‘Some people are just bigger than the world has room for.’
There are people born into this world with light, it radiates through them as they grow; brightening the lives of those around them. There are people born into this world with light, it radiates through them as they grow; brightening the lives of everyone.
Heath Ledger was one of those people who’s light touched us all and now, more than ever, we see just how much he gave of himself for his craft, for his loved ones, and for the sake of being alive in general.
He was intense in a way that made other people want to be intense too. He didn’t believe he had much time here, so he wanted to soak it all in. While we wish he’d been wrong about his numbered days; this documentary doesn’t focus on that. Instead, it focuses on his life, on the way he lived so thoroughly, and the way he loved just as deeply.
To Heath, all of this was a gift – one that he never wasted. He rarely slept, always on the move, never wanting to let anything pass him by. Maybe the thing that made him so bright was the thing that took him so early – a restlessness – but the moments he spent here in his 28 years of life were so well lived and there’s nothing that anyone could want more for him with how his journey ended.
Before his tragic end came a beautiful beginning; that beginning was a flight to LA following his girlfriend a script that a mutual friend shared with him. That script was 10 Things I Hate About You and Heath wanted the lead. So, the lead he got.
From there, Heath began to see his circumstances change, but never his heart. He went on to act in films such as The Patriot with a role he felt that he almost missed out on. He thought he was ruining his audition, so halfway through it, he stopped the process and told them that he was ‘sorry for wasting their time’. The cast and crew were so taken by his talent and passion that they cast him anyway. That role would teach Heath a lot about the craft and what it took to embrace acting, even in uncomfortable moments.
It also taught him a lot about what he didn’t want, at least, not in the way it ambushed him.
‘He wanted fame, and then when he got it, he didn’t want it. He felt owned.’
The promo tour, the fame that came along with The Patriot, and how his life felt like it was no longer his were hard for Heath to navigate. Even as his fame grew, he never got used to it. He didn’t let that keep him from following his passion though, he continued to seek roles that would challenge him.
Other roles Heath took on were in films like Lords of Dogtown, Candy, Ned Kelly, Monsters Ball, and A Knights Tale. The roles Heath wanted were ones that would consume him. The roles he could get lost in. He gave himself to every character he played, but some roles stand out more than others.
In Brokeback Mountain, Heath knew that Ennis was a role he could play before those behind the scenes saw it in him. He transformed into the character, a man dealing with a sense of self-hatred, or maybe shame so deep that he couldn’t embrace himself. He walked around set with his fists balled up, gritting his teeth, and delivering lines with a punch. He channeled a character and turned that character into someone that transcends.
Dark Knight saw Heath become the Joker, in fact, for those who knew him, it was hard to tell where Heath ended and the Joker began – both on and off set. He locked himself in a room for 6 weeks and brought his version of the Joker to life. He perfected a voice which allowed him to develop every other aspect of the character that he needed. He walked, he spoke, he stood, and he lived as the Joker. He even made his own makeup, and due to the prosthetics around his lips, he frequently licked them to keep the prosthetics on – that too became part of Heath’s joker.
Watching Heath become the Joker through the eyes of his friends was bittersweet.
Between Brokeback Mountain and Dark Knight, Heath and girlfriend Michelle Williams had a daughter Matilda, and his loved ones says that was the role he loved most. He moved to a new city, fell in love with his life in a way he didn’t expect to, and gave everything he could to the women he loved most. He said, in a voiceover, that he was so proud of both Michelle and Matilda. His love for them knew no bounds.
However, in taking on roles that took so much of him, friends say Heath’s life began to unravel. He couldn’t give people who deserved his time what they needed and he felt like things were spinning out of control. This caused his relationship with Michelle to end, and for a while, Heath had an incredibly hard time.
Friends went on to say that Dark Knight gave Heath some of his joy back, and through that role and the next, Heath was happy. Many feel that Heath’s death came at a time when all of the light had drained from him, but that’s simply not true. He faced struggles but he wanted this life, he wanted all of it.
The documentary then grew quite somber. The last parts of the documentary focused on the last parts of Heath’s life. His role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus ultimately played a hand in Heath’s death. He was soaking wet in a lot of his scenes and it was cold, what started off as the flu turned into pneumonia. Cast and crew who stayed near Heath in apartments said they could hear him at all hours of the night.
His sleeping medicine wasn’t working, his body was unable to rest, and he couldn’t get better where he was. Just days before he was set to leave, likely to rest and have time to recover – Heath himself said he was going to go into hibernation for a year after his last role – his life ended.
The big explanation that many fans may have been searching for in this film, didn’t happen, and rightfully so. Heath’s death was an accident and it’s not the part of his existence that should be focused upon. Heath lived, he really really lived, and the moments that took him away mean so little compared to the moments that saw his life.
A friend says he once asked Heath, ‘How do you burn so bright all the time?’
Even without an answer, it’s something we’ll always be grateful for.
The moments in the film where his friends share their pain are few, but they’re the heaviest. His absence is still felt so strongly.
‘He had this light around him. Wherever he went he shined light on people and made their lives better.’
There is beautiful dialogue spoken over scenes at the end of the film that shows Heath and his smile, his laugh, the dimples that framed his face and the happiness that radiated from his eyes. They show his roles and his craft and his talent, they show scenes of the films that took him away and scenes from the film that gave him his start.
The last scene of the documentary shows, like a lot of his footage, Heath spinning. He controls the feeling that tries to control him. It’s the way that he lived his life.
‘…but I knew him’