Posts Tagged ‘Heath Ledger’

The Meaning Of Life (from ‘The Dark Knight’, not ‘Monty Python’)

August 12, 2008

The Dark Knight is the gift that keeps on giving, as I continue to draw inspiration and ideas and concepts from it for my writing, my political and ideological sensibilities, and my personal life. That it would spur my renewed probe into the Meaning of Life is no surprise given the not negligible role it played in averting my attempted suicide some 35 days ago; that, in doing so, it would edge me over the precipice into a full-blown existential crisis is an expected side effect.

The Joker, the film’s magnificent central villain, espouses Chaos as the only fair way to live in the world. Harvey Dent, its impeccable hero fallen from grace, prefers Blind Chance. Neither truly exists in an unadulterated version in our world due to manipulation from the powerful elite in our society, who “make their own luck”. (Chaos negates a powerful elite, but remember that power vacuums are only temporary, and must eventually be filled).

That said Chaos, pure or contained, is the order of our existence, and Chaos is here to stay. In light of this, can life truly have any meaning? Because Chaos negates any true Meaning, the highest worldly calling is to reign in Chaos, which is where peace officers, aid workers and (allegedly) governments come in. Bruce Wayne is all of this in one, answering to a higher calling – the meting out of ‘Justice’ and ‘Order’ and serving the Public Good – than few of us will ever realize. This gives him Purpose, the only true Purpose in life with any concrete meaning: Self-Sacrifice. But what makes his special is scale; he truly lives for it, and if his methods are questionable, his impact is not.

Who else can have such significant or lasting impact on society at large? World leaders are quickly relegated to history books or celebrity fodder when their tenure expires, except when they serve in times of unmitigated Chaos, or – worse – when they cause unmitigated Chaos. It’s hard to swallow – but impossible to dismiss – that leaders or regimes like Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, or the Khmer Rouge have stronger Purpose, greater impact (and by extension more Meaning) than well-meaning ones like Clinton or Carter or even Kennedy (himself magnified by tragedy).

Bruce Wayne’s tortured quest as Batman may give him Purpose, but it doesn’t really give him Meaning, which is why Harvey Dent surmises that Batman can’t want his job forever. Wayne’s hope for Meaning lies in a much more attainable (or not, depending on your outlook) source: Love.

A pivotal moment: he agrees to turn himself in to stop the Joker, and there’s a sense of relief as he asks Rachel if they can now be together. Her response is a telling one:

“Bruce, don’t let me be your last chance at a normal life.”

She is his Love, but she’s also his oldest friend, and understands his heart the way Alfred understands his logical and philosophical machinations.

So it is that I propose the only way to can glean any sense of personal Meaning in this haphazard, chaotic existence is the fulfillment we can only gain from those we love, and those that love us back.

Mind you, I do believe in a Greater Plan, but also accept that on ground level it can only look like Chaos to our untrained eyes. And only in God can we find true peace and fulfillment. My point is that, as a Christian, it’s necessary to care for the overall betterment of people – a quest the Realist in me knows is fundamentally impossible. No matter what we do or believe, bad things will happen to good people, and at times like that, when Meaning and Purpose seem hollow, do we need the fortitude of those we love.

I believe this is why I fell in love, and as my outlook on the Human Condition grows bleaker and bleaker, I become more entrenched in my feelings, desperate for a crutch to lend me stability and guidance. The fact that it hasn’t been requited in a while hasn’t stopped the slide, or the growing ache that has accompanied it. It only makes sense, I suppose – if anything can provide an existence with Meaning, it shouldn’t be easily attainable if at all; that would cheapen the Meaning. I mean, can you seriously see Bruce Wayne quitting cape and cowl to live Happily Ever After with Rachel?

Christians know true Meaning can only be attained through true communion with God, something I’ve found myself woefully short on for years now. Valerie, the appointed LOML, is a devoted, inspiring but humanly flawed Catholic herself, which was perfect: through a Meaningful relationship with her, I’d find a Meaningful relationship with God – a rather reckless notion: Now I was burdening Valerie with the task to literally Save me – my sanity, my spirituality, my sense of being. It’s naïve and unfair – how do you tell someone that? There’s no way she can let you down easy.

Bruce doesn’t voice it, but Rachel senses it, and lets him down – easy. As hard as her loss was on him, it is the impetus to throw himself more blindly into his calling, so Purpose will consume a lack of true Meaning. For me, I’ll admit that my goal of writing and filmmaking are nowhere near as noble or high a calling, but I hope it can be every bit as consuming, to keep me functioning in this existence I am shackled to.

When I opted to kill myself on July 8th, 2008, thinking instead of the impending Dark Knight made me realize something: as Meaningless as life often felt, death was even more so by a landslide. And nothing drove home that point like Heath Ledger.

