Appreciation

WEB EXCLUSIVE! Heath Ledger's untimely death, and that milestone performance

What I want to say about the death of Heath Ledger is . . . nothing. No speculation on why he committed suicide, if he committed suicide. No comment on the chronology, the circumstances, the known facts or lurid details of his passing. No outrage at the ghoulish gathering outside his SoHo apartment, no interest in who may or may not have owned it, not even my revulsion—violent as it is—that New York Magazine no sooner posted news of Ledger's death on their website than offered a link to a broker's listing for a loft in the same building, as if this were just another colorful chapter in the story of Manhattan real estate.

No one saw it coming, everyone says, as if it would be any of our business if we did.

Ledger's most recent performance belongs to a movie about the artist besieged by critics, cultists, acolytes and skeptics, inundated with intrusions, expectations, adoration, disillusionment. As the dissolute actor in I'm Not There (how doleful, how morbid that title now becomes), he contributes a bittersweet, reproachful shade to this kaleidoscopic reflection on the necessity—and consequences—of reinvention, an epic contemplation on the thrill—and toll—of a life spent heading for the exit.

What is there to say? His rigorous, wrenching turn in Brokeback Mountain, instantly accepted to the uppermost pantheon, now abides in the ethereal company of Mike Waters, narcoleptic angel of My Own Private Idaho. Like River Phoenix's lovesick hustler, Ledger's Ennis Del Mar is a milestone not only of acting, but also of representation. His forthcoming role as the Joker will be what it is (and we can best respect his memory by letting it play out as free as possible from studio temerity and maniacal punditry), but Ledger's legacy will always rest on the sad shoulders of a performance that belongs equally to the history of acting and cultural consolation.

 
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