ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

(Warning - Adult content, and potentially plot-ruining clips lie below. Tread softly, and all that...)

Now, if there's been one truly iconic movie performance in the last decade, then it is surely that given by Heath Ledger as The Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight. Between influencing a generation of cosplayers, decorating the walls of countless fans the world over, and generally adhering to our collective cultural memory like permanent marker, Ledger's Joker was an instant icon - not least because of the actor's tragic death shortly after filming the role.

Looking back over Ledger's career leading up to The Dark Knight, however, it very much seems that The Joker didn't simply arrived fully formed. Instead, if you look closely, it's possible to see the origins of Ledger's acclaimed performance in those performances that predated it. In other words:

Heath Ledger Was Already Channeling The Joker Long Before The Dark Knight...

...and below are five moments when that unintentional preparation was most evident...

First up?

5. Brokeback Mountain Shined a Light on Ledger's Depth

One of the most striking elements of Ledger's Joker was the character's ability to express incredibly complex - and often completely contradictory - emotions in the tiniest of facial movements.

Watching Brokeback Mountain, it's possible to see Ledger's mastery of that particular acting skill at work - along with his gift for playing characters who give virtually nothing away...

4. 10 Things I Hate About You Highlighted His Charisma

An often under-appreciated quality of The Dark Knight's Joker, the character's charismatic screen presence is arguably the element of Ledger's performance that has rendered it iconic more than any other.

Whether it's in that impossible to ignore charisma, or simply the carefully managed, un-showy sense of humor, 10 Things I Hate About You is far more connected to The Dark Knight than their respective reputations would suggest...

3. Monster's Ball Set Up The Joker's Existential Despair

Underneath all the murder, psychosis and Bat-obsession, it's not too hard to recognize an underlying streak of existential despair in Ledger's Joker. Less the pure force of anarchy that the villain is in the comic books, The Dark Knight's Joker was in many ways a tragic figure - one seemingly defined by his lack of faith in the world, and his inability to live within its confines.

Which, as Monster's Ball proves, is the sort of astonishing emotional complexity that Ledger could deliver in his sleep...

2. A Knight's Tale Brought the Flair for the Dramatic

Whether it was sending Batman on a wild goose chase around Gotham, terrorizing a party, or setting fire to a giant mound of cash, characters don't come much more loaded with a flair for the dramatic than Ledger's take on the Joker.

If they did, though, they'd probably be Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, from Gelderland - and be the lead in A Knight's Tale. Look closely, and you can also see a whole lot of Paul Bettany's influence in the sheer extravagance of Ledger's Joker...

And finally?

1. Candy Captured the Darkness

A character defined by his rejection of the side of the angels - and yet no less sympathetic for it - The Joker is ultimately a heart-breaking and emotionally challenging figure.

Now try watching Candy without crying, and tell me Ledger hadn't mastered the expression of that darkness before he ever stepped onto The Dark Knight set... I'm welling up again...

What do you think, though?


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