A promising career, a father and thoughtful soul, cut down in literal prime. Sure, he’s immortalized on screen like few others – his Joker is a vibrant, affecting portrait of sheer genius. There will be accolades, maybe even an Oscar, but so what? It doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone, forever separated from the adulation that he would’ve surely, despite himself, gladly – and deservedly – basked in.

‘Achievements’ are no measure of Meaning. Maybe Love is an oversimplification, but oversimplification could be what’s needed to attack such a large concept. I personally have never felt anything so strong, as to be unbearable – insomnia, anorexia, depression – and because I’ve so mangled it, never want to feel it again. Yes – even if I’ve got Purpose with no Meaning. Better than me have resigned themselves to such a fate.

The last lesson lies in Ledger: for all his very intelligent use of a God-given talent, from where I sit all I see is tragic waste. And from my personal vantage point, Life on Earth as we know it is one frenzied, frenetic activity devoid of Meaning, and then you die.


Agents of Chaos: The Greatest Screen Villains of Our Time

August 8, 2008

Now that seemingly the whole world is writhing in the throes of the post-orgasmic glow of The Dark Knight (at least I am; the global box office seems to be backing me up on this one), it seems like a good time to address the best bad guys in Hollywood history.

AFI’s list of 50 Greatest Villains is over 5 years old, and while it’s a largely credible one, its age leaves a lot of highly qualified candidates with lengthy, impressive resumes of staggering evil out in the cold. AFI just recently rejigged their Greatest Films list with no other apparent purpose than to fuck with viewers’ minds, so why not redo this one when there’s great credence? So, leading the charge to stake their claims in the splendidly burnished hall of infamy that would make Stalin groan in envy, are these fine young gentlemen, these Agents of Chaos:

5. Anton Chigurh (Played by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men)
Why: He’s an unstoppable, unflappable killing machine, a menacing presence with an insatiable appetite for destruction and misery. If the Terminator were Latino with a fucked-up hair-do and took a maniacal delight in killing people (and wasn’t a cyborg from the future; who the hell’s gonna buy that?)…he’d have some serious Green Card issues. Other than that, he’d be Anton Chigurh.

What’s Against Him: Said fucked-up hair-do.
Accolades: Best Supporting Actor Oscar, in the Best Picture winner; my #3 film of 2007.

4. Daniel Plainview (Played by Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood)
Why: Well, let’s see…he ruthlessly exploits, manipulates and cheats everyone, and when he finds someone may have done likewise to him, he shoots the guy dead. His little son (and partner) is wounded in a freak industrial accident, so he ships him off to boarding school to be rid of him. He gets baptized so he can get drilling rights. Cuts off his son at the knees when he learns the lad wants to go into the business on his own (thus becoming a competitor, the one thing red-blooded capitalists can’t stand). Mercilessly taunts a fallen preacher over supper, then puts him out of his misery by bludgeoning him to death. With a bowling pin. But perhaps the most biting indictment is that he is the embodiment of the no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners capitalism that is America. ‘Nuff said.
What’s Against Him: A borderline homicidal fascination with milkshakes. The naked irony of the American Film Institute picking a character embodying the worst excesses of America. Played by a Brit.
Accolades: Best Actor Oscar, in my #2 film of 2007.

3. Captain Vidal (Played by Sergi Lopez in Pan’s Labyrinth)
Why: Amon Goeth (he of Schindler’s List fame), meet your long lost Spanish twin brother, identical in maniacal levels of unbridled evilness. Not since Ralph Fiennes scared audiences shitless with his chilling Nazi (are there other kinds?) in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (wow that sounds odd) have we been presented with a villain this wicked and grounded in ideological and historical believability. This guy isn’t evil – that’s merely what he eats for breakfast, which is made short work of by a digestive system that’s no stranger to cracking walnuts whole. And what’s worse is that he’s never over-the-top or losing his cool (even when his servant takes a page from the Joker’s book and tries to “put a smile on that face”). And holy shit he shot a child – a little girl, in cold blood. Wrestle 30 alligators or be interrogated by Captain Vidal? The choice is obvious: I’ll fancy my chances with the gators.

El Capitan; a true G

El Capitan; a true G

What’s Against Him: TheSpanish actor in the Spanish film by Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro isn’t American enough for the American Film Institute.
Accolades: He sure as shit wasn’t American enough for an Oscar nom, in my best film of 2006.

