Wednesday, January 23, 2008
R.I.P. Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger died yesterday at 28 from as-of-yet unknown causes, and the news has affected me way more than I expected it to.
I'll admit that when word started spreading around my education class--in the form of teachers getting texts from their friends during class, despite the fact those teachers spend all day discouraging kids from getting texts from their friends during class--my first thought was, "So...they wrapped filming on The Dark Knight, right? And yes, they did and, yes, it will be a-may-zing.
But I started thinking about it more and got bummed, without really knowing why. He wasn't one of my favorite actors, although I did think he was immensely gifted. He wasn't even a particularly popular actor: in the inevitable mythologizing of Heath Ledger that will occur, it will be forgotten that he was in more misses than hits. And anyway, lots of people die. I didn't think twice about the kid from The Client pacing out last week.
I think this reaction was more about where Ledger was in his life and where I am in my own. There are few artists whose entire careers I've been able to track during my lifetime, and it's only in my mid-twenties that I've grown conscious of that. There are few mature, respectable artists that people my age can call their own, and it's only now that, say, Justin Timberlake can be my generation's Michael Jackson. This might not seem like a big deal, but what else is entertainment for if not reflecting back onto society? What good is art if you can't see yourself in it? It's only now that people are speaking to me, instead of condescending or waiting for me to catch up.
So does Heath Ledger's death depress me in the same way that Shaquille O'Neal no longer being able to lift his arms over his head depresses me? That I watched from the beginning to the end and now I feel old? Not quite. It has more to do with Heath Ledger being more complicated than the short blurbs in newspapers will let on. He wasn't always an artist. Despite nuanced, rich work in Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There and, surely, The Dark Knight, this was also the dude who was Mel Gibson's son in The Patriot. Early in his career, he wanted to be famous, he wanted to be rich, he wanted to anchor summer movies. It was only now that he was becoming something more and that we were growing along with him. We were only beginning to find out whether he would be our generation's Robert Mitchum or our generation's Paul Newman or something completely different. Now we'll never know, and that, in a very real way, is what is so devastating about a life cut short.