UPDATE: July 19, 2008. See my review of The Dark Knight, including Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, HERE.
The death of actor Heath Ledger has shocked the world. He did not appear to be one of the many Hollywood party figures who live for their next drug binge or DUI. He seemed to be a serious actor and a devoted father. I’ve watched his career since early movies like 10 Things I Hate About You, A Knight’s Tale, and The Patriot. I was disappointed that he played in Brokeback Mountain and skipped that one, realizing that I don’t expect anything more out of Hollywood than that, anyway. He seemed to have a promising career in front of him and his upcoming role as The Joker in this summer’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight had everyone eager with anticipation.
Yet, it appears that playing the role of a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy …" took it’s toll on Ledger. He slept less than 2 hours a night and his mind would not stop racing. He had to take ambien to get to sleep and even that didn’t work. Reportedly, Jack Nicholson warned him that this was possible when he took the role of the Joker. Nicholson played this character in 1989. We still don’t know what killed Heath Ledger, but the fact that he was severely affected by playing this role should not be overlooked.
When you spend your days and nights getting into the character of a homicidal maniac, it is going to affect you. We think that it doesn’t but, just like you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2), you can also be destroyed by what you think about. When you entertain these types of thoughts and actually become this type of character in your mind, a disconnect can take place and you can open yourself up to all types of evil influences. Evil really does exist. There is a spiritual realm. Demons are real. When Ledger walked around his apartment getting into character, what might he have unknowingly been getting in touch with? I think that it might have been more than the dark recesses of his own mind, as scary as that could be for all of us. Matthew 15:19 says that it is the evil that comes out of our heart that makes us unclean. Maybe Ledger, even as an unbeliever, could only take so much uncleanness without being emotionally and mentally affected.
This whole story is a tragedy. Ledger was a promising young actor and he seemed to be a decent guy who was trying to handle the stardom thing as well as he could. We still don’t know what caused his death, so I am not saying it was suicide. Maybe he was just trying to get some sleep and escape the horrors in his own mind and he accidentally took too many ambien. Maybe it had a reaction in his body. At any rate, it should be a lesson to all of us to place our thoughts on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things" – Philippians 4:8. As Christians, we have the mind of Christ – we can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). We don’t have to be subject to the evil that we are assualted with. And, we should also take care regarding what we fill our minds with. I am not saying that no actor should ever play an evil character – sometimes those stories are important to tell. But, if it ever does have to happen, a distance should be created so that we do not become what we are playing. If you are not a Christian, I have no idea how you would be able to do this effectively.
At the very least, this story should remind us that we have no idea the turmoil that the people around us are going through. As followers of Jesus, we should seek to minister love, grace, and mercy to people. We should also be available to pray the prayers that set people free. That is what Jesus wants to do through us and He still gives freedom to captives.