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Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” is still the reigning Joker

January 24 through 26, Union South Marquee, multiple showtimes, free. Info

It’s been 12 years since the untimely death of Heath Ledger. It’s also hard to imagine what body of work he would have created in the last decade or so, given the tremendous talent that he turned out to be (Brokeback Mountain 2005). Ledger’s take on the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), released after his death, ended up defining his career. Ledger also upended what audiences expected from the character—his interpretation of Joker was a far cry from Jack Nicholson’s campy rendition in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, for instance. As another Joker (also coming to WUD Film the weekend of February 14) eats up an excessive amount of awards-season attention, it’s worth revisiting Ledger’s crazy-for-the-sake-of-crazy portrayal.

Christopher Nolan built his brand as auteur with The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins in 2005, The Dark Knight in 2008, and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012), which prompted many a debate among fans as to whether or not these were “Batman” movies. Clearly drawing deep influence from the comic books, Nolan’s darker take on Gotham City and its denizens gave more heft and dimension to the characters, particularly Joker. Some men just want to watch the world burn, and that’s all you need to know in terms of his motivations. Ledger’s Joker is simply a monster who wants little more than to see people suffering for his own amusement, which makes him more frightening than most villains in the Batman canon.

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Ledger projects a palpable evil but also evokes a very slight sense of empathy during one of The Dark Knight‘s most iconic scenes, in which he leans out of the window of a stolen cop car, silently, after he is done creating even more havoc in Gotham City. After all, he describes himself as a dog chasing a car who would not know what to do with one if he caught it. The Dark Knight may not have been the Batman film we deserved, but provided one that we didn’t know we needed. While Nolan’s weight and heavy-handedness can get in the way of his own premise (as in 2010’s Inception), The Dark Knight strikes all the right notes and should be viewed on the big screen this weekend at the Marquee if you did not see it during its first run. —Edwanike Harbour

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