When I was 16 years old, news of a new Batman movie from Christopher Nolan was announced. To continue what he had done in Batman Begins, it was announced with a modicum of secrecy. But one thing could not be hidden away until the proper time to announce it. We all knew The Joker was gonna be the villain, thanks to the end scene of Batman Begins. Now, I was in love with Batman Begins. It was one of those movies that opened my mind up, showing me what could be. Comic book movies didn’t have to be one way, just copying the format set by Blade in 1997. There was a seriousness and a focus on the thematics of what was going on. Not just trying to throw new things in just to sell toys. It was the next step we needed for the genre to grow. And while it didn’t exactly light up the world in the Box Office at the time, it picked up a lot of steam on DVD, giving WB the necessary numbers to greenlight a sequel (not to mention Nolan gained alot of esteem with The Prestige). And it was a time when I was very isolated from the world.
The isolation was kind of my choice, in the sense that I was a fat lazy bastard who didn’t like to leave the house. I had my friends at school that I would talk to to pass the time, but I rarely went out to socialize. And my family wasn’t as into movies or comics I was, so being passed down information by others to grow my knowledge wasn’t apart of my life. Now I realize that I was mentally broken by the years of psychological abuse and ass kickings I suffered from my older brother, with him leaving my life opening me up to the world. But somehow at the time, I found IMDB and it’s message boards. Lo and behold, a new world was opened to me filled with people that came together to talk about a movie (and the troll fucks that take time away from fucking their own hands with an incest born micro dick to bother people). So what was “Untitled Batman Movie 2008” became my new home. I was there throughout the entire development process, when the movie was officially titled The Dark Knight to the slow casting process. And there was one casting that broke the internet, without releasing a pic of a gross fuck tape star. In a movie that would release the news of Harvey Dent showing up and the recasting of Rachel Dawes, the casting of the Joker was the news that everyone latched on too.
When Heath Ledger was announced as The Joker, the internet lost its god damn mind. “The gay cowboy is gonna get ruin the Joker!”. That was a sentiment that dominated the thought process behind this casting. As we would learn in the years since, comic book fans are worthless assholes when it comes to judging casting news about these movies. Vitriol was all over the place and I have to admit, I was a bit swept up in it. I was 16/17 at the time, my experience with Heath Ledger as an actor was limited to 10 Things I Hate About You and The Patriot. Not bad movies by any stretch or bad performances either. But to me and my small worldview, I couldn’t see him stretching to play the mad clown prince of crime. But it was at this time that something in me had lit up. This was a time when my appetite for cinema was ravenous. Now, I didn’t have a job or a family lousy with money, so I couldn’t buy DVD at the obnoxious rate I do now (1500 and counting). Nor was Netflix a big thing or streaming. So, like every punk ass high schooler, I pirated whatever I wanted to watch. It’s a fucking shameful thing to do now, as the accessibility of these things is easier than ever and even then, it fucked over the makers of the movies. I’ve since grown into a staunch anti piracy man, but I won’t rewrite history. Whatever came into view for me, I went and downloaded them. So with the announcement of Ledger, I made a decision. His casting didn’t blind me with rage like others. I was curious. So I was going to watch every single movie he made at that point to see his range and if he’s actually good. Which led me to a certain movie that would challenge some ideas I had about the world and help me progress as a human, which was even more important than deciding if the Joker was in safe hands.
Going through Ledger’s body of work was a fantastic time for me. Almost immediately, I found the man to be so much more than I thought him to be. I rewatched 10 Things and The Patriot to ease myself into the journey. I watched Candy, A Knight’s Tale, Monster’s Ball, The Four Feathers, Ned Kelly, Lords of Dogtown, The Brother’s Grimm, and I’m Not There. I didn’t see everything he did. The Order eluded me, as did Casanova and some of his TV/Movie work in Australia. And while I didn’t love everything, he was a revelation. Very rarely repeating a performance he’s done before and never lazy, it was like watching a star be born. But it wasn’t any of those movies alone that made me positive that he was right for the role. Maybe as a whole they helped to inform it. But there was one movie above all that cemented his status as a fantastic actor. And a movie that I was kind of dreading to see. That was Brokeback Mountain.
I was fucking 16/17 years old at the time. My desire to broaden my horizons of cinema was huge, with foreign films getting play in my house. But I was a jerkoff teen in High School in the mid 2000s. Guys back then, and even now I would assume, say faggot as an insult of as a joke without any second thought. Homosexuality just wasn’t a thing we dealt with, and if we did it was with derision. Now, for a good deal of us (me included), that’s due to ignorance of homosexuality. Others I would just assume is due to hatred and insecurity. For me, it was mainly due to the fact that my parents never really told me about the gay world. It’s not like they beat the idea into me that they were bad or abominations or anything. Just never came up, probably because when I was 7 years old I would steal Victoria Secret magazines to look at the titties. So, they knew that they didn’t have to wonder about me. And getting older, finding out that my Mom had another Uncle that I didn’t really know about who was gay. I didn’t know about him because he lived in New Mexico and didn’t come back to New York for the longest time, with connection to others being limited without Facebook or Twitter keeping us constantly connected. They were actually very close to each other, but it just never made it’s way to me because I never met the guy. So hatred wasn’t a thing in my family that kept it away from me, just a simple out of sight out of mind thought process. So being a young man without anybody to set me straight (boom), there was a slight fear and disgust to the gay man. So Brokeback Mountain just wasn’t gonna be seen by me. Until Christopher Nolan made his ballsy casting choice and got open minded people to check out the movie. And if it had the impact on others like it did on me, lives were changed for the better.
