Equipped with an unassailable reputation in the genre of rom-com, Heath Ledger set out to conquer the hearts of the generically teenage demography of Hollywood with 10 Things I Hate About You. In the end, he won over the niche and then-underrepresented LGBTQ+ population and later the entire world with two films that are radically different than his ubiquitously charming face solely worthy of the cover of an album starting with the Heath Ledger rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
Heath Ledger Shut Down Negativity Post-Brokeback Mountain
The unrequited tragedy of Heath Ledger lies not in his death from overdose but in the fact that the actor was only beginning to scratch the surface of greatness that lay buried within him and finding a platform to do so. He gave an Oscar-winning performance – the first Academy Award not just for him but for the entirety of the comic book industry – and couldn’t live long enough to carry it home with him. In his wake, the world will forever stay frozen in shock and grief that can never be quantifiable but for his presence contained within Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight.
His co-star in the former of the two, Jake Gyllenhaal commented about the Aussie in the aftermath of the pain that never truly subsides. Recalling their time as Jack and Ennis, Gyllenhaal regaled a story that solidifies why Heath Ledger was taken too soon because he was too beautiful for this world.
I see people who have joked with me or criticized me about lines I say in that movie. [Heath would] never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, ‘No. This is about love.’
Ledger went on to win his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his role as Ennis Del Mar while Gyllenhaal took home the same for Best Supporting Actor. 3 years later, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight premiered winning him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his inimitable, unforgettable, terrifying, and iconic role as the Joker against Christian Bale’s Batman.
The Oscar Controversy Surrounding Brokeback Mountain
When Brokeback Mountain premiered in theatres, the world cracked apart under the burden of criticism and backlash that weighed down upon Hollywood like a deluge. The movie was simply too graphic and “shocking for its violence” – insomuch that the role that was originally offered to a dozen A-listers all turned it down, including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and Joaquin Phoenix (the other Oscar-winning Joker – ironic!). At the 78th Academy Awards, Brokeback Mountain took home 3 Oscars, including Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
Also read: “He didn’t think I was good enough for the part”: Mark Wahlberg Reveals Ang Lee Never Considered Him For Brokeback Mountain After Initially Claiming He Was ‘Creeped Out’ By the Intimacy, Was Scared of His Own Insecurities
Despite winning Oscar nominations in 5 other categories, the Best Picture loss, however, was the one that stung the most. Critics cried foul after the coveted award went to a film exploring a crime drama revolving around the 9/11 tragedy, Crash. The non-groundbreaking choice shocked reviewers who published op-ed pieces titled: Did Homophobia Steal Brokeback Oscar? Others directly clapped back at the Academy. The Hollywood Reporter, in the meantime, waited a whole decade before leading a strategically mapped out charge to win back that Best Picture Oscar for the Ang Lee ballad.
A poll conducted by the publication 10 years after the premiere of the film asked hundreds of Academy members to vote again on past decisions that stirred public opinion. This time, Brokeback Mountain did win the Best Picture Oscar when the results came in.
Brokeback Mountain is available for streaming on Netflix.