Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On the death of Heath Ledger

I was saddened to hear of Heath Ledger's death yesterday. I haven't seen many of his movies and I don't know much about him, but I have been in love with Brokeback Mountain since I read the short story by Annie Proulx. If you haven't seen it, forget the controversy and watch the movie for its beauty (and I'm not just talking about Jake Gyllenhaal).

Though all the actors did an amazing job, Ledger's role as the stoic Ennis Del Mar was, by far, the most stunning. He perfectly captures Proulx's description of the young farm hand just struggling to get by in life, in contrast to the more lovable and demonstrative Jack Twist, played by Gyllenhaal. For me, Ledger's character, and his desperation, is incredibly heartfelt. In one memorable scene, the two men part after their first summer on the mountain, and Del Mar walks away from Twist, pretending not to care. As he turns a corner, we seem him enter a small alleyway and burst into sobs for a single moment, before continuing on his way.

This display of raw emotion by Ledger's character is evident again at the film's end in the final scene with his daughter. By this point, Del Mar has forever lost his close friend and lover, and appears settled into a life of quiet loneliness. When his teenage daughter visits to announce her engagement, he encourages her to find her own happiness and love in the world. After she leaves, the viewer sees Del Mar's simple shrine to his friend and, as described in the story, the two shirts once worn by both men, now hanging together, one inside the other, on a hanger in his closet.

Ledger's portrayal of Ennis Del Mar is incredibly precise in a quiet way. I'm sure we've all met people like that, with a stiff outer shell that masks the truth underneath. For me, Ledger's character sets the mood of the entire film and helps shape the love that is so evident throughout.

And that's how I'll remember him.