate, is that Ledger’s performance will, inevitably, be “devalued” because of his death, but I don’t see that there’s any way around that. I don’t see how we can separate the actor from his work, particularly in this case. I think that that’s probably always true, in a lot of ways, except that we don’t always know so much about the actor as we do in this case — we were witness, in a small way, to how this role affected him, in a way that we’re usually not. We don’t usually know if an actor can’t sleep or beats his wife or kicks his dog or goes on a binge or whatever after a tough part. This time, we do.

I also hate that we won’t be able to separate any Oscar buzz from the sentiment factor. If Ledger wins an Oscar, or even gets a nomination, will it be because he genuinely deserves it (so far, this certainly is one of the most powerful performances of the year), or because everyone is sad that he died? This will spoil his legacy, either way, whether he wins or not, whether he’s nominated or not.

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 4:50pm

Yes, precisely MaryAnn…you wrote: Ledger’s performance will, inevitably, be “devalued” because of his death but I don’t see that there’s any way around it.
I don’t see any way around it either. And, yes, how, in this case, do you separate the actor from the role he played in this film, knowing what we know? I suppose, many will (the compartmentalization thing) but that’s a huge part of what I do see as being wrong with “us” or “our culture.” If we have that ability and use it blithely then what does that say about our humanity? And we can’t just say, “it’s only a movie.” That’s trite and insensitive, and not in touch with our own feelings (really scary) besides.

Odee
Odee
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 8:18pm

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Ledger’s last performance, although it may be a couple of weeks, since word is, all of the theatres that are playing is are sold out! This may end up being the hit of the summer.

I remember when they were filming here in Chicago last summer. I still have pictures that I took of the police cars and paddy wagons with the “Gothom City” Logos and license plates. I’m sure that Ledger probably gave a great performance. He certainly gave the performance of the ages in “Brokeback Mountain” and that showed just how special, and gifted an actor he is, as that was a tricky role and Ledger’s take on it should have been a shoo-in for the Best Actor Oscar. Only the subject matter scared most of the voters away. What a loss…..

Jay
Jay
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 8:58pm

Heath Ledger was a great actor. However, let’s be honest, people would not have realized that had it not been for his towering, immortal performance in Brokeback Mountain. As the NY Times said, it was as good as anything ever even by Brando (and Sean Penn). Thanks to his Ennis del Mar, people started looking back at his ultra-fine work in films like Candy and Lords of Dogtown and heck, everything he did. It was his performance in Brokeback that made his tragic, untimely death the stuff of front page news, otherwise I fear his awful loss would have gone the way of say, Brad Renfro, another fine actor whose untimely death barely made the papers. So, when Heath wins that overdue Oscar for Dark Knight, it will be just as much for Brokeback Mountain. Alas I will not be watching, as the Academy Awards are (and always have been) a meaningless popularity contest. It became obscene (as Dustin Hoffman accused them of being back in 1974 before he sold out in 1979) when they denied Brokeback Mountain and Heath Best Picture and Actor of 2005. Brokeback was the most honored pre-Oscars film EVER, nothing with a fraction of its awards had ever lost, yet older Academy members were vocally, publically, proudly saying they wouldn’t even watch the “gay movie”, they weren’t interested. Right-wingers protested, got behind Crash as a politically correct alternative, and they denied Brokeback its due (and, for the record, no film with as few pre-Oscars honors had ever won, it wasn’t even nominated for the Golden Globe!). Whichever film you prefer, for 80 years the Oscars have been determined by precedent, except that year, with Academy members admitting they would not go gay. If they said they wouldn’t go black or hispanic or Jewish or whatever, just imagine the outcry. No excuse. So may Heath win the prize he deserves, for The Dark Knight, and especially for the beautiful Brokeback Mountain.

