Heathcliff Andrew Ledger would be 37 years old today.
At 14 years old, I had a lot going on at home and I used films as an escape from this. Being absorbed in another’s world with another person’s life to focus on allowed me to escape mine. Each film, different from the last, was beautiful and unique. I adored watching all sorts of genres from Hollywood blockbusters to world cinema to old classics. At that point, I hadn’t decided I wanted to become a filmmaker.
A family friend of mine understood, and one day, she brought round Brokeback Mountain. Having heard the film’s name through award ceremonies, I knew the film but had no clue what it was about. I didn’t research the film beforehand or even read the blurb of the DVD, I just slotted it into my portable DVD player in my room and watched.
Maybe it was because of what was happening in my own life that made it so emotional and poignant? But one thing’s for certain, Brokeback Mountain is the most perfect film I’ve seen and I watched right to the end through Gustavo Santaolalla’s The Wings, Willie Nelson’s He Was a Friend of Mine and Rufus Wainwright’s The Maker Makes. I couldn’t stop crying, and never have I cried so much at a film since. It was the oddest experience. And Heath Ledger’s performance brought this on, I can’t even explain it. He shone brightest in an already shining film, conveying through Ennis Del Mar the injustice and painful reality of living a difficult life, in a difficult time and this resonated strongly with me.
After Brokeback Mountain, I desperately wanted to not just watch these films in my bedroom on my little portable DVD player late at night anymore. Instead, I sought to create them. To move and inspire someone just as Ang Lee’s masterpiece had and to discover or even meet acting revelations like Heath Ledger himself. But, alas, the announcement of his death came shortly after.
Without his initial influence, I wouldn’t be pursuing a career as a filmmaker. Heath Ledger helped me find my passion, helped me to concentrate on something else other than my life and he helped me imagine a potential future for myself. Even now I can quote the film, write a University academic essay on Brokeback Mountain and often I refer back to Heath Ledger’s work. He was my role model, a symbol of where I wanted to reach one day. I owe him a lot.
Heath Ledger was the greatest actor my generation has ever known: an incredible talent and a special person. He was taken too young, but to quote Ennis: “if you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it.” Happy birthday dude, and thanks for everything. M x