When they said that Heath Ledger deserved an Oscar for his performance as the Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight, I scoffed. A pity Oscar, for sure: poor guy dies young, we give him an Oscar out of sympathy. I was wrong.
We went to see The Dark Knight last night, and I was amazed. There were many stunning performances in this film, not least of which were the supporting roles of Michael Cane as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, the man who runs Wayne Enterprises while Batman is capering about saving Gotham. And under all the fantastic special effects, the screenplay, too, deserves credit for exposing very real, visceral truths about human nature and politics, as well as the very thin line between the archetypical hero and the archetypical villain. Batman, the Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face have a great deal in common in this film. They are all idealists in their own way, all three acting outside the law as judge, jury and executioner, and it can seem in The Dark Knight that the only thing that makes Batman the hero and not the others is the moral influence of Alfred and Fox.
But ultimately, it was truly Heath Ledger’s performance that distinguished this film. I don’t know enough about acting to really express why, but despite his overt insanity, Ledger’s Joker was the most human villian I can remember in a Batman film, perhaps even in a superhero film. He made the whole film work, on both its literal and its symbolic levels.