2. Bill The Butcher (Played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs Of New York)
Why: First off, does Day-Lewis need a hug? Not getting enough love from Rebecca Miller? This vicious meanie outdoes even poor Daniel Plainview, who at least has table manners (and likes milkshakes). Bill is riveting to watch; unpredictable, unscrupulous, unrepentant, and totally bat-shit out of control. And the best part? He’s not insane, unlike some people (hate to mention names…Plainview…). This probably has to go down as one of the best lead performances this decade; watching Day-Lewis in action is like watching a magician play, if such play constituted impaling puppies and kittens and embalming them alive.
What’s Against Him: Leonardo DiCaprio. In a film that was a mangled mess. But more significantly: Leonardo DiCaprio. And Cameron Diaz.
Accolades: Apparently the Oscars couldn’t overlook the sorry mess that was DiCaprio and Diaz trying to act. That and Adrian Brody as yet another Holocaust survivor; can’t pass those ones up.

1. The Joker (Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight)
Why: He is the epitome of an Agent of Chaos. Everyone else on AFI’s list would look up to him with a mixture of awe, admiration, and dread, as evinced by the growing puddle around their Hush Puppies. I’ve never experienced as awesome, grandiose (yet grounded), frightening, menacing, haunting, brilliant, riveting a presence in a film as the first time I saw The Dark Knight. We’re talking about a guy so badass that, despite being a gal-lovin’ kinda guy (forget Brokeback Mountain and stick with me here), would gleefully fuck you in the ass and cum in your eyes and tell all your friends about it. Suddenly Jack Nicholson’s hammy incarnation of the uber-villain (#45 on AFI’s list) remembers a hernia appointment he really has to get to. But seriously: Heath disappears into this character like no other actor (not even Daniel Day-Lewis, or Jamie Foxx in Ray) ever, since perhaps Ben Kingsley as Gandhi (The Joker’s opposite in every way imaginable). It’s frightening, it’s daring, it’s mind-blowing, it’s brave, and, yes, more than a little tragic.

The new face of villainy and chaos

The new face of villainy and chaos

What’s Against Him: Nothing; even the Bat-Man’s had to install Bat-Diapers into his suit for every time he encounters his arch-nemesis.
Accolades: An Oscar, dare I say…? Wickedly deserving, in my #1 film of 2008 and #2 of the decade.

A Super Hero: How ‘The Dark Knight’ literally saved my life when I tried to kill myself after seeing ‘Hancock’

July 29, 2008

Don’t get me wrong – I actually enjoyed Hancock. It was fun, throwaway, with some solid turns by solid actors and an intriguing finale from the end of the 2nd Act to the 3rd. No, my sudden desire to end my participation in the dog race known as life was triggered by what happened after Hancock ended.

My very, very good friend, who I was (am/will be; who knows?) in love with – despite that phase of our relationship being over for some years now – sent me a text just before the closing credits, so I called her up. We’d been a wee bit on the outs, considering that I had earlier pointed out to her that she was – as all people invariably are to differing degrees – a tad racist, citing her admitted fear of black men among other things. Plus there was my tactless marriage proposal 10 days earlier, following Germany’s devastating loss to Spain in Euro ’08 (Blog Post: Pain Is So Close To Pleasure).

Well we talked, a little tentatively and awkwardly, with her apologizing for a non-existent argument over said proposal. It didn’t stop her from divulging a secret to me that damn near fractured my fragile little mind – all with the casualness of an invite to a Sunday school picnic. Now, I’m not one to kiss and tell (seeing that I do none of the former and too much of the latter); suffice it to say that it’s the very last thing you need to hear from someone you’re so in love with you proposed to her even though you knew you’d get turned down and wind up with egg on your face.

So there I am, on the bus and trying to string together coherent sentences as she talks away and I’m dying on the inside – yet it’s like deja vu, seeing how something identical had occurred 5½ years ago. But it was so much worse this time – and the timing couldn’t be more – how shall I put this delicately? – fucked up. So I broke down and made up my mind even before she’d hung up (she somehow caught on that I wasn’t very talkative) to finally take matters into my own hands and end this debacle of an existence before fate conjured up even more colorful ways to mock my very being.

Unfortunately I was heading across town to meet a good friend who’d driven all the way from Fredericton, so I had to stay my hand. I didn’t get to his place until well after 11pm, but fate was smiling (albeit morbidly) on me this time as there just happened to be a Shoppers Drug Mart on the corner of his street. I promptly helped myself to an OTC (Over The Counter) bottle of sleep meds, before opting for 2 in case the one didn’t quite pan out. I had long figured that slashing the wrists was a girlie cry for help, while mouthing a shotgun – Hemmingway style – was the man’s way to go. Having neither the weapon nor the compunction to use it, I settled on a fair halfway point.

I was at my friend’s for over an hour, and by the time he kindly drove me back I was so drowsy it seemed like I’d popped half the pills already. I got back, left a message for my boss at work that I wouldn’t be coming in anymore and wishing him all the best of luck and shit like that, and then popped a fistful of pills.

