This is a blog about women, but if you’ll allow me I’d like to talk about a man for a moment. By now, everyone knows about Heath Ledger’s death yesterday. For days to come, if not longer, the speculation will swirl on the whys. But I’m not interested in any of that. Regardless the cause, the outcome remains tragically the same. Rumor and innuendo won’t help anyone find reason. Instead I’d like to focus on what we’ve lost.
Michael Jensen over at AfterElton wrote about how he felt Heath’s death like a body blow. I suspect a lot of gay men feel that way, and probably more than a few gay women as well. Heath’s role in “Brokeback Mountain” was so effortlessly iconic, so quietly devastating, that it has not only permanently become part of gay culture, but also pop culture. I still haven’t gotten over “Crash” beating “Brokeback” for the Oscar. Does anyone even remember how “Crash” ended? I can’t. But I sure as hell know how “Brokeback” did. Looking back years from now, cultural historians won’t point to “Crash” as having started a significant dialogue about race relations in America or how crappy Los Angelenos treat each other. No, instead they’ll look at “Brokeback Mountain” as another important stepping stone in our nation’s slow evolution toward full gay rights.
It’s a film that defied all odds with actors who beat all expectations. I mean on paper it’s almost ridiculous. A movie about gay cowboys? Put down the crack pipe, Winehouse. And it’s going to star two up-and-coming heartthrobs? Seriously, seek help now. But, despite its seeming impossibility, the movie was not only made, but triumphed. And that success was due in no small part to Heath’s transcendent performance. Raw and complex, simmering and understated, he made Ennis Del Mar a character for the ages. He was beautiful and broken. While I cringe at the use of the word “brave” when describing straight actors taking gay roles, Heath and Jake’s decision to play the doomed cowboys was at the very least risky. Many, many other actors ran from those roles. They made them their own.
I had looked forward to following Heath’s career. He was growing into the kind of actor who cherished substance over style. The kind of actor who looked for the complexities of characters, the sophistication of stories, the heaviness of the human heart. I still can’t wait to see how he transformed The Joker. Now, we’ll never get to see the rest. We won’t see all that he could have become. And that is -- just to be extremely selfish -- a very sad thing for a lover of movies like me.