22 January 2008

Death in the family

It's ridiculous how messed up I am. I remember when my grandfather (on my mom's side) was clearly at the end of his rope, and she was going to visit him for what turned out to be the last time. She asked me if I wanted to go with her, and I almost instantly said I didn't want to (while it's worth pointing out that I'd seen him going downhill for years before he finally passed, and that the absolute last thing I wanted was another memory of my witty, wacky grandfather staring at the ceiling with tubes leading into him, unable to speak... I still think I took the easy way out). I wasn't in the same room with him until the funeral. My dad's dad, well, he went on the decline during my sophomore year of college. He made it clear to my grandmother and my parents that he didn't want me taking any time off school for any reason, so I didn't even go out there for the funeral. My dad was out there for a while before he went, and one night when I was talking to him on the phone (my dad), he (my dad) asked me if I wanted him to put the phone up to my grandfather's ear so that I could say something to him before... you know. I couldn't, I didn't want to, and I had no idea what to say, so I bailed on my last chance to say anything to him. With my mom's mom, it just happened so fast that I could barely even process it before it was over.

That leads me into the weird news item of the day: at 3:55 p.m., just as I'm preparing to leave work, I get a text message. "Dude heath ledger just died." Thanks, Tim. Good work fucking with me.

Wikipedia. Heathcliff Andrew Ledger (April 4, 1979 - January 22, 2008).

The Internet is fucked up. In less than the time it took me to process the fact that the Joker is dead, it had been updated by some morbid motherfucker to reflect reality. Admittedly, I really shouldn't expect any less, and far be it from me to accuse someone else of being fucked up, but at the same time... it feels disrespectful. Antiseptic, in the worst possible way. In sort of an, "Oh. Heath Ledger died. Let's update Wikipedia with this new information," way.

Not to say that I necessarily think Ledger's passing is deserving of a moment of silence worldwide or anything. But (and this is where we get to the part about me being fucked up), the death of a man whose life had virtually no impact on mine (with the notable exception of Brokeback Mountain, and the trailer for The Dark Knight) has affected me more in the short term than the deaths of both my grandfathers, and my maternal grandmother.

I've actually been in a daze for the past 5 hours. I've watched the trailer on my iPod six or seven times at this point. I've honestly considered renting Brokeback as a download, so that I can remember what it was like to see Heath flex, really flex his acting muscles for the first time onscreen. I remember how totally devastated I felt at the end of the movie; for a brief moment, I actually think I knew what it felt like to lose someone you completely loved forever (this is a separate thing from the grandparent deaths... much as I loved them, it wasn't in the way Ennis and Jack loved each other). From a guy whose biggest contribution to society thus far was A Knight's Tale, this revelation was unexpected, to be frank.

Then, to get to the meat of it, the Joker. I wanted them to at least screen test Mark Hamil for the part, and put the test on the DVD for the movie, mostly because I still won't be able to die happy until I can see him doing the Joker voice from Batman: TAS, which is still, to me, the definitive onscreen interpretation of the character (though, Heath's was looking like it might run a close second, particularly because it looked like he was playing the Joker the way he was supposed to be played, as a fucking sadistic homicidal maniac), or at least cast someone with a physicality approaching that of the animated Joker, but it was not to be.

Heath Ledger? From Brokeback Mountain? Who the fuck saw that coming? At least he'd proven he could act, but it's a long way from Ennis Del Mar to, well, one of the greatest adversarial characters created in modern fiction. But, Chris Nolan had earned my begrudging delay of disapproval, if nothing else, so I decided to hold back saying anything until after I saw the product for myself.

The teaser trailer, with dialogue running over an animation of the logo, was nothing short of astonishing. The voice sounded right, and the laugh (oh, the laugh) was spot on. That, in my humble opinion, is what Hamil nails that I could never imagine another actor ever approaching. The Joker is mad, chaos incarnate, and the laugh has to sum all that up in as long as it takes to, well, laugh. In the same way that I grinned like an idiot when I saw the first hint of a trailer for Begins, I grinned like an idiot when I heard the laugh.

Then, it all started to leak out. Photographs (God did he look like a madman), interviews, and fairly recently, the true trailer, where the Joker appears to have gone from dapper psychotic Jack Napier to lunatic on the street, prophet of doom... who knows who Ledger's Joker was originally? It looked like it was all finally lining up the way it should: one movie, done expertly well. Something that I could maniacally latch on to, and not just because I'm a film nut, or a comic nut, or a general fanboy.

I still can't process this, not really. I know he has a child with Michelle Williams; one of my celebrity-relationship-guilty-pleasure-thoughts was hoping that they'd get back together someday soon (I first learned about their relationship when I was reading a review of Brokeback - my reaction to their scenes together quickly became eerily reminiscent of the way I felt watching Tom and Nicole in Eyes Wide Shut). I'm sure his parents, and his friends, and the rest of his family, are all at their wits end. God only knows how Mary-Kate Olsen feels (if that part of the story is even accurate).

But the problem is... I still want to know what they're going to do about the movie. It's still coming out, right? What are they going to do about the sequel? I remember hearing that the sequel was going to deal with the trial of the Joker; are they going to recast? Who takes over for a dead man? This isn't like casting Tommy Lee Jones in place of Billy Dee Williams in Batman Forever when Two-Face finally steps out from the shadows. How do you handle this as a director, as an editor, as a producer, as a co-star? Or what about the Terry Gilliam movie that had begun shooting, what do you do when your star dies and the movie isn't close to being finished?

These are the first questions that came to mind. Not, "Jesus, he has a little girl," or "How could you handle it, as parents, to see your son, finally as successful and renowned as you knew he deserved to be from the time he was a little boy, snuffed out in an instant, like all his hard work and love didn't even matter," but, "What's going to happen to Batman?" I've been trying to come to terms with that since I left work, and I don't think I'm any closer to an answer.

It's ridiculously morbid to turn a man's death into an examination of my own behavior, but that's what this has become. Why do I find myself more obsessed with the passing of a man I never knew than with the death of my parents' parents? Why do I have to subject myself to images of him, and not images of them? Is it just because it was so unexpected, and the other deaths had been, frankly, imminent for some time before they actually occurred?

I imagine my sympathy means little to the Ledger family, but I'll freely offer it. I fear the world will be a darker place for his absence, not just for his friends, family and co-workers, but for those of us who were eager to see where his career would take him next, which worlds he'd open up for us.

I swore to myself I wouldn't crib this line, but I feel leaving it unsaid wouldn't be right. From Shakespeare in Love's Ned Alleyn (Ben Affleck): "A great light has gone out."

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