And promptly threw them up. Don’t get me wrong – not like I gagged or choked or anything. But a series of very strong and interconnected thoughts crossed through my mind with such clarity, all almost at once. For starters, I realized why I’d chosen sleep meds – because they were, in part, responsible for Heath Ledger’s death, an actor I admired even before he was cast in The Dark Knight. I had mourned him for weeks, and the indelible image of him cut down in his prime had stayed with me subconsciously.

But his was an unfortunate accident; he fully expected to awake later that day, which made it all the more tragic. By willfully offing myself this way, I was committing sacrilege to his memory, and mocking such a monumental loss.

Secondly, and much more selfishly, I realized that I was killing myself 10 days before The Dark Knight was due to open. Considering I had never anticipated any film like that in all my days, it seemed like a fucking stupid thing to do at the time. I imagined how awesome that film would be, how blown away and enraptured I would be by it – or not, since I’d be fucking freezing on a coroner’s slab with a belly full of pills and a roomful of mocking spectators. Dweeb, they’d say. He could’ve at least stuck around for the midnight screenings of The Dark Knight. Most awesome film EVER. Then they’d leave the scalpel in my midsection as they rush to catch a screening before it’s sold out. And my cold dead ass would envy them from the grave.

And, with those thoughts racing through the fractured microchips of my mind, I regurgitated the pills I’d mouthed, caught in two minds about the validity of my decision either way.

And I of course have not regretted that decision. The Dark Knight is the most rousing piece of entertainment I can recall, easily my favorite and most indelible theatrical experience ever. I shall see it anywhere between 7 and 15 more times, and only ‘til I am full sated will I even consider finishing what I started on Tuesday July 8, 2008 – precisely 3 weeks ago today.

Until then, I adhere by more words of wisdom from The Joker; for I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.

Welcome To A World Without Rules: ‘The Dark Knight’ – ***** (out of 5); A+

July 22, 2008
A World Without Rules

A World Without Rules

Amid the fanfare and tragic recollections of a phenomenal talent cut down in his prime, brewed something very real, very potent, and very daring: The Dark Knight, a film bustling with such bravura, brains and brawns, that it bowled over this reviewer’s sky-high expectations and trod fearlessly on sacred ground only the greatest dared glimpse at. Not one for making such declarations easily, but The Dark Knight is the best superhero film of the last 30 years, the best sequel since The Empire Strikes Back, the most rousing and intelligent mainstream entertainment since Spielberg’s Minority Report and Peter Jackson’s LOTR: FOTR, and easily the best film of 2008 thus far (I’d love to see any in the next 5 1/2 months try to compete).

It’s a dense tapestry of images and ideas, weaved into a sumptuous whole that is a feast for the senses and food for thought. Shakespearean in its grandeur and fatally flawed characters, Greek in its fatalistic sense of tragedy, I never could have dared to believe that a summer blockbuster could strive to such heady heights.

I shall not – MUST not – give away spoilers, except to say that I laughed; I cried; I gripped my armrest till I lost sensation in my fingertips, and for 2 1/2 hours I never once sat back in my chair relaxed. Christopher Nolan did the unthinkable with this film – the celebrated indie director who topped both of his low-budget wonders with a spectacular big-budget extravaganza.

The Batman universe is a well-established one, with some inalienable truths about the outcomes of certain key characters. Yet – major kudos to Nolan – you forget this right from the get-go, as a deathly pall settles over everyone, and you realize that no one in Gotham City is safe. Outcomes will shock and surprise you – even if you’ve deduced them, the ingenuity in which they are orchestrated is bound to catch you off-guard.

And of course I cannot leave without mentioning Heath Ledger, a wonderfully talented thespian who died tragically at the high-water mark of his fledgling career. I had not historically been a fan of Ledger, until I watched Brokeback Mountain – a film I found risible, silly, overblown and hollow. But Ledger was so standout phenomenal there that I found myself visibly moved by the end – especially with his poignant, vibrant scene at the end. So when I heard he was cast as The Joker, the confusion lasted all of 3 secs; this was the man for the job, and he certainly had the chops to pull it off handsomely.

But in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have pictured Ledger’s Joker – dark, anarchic, wickedly funny yet terrifying at the same time. In fact I would go as far as to say that his Joker – wild, dangerous, unpredictable and riveting – is the most frightening villain I can recall ever seeing onscreen, and he strikes an unquenchable terror that cuts through the heart of The Dark Knight and propels it from fiction to infamy and legend. What a fitting tribute to this fantastic talent, and what a monumental loss. God bless and God rest Heath Ledger; long live The Dark Knight.