Sara
Sara
Wed, Jul 16, 2008 11:18pm

I don’t know if Ledger should have gotten best actor for Brokeback, but I definitely think the movie should have won best film. Way over Crash–at least to me.
I think if Ledger wins an Oscar is will be for The Dark Knight (and that alone) and as MA says, the questions will loom as to whether he deserved it for the role or whether it will be given to him out of sadness that he is gone.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 12:07am

Thanks to his Ennis del Mar

Yes, this is true. I think his performance in that one should be seen among the very best film performances of all time.

I remember when they were filming here in Chicago last summer.

Last summer I met Christian Bale at the junket for *Rescue Dawn,* which he had flown to NYC for during a break in the filming of *Dark Knight.* While I and the other few journalists were waiting for Bale, we ran roughshod over one guy who was determined to ask Bale about Batman: we were all, “He’s not here to talk about Batman, he doesn’t want to talk about Batman, shut the fuck up about Batman.” And the guy agreed, and then the first thing he asked Bale was about Batman. Which Bale clearly did not want to talk about — and rightly so, we were there to talk about *Rescue Dawn*… but now I wish we’d all talked about Ledger. Except, of course, why would we have?

That all makes me sad, too.

Sara
Sara
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 12:22am

Wish you’d talked about Ledger too. You’d have heard, I think, different things than you’re hearing from Bale et al now, as the movie opens.
Michelle Williams will not attend. The one Ledger was closest to and had a child with won’t be seeing this movie.

Peter
Peter
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 1:52am

I will see this movie and it WILL haunt me in some way no doubt, but that is LIFE.

Sara, I understand why you don’t want to go, as there seems to be a professional conflict occurring in your mind, but re-infocing the idea to others is possibly stopping them from having a learning experience.

There is a lot to take away from the movie and everything that has happened with Heath.

I can understand Michelle Williams and co not going, because the pain is too close.

Sara
Sara
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 10:15am

Peter,
I certainly ddon’t mean to stop anyone from seeing the movie, nor is that something I could even do nor want to do. People will flock to this movie in droves. I’ve said MA in the review above said, “See it” and I think she’s right on about most reviews. What else she says (and I’m glad) helps me personally know I won’t go. Her review is the best and most insightful one I’ve read. My husband (who likes Batman movies and action movies) said under the circumstances that he won’t go. I have friends who aren’t going. That’s just life too. We all make our own decisions. MaryAnn does a fabulous job of making connections re: this movie and our culture that I do fear others won’t make and that bothers me–but nothing I can do about it.
The sadness for me is too close but not just for me, or because of my profession, it’s because as MA says we know much about the Ledger who played the character, much of what was going on with him and I really don’t want to see him in this character as his last performance. That’s my opinion/feeling/decision. I know this sounds dumb but my mom’s favorite character (comic) is Batman and she says she can’t see this movie and my father said he won’t either. My son who is in his 20s is conflicted about it but he will get what MA says and has read her review. If he wants to see it, that’s his decision. As it is anyone’s. The movie will haunt him and I don’t want to hear his angst over it for he will have it. This movie is unique in the ways we’ve all discussed. I had planned to go but decided against it. I never said for any one else to not go. In fact, I said that MA gave it her highest rating, but with warning both re: the whole situation with Ledger (being astute to your own feelings) and how this movie is dark in terms of our culture right now. That’s all. Sorry if I gave another impression; I didn’t mean to. I’m very tired of people in this country (and the world) compartmentalizing (which makes chaos easy) and I fear this move will only feed in to that. But lots of movies do. They just aren’t as well done and seductive. At least you read the top review before you see the movie.

bronxbee
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 10:37am

maybe i’m missing something here, but how will *not* seeing this movie in any way honor or respect heath ledger and his career? if he gave a great performance, does it really matter what his personal demons were? it’s what he chose to do as his profession and seeing the movie — if one claims to be a “fan” — would be respecting his performance and choices that he made in life.