Brokeback Mountain may seem like a movie that only got attention for being the gay cowboy movie, but it’s so much more than that snarky internet logline would suggest. It is a movie about forbidden love, about men who can’t be themselves for various reasons and the pain it inflicts upon them/their loved ones. There is a raw humanity at play in this movie, transcending simple Oscar Bait by taping into some harsh honesty. This isn’t a movie that’s a preachy, trite gay rights movie like Milk that just goes through the motions. What it does is show that these are people with wants and needs and flaws, that they are not simple labels. And I can say for me, this was a movie that helped me get over my immature discomfort with any sort of homosexual themes. I’ll say that sometimes I still get a little uncomfortable watching two men kiss, but that’s because I find the male form such an abject failure on the part of Gods grand plan/evolution that I can’t even stand to look at men just walking. Not because gay people suck, but because of my weird picadillos about the human body. But this movie is so frank and so uninterested in being sleazy or sexy. It just is. And it is one of the most profound, beautiful and moving pictures I have ever seen. And within it is one of the greatest screen performances ever, with Ledger reaching a heretofore seen level of mastery from him. This is pre fatass Brando. This is 70s DeNiro. This is Denzel in Malcolm X. For the entire movie, you aren’t watching Heath Ledger. You are watching Ennis Del Mar, the stoic and taciturn cowhand that is completely at odds with his true self. When the movie ends with Ennis in his dead lovers room, quietly contemplating the life they could have had, you have watched the culmination of a transcendent performance. Fuck, I’m even getting a bit verklempt thinking about the scene. It’s just emotionally wrecking that few films before it have reached. And when the movie ends and you remember that this was the kid that sang Frankie Vallie to Julia Stiles, fought Jason Issacs in the Revolutionary War, and helped foster skateboard pioneers, the achievement finally hits you. Heath Ledger is a honest to God talent, and he can fucking do anything he sets his sights on. What’s The Joker compared to Ennis Del Mar?
In 2016, we know that Heath Ledger completely owned the role of the Joker. So much so that there is a fairly good chance the role will never be topped again, no matter how method Jared Leto gets in his mission to turn the clown prince of crime into a fuckboy. In 2007, with my newfound sense of trust/respect in Ledger, I felt alone in that respect. But I couldn’t give a single solitary fuck about what others wanted to think based on gut reactions. I knew he’d come to own the role. As trailers came out and more footage was seen of the performance, the tides started to turn. More and more people were sold on the casting. And when he passed away in early 2008 due to a drug overdose, the world was stunned. Hell, I fucking cried when I found out. I’ll always remember where I was when I found out. I was home after school, futzing around on the computer when my friend Dan Spinella messaged me on AIM. My love and constant defense of Ledger became well known around my circle of friends I had since gathered in my time out of the house. He told what had happened, and I turned on the news. It felt like I got hit in the gut. In the time after his death, a mythology was shaped. People wanted to believe that he got so into the role of The Joker that they figured he couldn’t shake the darkness of the role and fell into addiction. The reality is much less romantic. He was simply a man who needed antidepressants and got hooked. When the movie came out, it shattered any kind of expectations the world had. It became the high watermark for comic book cinema, a movie that changed Academy Awards voting rules, and cemented Nolan as a force to be reckoned with and Ledger as an Icon taken from us too soon. Ledger became the new James Dean. It simply had to transcend the simple explanation of him connecting to the wannabe edgy youth. His work connected so deeply with people and, with Brokeback, changed the way people think. Cinema and society was pushed forward with his work.
In the years since Ledger brought The Joker to life, comic book cinema has even further taken over cinema. Yet despite the deeper roots comics have taken in cinema, there has been a dark cloud surrounding it. Fandom has become a dark, hateful place filled with the kind of bullying that forced comic book fans to become comic book fans. Women are the main targets of their ire, with rape threats being the main weapon these miserable shit stains have. But men get their fair share of nonsense too, no matter what opinion you have. Like the new Marvel movie? DC fans will throw corruption charges your way, claiming the damn near broke film writers are apart of a secret Cabal of Disney shills. Dislike the new DC movie? DC fans will call for you to be decapitated and turn your wound into a portapotty. Dislike the new Marvel movie? Well obviously you’re a retarded piece of shit. Or even dare to have an opinion that isn’t a simple binary thought, you will still get pilloried. It’s turned comic book movie fandom into a war zone, and it has kind of distanced me from the work. I don’t even want to state my like of Batman v Superman, cause I just don’t have the energy to fight. And it may be because I didn’t come to love comics and their movies with hate in my heart. I came to it with a love of narrative and visual artistry, with a desire to broaden my horizons and learned how to be a more tolerant human being in my life. With DC being especially tainted with the stain of hateful fanboys, it makes The Dark Knight being part of my gateway into cinema a bit wonky. It also makes it being a piece of my growth as a human being seemingly a singular piece of decency coming from DC films. If it wasn’t for the casting of Heath Ledger, I wouldn’t have overcome a life of naivety and become a more tolerant person. I fully support gay rights and the rights of any group of oppressed peoples, and it may not have been without “that gay cowboy movie”. Because at a time when the cast of that movie were exploding, only one almost immediately went to comic book cinema. There’s a reason I didn’t get into it through Jake Gyllenhaal’s work. Comic books are supposed to be about positivity and showing us how to be better people. It can be done in light or dark tones, but with the endpoint being that hatred and exclusion are wrong. So while many have lost that thread, I haven’t. And it’s all thanks to Heath Ledger.