“Some people are just bigger than the world has room for,” a poignant phrase by musician Ben Harper which is proven to the viewer throughout the 90 minutes of I Am Heath Ledger. Directed by Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray, the documentary explores the life and work of the late Australian actor through commentary by friends, family, co-stars, and directors. But the most remarkable aspect of this feature is the telling of his personal journey using Ledger’s own words, through his own lens.
As a boy, Ledger had shining stars stuck to his ceiling, and he soon found himself among them—where he always wanted to be. He began to show interest in acting from a very young age, and would soon see a quick rise to fame and success in films like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). His surge into the limelight was just as fulfilling as it was challenging. Through on-set footage, photos, and various interviews, you quickly learn of the self-doubt that Ledger struggled with, despite his talent, and the loneliness that came with fame. Many remember Heath Ledger for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) and his tragic death that soon followed, but not many are aware of the artist behind the actor—the bright personality who is remembered by family and friends for his passion behind the camera.
Ledger appreciated art in all forms, especially videography, and in order to deal with his struggles and the pressures that come with being an actor, he sought solace with his 8mm film camera. Throughout the documentary, you see Ledger filming anything and everything, from people in his life to sights on his travels. He was always looking to create something out of any situation from video to still photography. Even after long days on set, he would make his own spy thriller in his hotel room for fun. His passion behind the lens is shown in clips on the sets of music videos he directed. He was in command of everything around him and wanted to make something that people had never seen before. It leaves the audience wondering what more he could have done in the future, and what kind of films he would have created.
TV documentaries, with their restricted length, rarely take a whole life story and do it justice. This one is, unfortunately, no exception. The fast pace, from one part of Ledger’s life to the next, prevents the story from moving beyond the surface and digging deeper. The more the film goes on, the more it feels like his life is being reduced to his filmography. But this had one goal, to show that Heath Ledger was a truly remarkable human being, and it achieved that.
Buitenhuis and Murray close their film by giving fans closure and dispelling the rumour that playing the Joker drove the actor to his death—a death that still feels fresh. With emotions just as raw, this is a story that fans needed. It celebrates an artist who’s star power will always burn bright, and whose artistic nature set him apart.
(Featured image: I Am Heath Ledger, Spike)