Sara
Sara
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 11:03am

Bonxbee,
MaryAnn expresses answers to your questions in an incredibly insightful way in this review. To me, it does matter, knowing what we know of this situation and this person and what he said about this character (again, UK interview)…he was tormented. And then he died. Many factors played into this, I realize but I don’t want to see a movie that will make me cry in sadness (because of the Ledger situation) and because of how it mirrors our culture (and I doubt many of the teeming moviegoers will get that which is depressing to me.) MaryAnn addresses this in the review and also again on a post of hers on July 16.
I think Heath would say, as was pretty much his philosophy, do what you feel/think is right for you. And that’s what I’m doing. I know enough about the movie to know that I don’t want to see it under the circumstances that have been discussed in this column. If I were a reviewer, yes, I’d force myself to go, but I’m not a reviewer. It would not be entertainment or “learning” for me. I fear it will be entertainment for many people and very little “learning.” But, c’est la vie.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 2:42pm

I didn’t have to force myself to see this — I was genuinely intrigued to see all of it, not just Ledger’s last performance.

if he gave a great performance, does it really matter what his personal demons were?

That’s an interesting point. I think it does matter, because those demons fueled this performance. But from the perspective of letting his death keep you away from this movie? We can’t change that he died and we can’t change whatever terrible things about him became part of this performance. I respect anyone who makes the decision to avoid the movie because they might find it personally too upsetting, but anyone avoiding the movie out of a sense of “respect” for Ledger would, I think, be misguided. Respecting him would be embracing this performance.

Sara
Sara
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 2:58pm

Understood. And, I agree, it does matter–the “demons” (as you put it) that fueled this performance. For me, yes, personally too upsetting and horrible. I’ve talked with others (who I know personally) who feel similarly. Many don’t, obviously. I certainly have utmost respect for Ledger’s work–tremendous, in fact– but do not want to see this film at all. I have no desire to cry the whole way through and possibly throw up on the floor and both are highly likely. MA’s review was insightful and important, I think–extremely so and I think she has hit upon profound issues that many will miss about this movie. So, those who have read her review and do see the film, I’d say you are lucky indeed to have her review in your head as you watch the film. It can only make the film richer for you, plus you are fully prepared for what you will see. Hopefully, this will bring about discussions among those you see it with who didn’t have the opportunity to read MAs review. I sure as heck made sure my son had her review (he plans to go to the movie tomorrow night.) His response to her review (and he’s 22) was: Wow…she points to the main message and isn’t afraid to deal with the issue of Ledger either. He made copies of my email to him (with her review) to share with his friends prior to going to the movie.

bronxbee
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 4:29pm

i guess i just am not as distraught about HL’s death as some are. i thought he did great work and some not-so-great work, but while i can regret whatever led to his death at such a young age (carelessness, suicide or accident, whatever), i cannot think of myself as throwing up at viewing his performance. all actors of whatever level — if they are true to their craft — bring out something of themselves in every performance. whatever HL brought out in this performance, i don’t understand why it would be more upsetting than watching him in Brokeback Mtn and thinking it must have brought out some side of him that was homosexual, or watching him in Ned Kelly and thinking some part of him must be a criminal.

certainly, if you’re the kind of person who will be upset by thinking the last performance he gave was this kind of wild, raw, emotional one, then by all means stay away — i guess i’m having trouble understanding why people are finding that watching this performance would be thought to expose more of his inner workings than any of his others.

