Last weekend, the wife and I saw two movies: Dark Knight and Wall-E. After watching Dark Knight at midnight, we couldn't get to sleep until 5AM. It was deeply disturbing, even to the most jaded of observers. Even David Denby, New Yorker film critic, couldn't seem to get past the "darkness" to enjoy the movie. He did, however, gush over Wall-E, which I can understand, but in my humble opinion, Denby's a putz. The guy should've waited for the made-for-TV version of Dark Knight, or change to reviewing films for Boy's Life.
I'm not saying Dark Knight is the best movie of all time, but Heath Ledger's performance is, well, heroic. It's what happens when you inhabit a character, and not just play it. It truly raises the bar for other actors, which might prove to be a dangerous temptation, but for the glory of greatness.
I liken Mr. Ledger's performance to a shaman term called "grokking," where you mimic the energy of something down to its imagined biological level. Imagine, if you will, the energy of a rock, then change it to a bird's. But don't just visualize the energy, become the energy and display it in all its stillness, as in the rock. Then become the bird, down to the lightness of its bones, the wind stimulating the individual hairs on its feathers, the sounds all around and their distinctness so that everything, from a car's horn to a distant cawing of a crow, give you a picture that denotes image and distance.
Mr. Ledger's performance will probably send the likes of Robert Downey, Jr. to the insane asylum, as he, like Mr. Denby pointed out about Mr. Ledger's performance, also is one to stare into the abyss.
Sean Penn. Will he even watch the movie? Doubtful, as I doubt he watches anything any living actor does. Oh, but there lies the difference, doesn't it?
And what about Christian Bale? Isn't he one of those actors, ala American Psycho and The Machinist, who would also inhabit the character at its most extreme level?
My point is, from this moment on, for any actor worth his salt, this is now the After Heath era. I predict that every movie made will feature some actor's attempt to access the DNA of a character, much like how Brando and Dean redefined the solo performance several decades ago.
Last Sunday, the wife and I had lunch with Chin Han and then went to a couple of theaters in search of something to lighten the mood. We stopped by Landmark at Westside Pavilion but they were sold out on everything worth watching, so we all headed over to Century City. We bought tickets for Wall-E and he got tickets for something else.
But before going in, he was curious about why I thought Mr. Ledger's performance stood out. After seeing it at both the New York and Chicago premieres, he still wondered why the Joker was so interesting to watch. And I can't blame him. For all the darkness of the character, he overshadowed pretty much everything else playing last weekend, both in the movie and everywhere else.
Not even Wall-E could clear away the clouds.