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*He is not a secret agent. Not at all.



And so Heath Ledger became the latest actor to portray a character with the potential for layers upon layers of complexities and who more frequently gets played one note. Maybe two.

In as critical as I am over portrayals of The Joker, and given that this version is something of a departure from any version of him, good or bad, found in the comics, I find this one a excellent translation to the screen and it both captures how I see him (more in spirit than literally, though there are even flashes of that) and seems to capture (also in spirit) some sense of the Joker's first appearance in Batman #1 in 1939. Or how I imagine how I might have perceived him had that been my first exposure to the character.

Both in writing and performance, this was truly The Joker. Leaving out an origin was perfect, and the establishment of him as an "unreliable narrator" showed a particular insight into the character. He exists only now. Like pain. You remember it, you imagine it, but it's only really there when you feel it.

Now, about that Oscar buzz. Was Ledger's performance worthy of the buzz, worthy of more than just buzz. I think yes. Objectively and subjectively. However, it brings up some thoughts to me, about crash of genreism and beloved, tragically lost actor.

Were Ledger alive now, would the buzz still be there?

Not at all because I think people are elevating his performance sentimentally or anything. He's already established himself as being up to par, his Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain spells that out clearly. And in the Joker, he is fully transformed.

Were he alive, though, would genreism rear it's ugly head. Would his performance alone be enough to elevate it above being a comic book character? Would it escape the artificial gutter of having been in a summer blockbuster, a cape movie...a Batman movie?

The Award shows are broken. They are just shows, after all. Yeah, I'm pleased if something I like wins, but otherwise don't care that much. Especially with the Oscars. The fact is, that all the Award shows have historically had a bias against sci-fi/fantasy/fantastical. It's true in any medium, really. It's hard to get people to go beyond trappings and into story and character and rarely do I hear a rationalization that holds up on even an individual basis.

Once in a while, something rises up and is able to garner attention. I see the Emmys coming around of late, as writing Lost's various recognitions, and some writing noms for Battlestar. Its becoming viable, but I still remember year upon year of Patrick Stewart being denied a nom for Star Trek, especially for "The Inner Light." That year, he should have owned it. And let us not forget the old maxim: "The Academy does not vote for something called Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Which is just a way of saying that the content of the show is pretty damn near irrelevant.

I feel that Ledger is deserving of the nomination. And I don't know if my subjectivity can be suppressed enough, but I would like to see him win (that said with six months of movies yet to be released). Unfortunately (for a variety of reason beyond my own irrelevant ramblings), we'll never really know if this is a result of an enlightenment to look beyond genre and find the fantastic in the fantastical or if this just a way to honor an actor who was liked, sounded like a good guy and who happened to have turned in an amazing performance in his last starring role.

If he does get nominated, I certainly hope that nary a voter will be wincing when they write the name of a movie about funnybook superheroes. These characters have endured for seventy years and though good and bad. There's a reason for that.

As for the movie itself. My CBR boss Jonah Weiland put it well. "Not just a good superhero movie, it's a good movie." I, myself, was just kind of dumbstruck in my seat for a minute at the end. It was everything it should be.

I need to see it again.
©2024 Michael Patrick Sullivan
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