It’s already been close to five years since Heath Ledger’s unfortunate death. The 22nd of January will mark those 5 years that have gone by. However, the charisma that Ledger created for the character of Joker in his penultimate performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ lingers till date. In honour of the sad anniversary, we are looking back at some of the reasons the actor’s portrayal of the deranged, demonic lord of Chaos ‘The Joker’, is considered one of the finest in cinematic history.
Heath Ledger's Joker was the sum of a lot of parts: His own sloppy make-up application, inspired a bit by A Clockwork Orange's Malcolm McDowell, adding a touch of Sid Vicious. But that voice! That playful, dragged-down intonation was like a unique invention. In one his interviews to ‘The Empire’, while filming ‘The Dark Knight’, Ledger said "I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices – it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath – someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts"; after reiterating his view of the character as "just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown".
Ledger’s Joker was more than wild. In fact, he probably was the only actor who successfully outdid the magic that Jack Nicholson created in the 1989 version of the character. When details of who will portray Joker in Nolan’s version of the film were released, fans and critics alike were worried if Ledger would be able to surpass Nicholson. However, what we saw in the film surprised everyone. While Jack Nicholson went for the comic presentation of the joker, Heath went for the realistically deranged criminal genius who just wants to see the world burn. He definitely added more darkness to the character. His “clown” side allowed him to fumble with his movements, but he was still downright murderous genius.
He also had the movie's best lines, of course: "Whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you stranger." And the much-quoted "Why so serious?”. In addition to his malicious wit, this self-described "agent of chaos" also had dialogues that gave us a window into his diabolical soul. We watched him in awe as he mesmerized us, leaving us deeply unsettled by the character's creepiness, while laughing at his comic menace and still managing to block out thoughts of the actor's death. It truly was a career-making performance if ever there could be one. And like the director said it himself, Heath Ledger was the definitive joker. To readdress the character with another actor would be impossible.
In the words of Sir Michael Cain “Heath’s Joker is incredible. He is very, very scary. I turned up every month or so to do my bit, then go back to London. I turned up and had to do a bit where Batman and I watch a video done by the Joker to threaten us. I had never seen him and he came on the television and I completely forgot my lines. I quit. Because it was so stunning! It was quite amazing.”
Heath Ledger’s Joker was mesmerizing and terrorizing. I know I’ll remember Joker as one of the most vicious villains in history, to say the least. However, it’ll always be heartbreaking to know that he will never be able to recreate that magic again.