Posts Tagged '10 Things I Hate About You'

I hate (love) you Heath Ledger

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If I were the center of the universe, then Heath Ledger’s death, even the nature of it (assuming it was an accident) would make absolute sense. Because I was just learning to  love the man. And such was the nature of things between us: unending conflict and bittersweet surprise.

We started off rough.

I was jealous. “10 Things I Hate About You” came out and suddenly every girl  I knew, particularly (or I noticed in particlar) those who had, until then, paid ample attention to me, was in love with this asshole. They called him beautiful. Gorgeous. And my jealousy didn’t stem from a hidden or unwilling agreement. All I saw was a scrawny kid with greasy tangled hair and a smile like one of the Muppets. I thought: it must be the accent. While there was nothing sexual about it (that I was aware of) as a kid I found myself drawn to accents, too, like Paul Hogan’s Aus-Hole drawl in “Crocodile Dundee” or Ralph Macchio speaking North Jersey in the “Karate Kid” films. They just sounded cool. And Heath Ledger, for all his gawky flaws, did sound pretty damn cool. But that was it. He otherwise seemed like the kind of guy who got beat up and had his lunch money stolen on TV shows, a somewhat better-looking version of the guys who dealt with that kind of abuse in real life. Not the kind of guy who could steal a girl’s attention.

“Monster’s Ball” changed things. The summer before, I’d cheered “The Patriot” when Cornwallis stabbed Ledger’s Gabriel Martin through the chest, and yet his understated performance as Sonny Grotowski, the confused and suicidal young man made me feel something different. He was somehow more than just some effeminate Aus-Hole. He was broken and vulnerable and yearning for his father’s love. He was human. And he was giving one hell of a performance. It was something like a chance encounter with someone beautiful, the kind that leaves you asking “what if?” over and over again and, against all reason, leaves you hopeful. Like it could go somewhere. Like you’ll find each other again.

I didn’t find Heath Ledger again for a few years. He made some crappy films. He dated Naomi Watts, which stirred that old bitter jealousy. He was lost to me. A bit of a hack. But then in the fall of 2005, there he was. His performance in “Brokeback Mountain” was superlative and courageous and deserved the Academy Award (I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan, too). His talent was all-the-sudden undeniable. Though I suffered constant grief for it, and was not entirely comfortable with the film’s blatant homosexuality, I openly adored “Brokeback Mountain” and, perhaps to a greater extent, Heath. His performance stirred me the way only the greatest performances, Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”, Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”, Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York”, ever have.

So when he got involved with duck-faced Michelle Williams, once again I was conflicted. It wasn’t a major blow, but it left a mark. I couldn’t understand how he could go from Naomi Watts to the ugly girl from “Dawson’s Creek”. It felt too reminiscent of his following “Monster’s Ball” with bombs like “Ned Kelly” or “The Order”. And so once more, I picked him apart like an insecure lover, exalting his high points, ripping into his lows. I wanted him to be the Heath I wanted him to be rather than the Heath that he was.

When I found out he’d signed on to play Joker in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman sequel, I backed off (this, of course, came after hearing of his separation from Michelle Williams, which helped). Seeing stills of Heath in make-up, and clips of him in character during the film’s trailer, I realized he had again exceeded my expectations, that despite his curious relationships and professional decisions, he was even better, even more versatile and badass than the Heath I wanted.

I learned to let go of judgment and celebrate my love for Heath Ledger.

Then he ends up naked and dead in SoHo. And it seems fitting somehow, that after all these years of highs and lows between us that perhaps the greatest rise (Ledger as Joker. I mean, come on.) would come just before the greatest, most ultimate fall; that we would find each other in that final, knowing look as between Romeo and Juliet, of found happiness between moviegoer and movie icon, right as the curtain pulls shut, never to open again.

This is perhaps a stretch. But my heart is broken nonetheless. I hate him for leaving me, yet love him for all that he gave. And can’t help but feel the weight of fate’s injustice, as Britney Spears will no doubt live on and on, until she’s old, sagging and howling in a wheelchair, while remarkable people like Heath Ledger die well before any of us is ready. Me least of all.

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