By Chris Stuckmann
Every generation has that one performance that stands out as something they’ll never forget, that one role that they couldn’t take their eyes off of. For teenagers growing up today, I think that role was Heath Ledger’s seething portrayal of the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I will literally… never… forget that night. I saw it Thursday at midnight… the line was outside the theater and into the parking lot, the summer air was sticky and tension was mounting to see this role that we had gotten such brief glimpses of in trailers. People back on my side of the line were afraid they weren’t going to get in, but the theater had planned to screen the movie in many separate auditoriums to assure maximum capacity. I remember there were so many people in my showing that the air was thick and I had to take deep breaths. I can’t remember the last time I felt an entire audience’s excitement as much as that night. By the time the Joker had done his “magic trick”, and the entire theater had erupted into applause, we were hooked. I can still remember the moment where I realized I was watching an instant classic. It was right after the famous pencil scene, and Heath is talking about his plan to kill Batman. I could… not… look… away. The music, the sound, the look, the feel, and HEATH… that movie was an explosion of everything that makes us go to the movies. It was that ‘high’ that we film fans are looking for, that movie that reminds us why we flock to the theaters in droves hoping to see something amazing.
I recently watched The Silence of the Lambs, that oh-so-notorious picture, and I was imagining that audiences at the premiere of that film had a very similar reaction as the The Dark Knight fans. As Jodie Foster is walking down the hallway towards Hannibal’s cell, she passes many crazed psychopaths, some writhing in their beds, convulsing, screaming. Some of them are jumping at the bars, hissing at her as she walks. And then the film does something so brilliant, and I believe this was Anthony Hopkins idea. Hannibal Lecter is perhaps the most insane and vile of all the men in that prison, and yet, as the camera reveals him, he stands silent, with a smile. He’s not screaming or clawing at himself or drooling, in fact, he almost looks sane. But the way Hopkins played him was so terrifically awesome, because you could see that look in his eye that told you something wasn’t right inside.
The Joker used fear and chaos to achieve what he wanted, but he got so many people on his side through reasoning with them. He got into their heads, and actually… made sense, as in the scene in the hospital where he convinces Harvey Dent to go down an evil path. In fact, in some ways, we understood the Joker and why he was doing what he did. It is similar with Hannibal Lecter. He used his mental perception to invade the thoughts of others, to get them excited and bothered, but despite his apparent insanity, he was convincing to others, and he was logical. That’s one of the reasons why him and the Joker are such intriguing villains.
Both actors gave their characters a low, snakelike voice, that entices you and makes you listen to every word. It’s that fact that makes the characters both so similar. You are drawn into them, you like them, despite the fact that they are murderers. You care for them and relate to them, and in some ways, you want them to succeed in their dastardly plans.
With both performances, it feels like a crime if you look away from the screen while they’re on it. Both roles garnered and Oscar, and both of them are universally iconic as some of the best performances ever on screen. So writers out there, take note, the best villains, are the ones we are able to sympathize with, understand, and maybe even… agree with at times. And of course, get incredible actors to play them
- You’ve just been StuckmannizedMovie Monday with Chris Stuckmann: The Joker and Hannibal Lecter,