I Am Heath Ledger is a touching and haunting documentary about an undeniable talent. Cutting back and forth between archival footage and interviews with some of Heath Ledger’s closest family, friends, and collaborators, directors Derik Murray and Adrian Buitenhuis make us reminisce about all the great roles that Ledger took on. What we don’t get is, and what I think most people wanted, is a more in depth look at his struggles leading up to his death.
But when you see Ledger’s father talk about how he felt about the public exposure of his son’s death, you can understand why this film is more of an extended-video-eulogy-slash-visual-resume than a documentary. Normally, when people grieve, we can grieve with our friends and family in private. But when you’re a celebrity, your family has to share that grief with everyone in the world. And that’s not easy.
And that’s part of why this documentary works. We don’t need to relive the media circus that happened when Ledger passed. We can spend this time just remembering how passionate he was about everything. How talented he was. How, even though he was an actor, he was a creator at heart. He had everything going for him – good looks, a great voice, and just being the personified version of the dictionary definition of “masculine”. Everything he set his mind to, whether it was acting, directing, photography, and even playing chess, he put 110% of his soul into it.
Even being a father and trying to be a good partner was something he was passionate about. But, as most of us know, his relationship with Michelle Williams ultimately did not last. It’s something that I wish was explored further, but it’s also completely understandable that Williams wouldn’t want to participate in this documentary. And although the filmmakers stray from diving into Ledger’s mind the weeks before his death, they do dispel the myth that playing the Joker was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In fact, we learn that the Joker was the likely the most rewarding role that he ever played.
I Am Heath Ledger also has one of the best uses of Bon Iver, probably ever. Opening with Bon Iver’s “Perth” playing in the background (Perth, Australia is Ledger’s home city), we come full circle near the end of film with an interview with Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. We learn about how one of Heath’s best friends, Matt, was directing a music video the day that Ledger died and how the emotions that were experience that day inspired him to write “Perth”.
It’s reckless to say that his death was because he couldn’t control his overactive mind; he wasn’t a broken man by any means. It’s cavalier to reduce his entire life and personality down to just his resume. From the interviews (cameos from Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn, Ang Lee, and more), we learn that he was so full of life and had so much light and love to share. And if there’s one takeaway from this film, it’s that his light will continue to shine on.
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