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Dead Ledger

The passing of Heath Ledger, a youngster commented to the New York Times, is akin to the demise of James Dean

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by Shane O'Reilly, Editor, Dublin for outsideleft.com
originally published: January, 2008
my friend said, Why do you care? Twenty-eight years olds die all the time, you certainly don't care bout them
by Shane O'Reilly, Editor, Dublin for outsideleft.com
originally published: January, 2008
my friend said, Why do you care? Twenty-eight years olds die all the time, you certainly don't care bout them

I passed by my friends' window last night and immediately stuck my head in through it, astonished at the headline on Sky News. It was genuinely upsetting to see someone like Heath Ledger die. He was only three older than me and though I feel the years mounting up, it automatically reminded me of how young I, he, we actually were. This latest death had a very River Phoenix feel to things.

My friend turned and asked, bluntly, 'Why do you care? Twenty-eight years olds die all the time, you certainly don't care bout them'. I had no response. Well, none than I could give without sounding flaky. But I guess I have one now.

So, ok, twenty-eight year olds die all the time, sure, same then as all the other age categories. But there lies the twist; the cinefile, the bigger picture for us represents...well, a bigger picture! One can get to like, possibly 'know' and probably idolise these actors and actresses. Some of them become our own emotional and dramatic roles on screen, that linger long, genuinely affecting audiences. When you hear of the power of film, this essentially, is it.

I am no Ledger fanatic. He's an excellent actor. The buck stops there for me. But with this power of cinema often comes an undercurrent of understanding from our standpoint of the character, the role, the man himself perhaps (take any method actor). It is in some ways like a relationship, built subconsciously. Relating to such a person is obviously quite common (I'm going to be devastated when Harrison Ford dies). It is this cinematic closeness-without-being-close that allows us a certain kind of accessibility into their world that creates the difference in Ledger's death to that of a complete stranger as my friend was alluding to. Simply put; he was not a stranger. He was not a friend either but lay somewhere in between I guess. From afar he managed to stir our emotions; Monsters Ball, Brokeback Mountain, I'm not There and, undoubtedly, The Dark Knight. Emotions are our only connecting bridge to anyone else on this planet. Hard to forget, harder to let go.

It felt inextricably like his passing was a personal loss. It felt both bizarre and true. It is harder to believe considering Heath was only just reaching a probable apex of a career yet to fully blossom. The role of the Joker would have made him an international superstar. Probably. Forever immortalised, the role will now remain as an enigmatic swansong, one mysterious brooding character hiding another, under that smudged red smile.

see more stories from outsideleft's Screen archive »»

Shane O'Reilly
Editor, Dublin

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