Sara
Sara
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 4:44pm

There is a difference here. There is a difference in watching Ledger in this movie as opposed to Brokeback Mt. (Help me here maybe MA as I’m obviously not getting my thought/feelings/point across)–Ledger was at a very very different place emotionally when he made Brokeback and when he played the Joker. And the outcomes are vastly different in terms of what it did to him, what he said it did to him. If you can’t see the sadness and the horror (not in the movie, that’s not what I’m talking about)…in the real person who is playing the character (or maybe not so playing the character) then what can I say? I’ve said all I can. I certainly can deal with difficult movies but this one falls into it’s own category that is not like other “wild, raw, emotional” movies. If that isn’t understood…

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 5:09pm

i dunno if we can say that the Joker or Ennis “made” him commit suicide or turn to drugs in an attempt to cope and led to an “accidental” death — I think it’s more likely that it’s the other way around: that he always was a sad and tortured soul and these few characters happened to coincidentally touch on something real in him in some way. (I can’t imagine that merely playing a crazy character, no matter how insane, could be the *only* thing that might potentially drive an otherwise heathly and well-adjusted actor to suicide. But it *is* easy to see that only a torn-up soul might be able to bring genuine gravitas to an insane character, like we see in Ledger’s Joker.)

watching him in Brokeback Mtn and thinking it must have brought out some side of him that was homosexual

I’m not sure anyone is saying that. The beauty of *Brokeback* is that it’s about love than transcends orientation, in a lot of ways. It’s easy to look at that movie and wonder not about whom Ledger secretly found sexually attractive but whether he was drawing on some part of his life experience that deeply understood pain and loneliness.

Mathias
Mathias
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 10:03pm

I’ve read many reviews saying that you don’t really think about Heath in this movie because he’s almost not there. He disappears entirely into the Joker and doesn’t remind you of, in any way, the actor.

“we were witness, in a small way, to how this role affected him, in a way that we’re usually not….”

No were not. We have no idea if this role had anything to do with his death at all. It’s sad that we’re speculating about Heath’s personal demons and death. I said it before and i’ll say it again. It devaules Heath’s talent as a actor. And i’m not gonna do that based on gossip.

Shadowen
Shadowen
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 1:51am

Your review reminds me why I love Batman. He’s not some self-indulgent psychopath like the Punisher, or a would-be god-emperor like Superman always seems a hair away from becoming. He’s insane, certainly, but he’s still sane enough to know it. He knows that in order to avoid hypocrisy in his vigilantism, he must do everything he can to avoid being judge, jury, or executioner. Since he doesn’t even have the legal footing of the police, he can’t allow himself to kill even in self-defense. He manages to walk that a razor-wire tightrope–physically, mentally, emotionally, and morally.

Bill
Bill
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 11:32am

Hats off to whoever designed the sound of this movie. There are some absolutely striking silences peppered with only the faintest environmental noise that bring serious intensity to already gripping scenes. Even most of the action sequences manage to maintain the same starkness and it works perfectly throughout. Also, regardless of how high your expectations are for Ledger’s Joker, he will not disappoint. He is very simply hair-raising.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 11:33am

Sara, I too have sat with patients who have ‘overdosed’ and have had deep discussions with them about whether or not it was accidental (I’m a psychiatrist). It is frequently a very hazy area, as you know, with many conscious and unconscious motivations driving such behavior. That said, avoiding TDK is a mistake. HL was an actor, and a damn good one, and we don’t know if it was the craziness of the Joker or simply the intensity he poured into the performance (independent of the role) that may have fed into his anxiety and depression. He was obviously a very intense artist, but it is possible that playing such a loose cannon was liberating or cathartic for him, it isn’t as if he got off the set on his final day as the Joker and overdosed.

Since he was so good at portraying himself as different from how he really felt (i.e. he was an incredible *actor*), it makes it very difficult to make a judgment here without actually sitting down with him and talking with him–obviously impossible.

That said, the movie is awesome, and draws into sharp relief the deepest moral questions, and spotlights the darkest pits of human nature. It is not, as MJ said “a nightmare of modern neurosis”–this is ancient mythology as it was originally intended: an in depth look at ourselves as humans. Batman is a modern Osirus–lord of the underworld, a kind of god-man in the ancient mystery tradition, and the Joker a modern Mephistopholes, who shakes our conscious “sensibilities” to the core with unconflicted destructive force. HL nails this perfectly, as if he knows the Joker lives deep within everyone, just as Batman (and even Bruce Wayne) does. I don’t think HL would want anyone to miss this performance on account of his death–he poured too much of his soul into it.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 11:38am

“a nightmare of modern neurosis”

I’d say all the exploration of how the fear of terrorism turns us into cowering infants peeing our own pants qualifies as a “modern neurosis.”

