As the winners for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced today, several moments left me thoroughly excited. Like watching Eminem perform after a gap of 18 years. Or Parasite becoming the first non-English film to win the Best Picture.
But the moment that I, as a lover of movies, comics, performances, and stories, was most eager to see, was the result for Best Leading Actor. And the second it was announced that Phoenix had won the award, the fan in me could not help but shout out in excitement.
The excited shout was immediately followed by sobering realization though. That over the years, it has only happened twice that actors portraying the same fictional character have won an Oscar. The first was for the character Vito Corleone from 'The Godfather' series.
The second fictional character to have won two different actors an Oscar is Joker. Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor in 2008, for the movie The Dark Knight, while Joaquin Phoenix won Best Leading Actor in 2020, for Joker.
Joker is undoubtedly one of the most famous and loved supervillains. From his iconic laughter to his brand of debauchery, his insanity is hard to ignore and his intentions, impossible to interpret.
But, if we were to look back at all the actors who portrayed the deviant villain, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix would be tied at the top for their take on the character.
Ledger had always been an undeniably brilliant actor, who made each role his own. And his untimely demise not only broke a million hearts but also immortalized him, and consequently the last role he played, in a manner that is near impossible to compete with.
And yet, Phoenix was expected to do exactly that. Even if the stories that Joker and The Dark Knight talked about were diametrically opposite.
From the time it was announced that Phoenix would be playing Joker, contemplation over how he would fare against Ledger's performance began.
But, every comparison--whether done prior to the film's release or post--is, in my humble opinion, unfair. Especially because it takes away from the effort that both actors put in understanding the character, and then, translating that vision on camera.
Even when we compare the stories, Joker was the origin of the villain and The Dark Knight was a chapter into his life as a villain.
Joker exposed the far-reaching results of an apathetic society, whereas, in The Dark Knight, Joker was a symbol of the chaos that affects every person's life - even a superhero's.
If I absolutely had to, the only similarity I'd draw between the two actors, is their awareness, on a close and personal level, of life's fragility. Perhaps that's what allowed the two to imbue their own brand of reality in their portrayals.
Maybe that's why, despite being widely different and incomparable, both 'Jokers' evoked intense feelings in the audience. Maybe, the two actors knew, from personal experience, what it is to 'put on a happy face'.
Technicalities aside, the one thing both actors managed in their portrayal was to become their version of Joker in such an honest manner, that we forgot where the actor ended and the character began.
Did both the actors deserve an Oscar? Abso-fucking-lutely. It is just a strange, cinematic coincidence, that it happened for the same character, Joker.