Just in case you've been hiking the Appalachian trail for the past seven months, there's this movie called The Dark Knight coming out today. It's a Batman movie, he of the cowl and the scowl, and it features his most nefarious foe, the Joker. That slithering baddie is played by Heath Ledger, an actor of beguiling good looks and talent who died-tragically, accidentally, hugely-in January. But his performance in this film lives on, and it's said to be the stuff of legend. Critics have been slamming their shoes on their desks for the past week, heralding it as "revelatory" and Brando-esque. The strength of this performance presented Warner Bros., months ago, with something of a conundrum. Should they continue plans to make his leering visage the movie's chief marketing image, or should they shy away from death, retreating to the simultaneously brighter and dimmer lights of Christian Bale and his boringer friends? Ultimately they chose to continue with their Joker-centric media deluge, and people got very angry! How dare they?! The man is dead, reduced to mere ashes floating in the Indian Ocean! It's immoral. And to that, we say bullshit.
The essential problem here is not one of taste or decorum, it's one of practicality and basic fucking humanity. People die. Sometimes, when people are lucky, it's at an advanced old age and one shuffles off surrounded by a wealth of memory and progeny's progeny, and it's merely like closing a book softly, having loved it to the last word. Other times it's quick and messy and ugly and brief, as was the case with Mr. Ledger. But to pussyfoot around, to be so scared to acknowledge death and dying, to wring our hands and say "oh no, what sacred and protected decency will we be violating if we acknowledge this fact" is stupid and obtuse. Frankly, I'm surprised Warner Bros. didn't market this movie as the chance to see Heath Ledger's Last, Greatest Performance. I mean, in essence they have, but in a respectably subtle way. I know that they stand to make a gargantuan sum of cheddar on this chamber piece of a superhero movie, but I think the most important thing is that Ledger's memory is being honored in the biggest, most laudatory way an actor could hope for. The wise and sexy Christian Bale (Santa Fe!) says of the whole foofaraw:
This is a celebration of what he did best - entertain people. Why would any actor not want that to be appreciated? I know he would have. The bottom line is it would be totally rude not to. Respect the man. This is what he did. This is what he wanted to do.
And I think that's the issue boiled down to its simplest and plainest truth. Here is a great thing that someone did once. It's not exploitation, in any way, to recognize that. Sure Warner Bros. may be coolly counting their millions, like business folks do, but they'll be grateful. They are people. Maybe they'll even applaud.
So hush up naysayers and Stevie Sensitivies. Why so serious indeed.