Not that you’re wrong about how ancient much of what’s here is.

Sara
Sara
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 12:38pm

Erik,
Thanks for your comments. Your description of the ancient themes (same as MaryAnn goes into) is the only reason I would see the movie (perhaps on DVD at some point.) It does bother me (as MaryAnn has pointed out) that we DO know that Heath was disturbed and did not get the help he needed. He was advised during the filming of The Dark Knight to get psychiatric help but did not and no one insisted on it. For me, this brings up questions such as: why would the studio not insist on it? Was his performance so good that perhaps it was in the best interest of the money-making machine to use Ledger (even though this might have been bad for him? Dangerous for him?) Ledger’s drug use is well-known and started before The Dark Knight. How does that fit in? I realize this is speculation but it is what concerns me…was he on strong uppers (cocaine, etc.) during his performances, then afterward would have trouble sleeping at night and a terrible cycle began of addiction that, yes, could lead to a “great” performance of a good actor (similar to steroid use in athletes but worse) but could explain why a person was sleeping for only two hours a night for a lengthy time, perhaps was taking something during the day for shoots. Then add in the exhaustion, aggitation, inability to sleep, anxiety, depression, etc. I don’t really want to watch Heath self-destructing in this movie (even if it makes for a “great performance”) and he WAS on a downward spiral at that time and it continued. I realize we don’t know but bits and pieces–someone does the whole story, though, something was very wrong and his acting may have been mixed in with strong drug use. Does that take away from the “acting”? Well, yeah, it would to me. Was he a good actor? Yes. Was hs good in Brokeback? Yes, but I thought Gyllenhaal was actually better. So, the known drug use (and other problems) and the downward spiral that began before The Dark Knight but then worsened makes it seem (whatever was going on with Heath) that he was almost taken advantage of–as if you were filming someone who was manic but not yet overty psychotic (but getting there fast)…it would be abusive (my opinion). With all those questions floating around…and they are and will always be…I really don’t want to see him like this in his last role. I don’t know that it IS attributable to only great acting or something else combined. That bothers me. I also think if it’s clear (for whatever reason) that if an actor needs to seek psychiatric help (and is told this) during a shoot and the studio knows this, that it should be insisted on no matter how “great” the performance they are getting out of an actor. Otherwise, it bumps up against abuse of the actor to me and I don’t want to be party to that myself. The whole thing is sullied for me. But I realize that others feel very different. May they deal with it as they wish.

ProudPinoy
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 1:09pm

This review is different from others.It’s very personal and appears to be a memoirs for Ledger. I didn’t like him as an actor,but upon seeing him in The Dark Knight this afternoon, I felt sadness. He was brilliant all throughout the movie. In fact, I couldn;t see Heath Ledger until the last scene whereas, he was hanging,smiling ans stating his philosophy.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 1:14pm

was he on strong uppers (cocaine, etc.) during his performances,

I’m not sure this level of extreme speculation is helpful.

Sara
Sara
Fri, Jul 18, 2008 1:21pm

ProudPinoy,
You are right on that MA’s reviews are “different from others.” They’re better, they see what others can’t see or don’t want to see or feel. Yet she remains analytical at the same time.
Why did you feel sadness when you say Ledger in The Dark Knight? Because he is now dead or because of something else (or both)? I’d be interested in knowing.
Another disturbing comment that Mathias made: “you don’t really think about Heath that much because he’s almost not there. He disappears into the Joker…” This says a lot on many levels. What we do know is that something was very wrong and that Heath did end up “disappearing” and for good.