Michelle Williams’ performance as a grieving wife in the Sundance drama Incendiary (pictured) was already intensely poignant, but by Tuesday afternoon, as word of Heath Ledger’s death spread across Park City, it took on an eerie new meaning for those who’d seen it. In the film, Williams — Ledger’s real-life ex and mother of their young daughter, Matilda — plays a woman who loses her husband and child in a London terrorist attack.
The screening I went to on Monday seemed to spark a lot of interest (spotted in the audience were Christine Vachon, Ron Yerxa, Albert Berger, and Elvis Mitchell); afterward, I spoke with director Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary) about how people who have lost someone in their lives could really connect with what Williams’ character was going through. “Somehow we always tend to talk about grief in the abstract. Her very point is to make people understand that it’s not in the abstract. It’s a very real thing.”
Maguire added that the death of her father at the age of 18 was a source of inspiration. “I grew up Catholic…and I was caught up in that whole dichotomy of like, ‘He’s gone somewhere better, but his cardigan is still hanging up in the bathroom and I can smell it. Is he in heaven? Is there a heaven? He’s not coming back, I know that much.’ Death is very final.”
When celebrities die in heartbreaking circumstances, people who don’t care for Hollywood say things like, “Who cares, we lose people every day and nobody makes a fuss about them.” ‘Tis true. But we don’t know everybody — or at least it’s impossible to feel like we do in the same vein that a spectacular performance makes us feel connected to an actor. Incendiary is a film about recovering from a tragic loss, and with that, our thoughts go out to Williams, their daughter, friends, family — and just anybody who felt like they knew Ledger.
(Williams was not scheduled to be in Park City, according to the film’s publicist; on Wednesday she arrived in Brooklyn, at the home she once shared with Ledger.)