Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

Brokeback Mountain: beauty in which to lose yourself....

~ Heath Ledger, as Ennis del Mar.

When I was in the Washington D.C. area, visiting family at New Year's, I made a point of going to see Brokeback Mountain. It was still "iffy" whether it would play in my small upper-midwest city, and I didn't want to miss it.

Leaving my old mom at home to watch re-runs of Law and Order, I drove to a little independent movie house in the Virginia suburbs where it then was playing (it had not yet been more widely released). With a day-after-New-Year's audience of mostly older men and women, I sat and watched, or, should I say, "experienced" the film....

A few days later, still unable to articulate how I felt, I went off to see it again. A working-day matinee, the theatre was peopled mostly by women this time, singly or in pairs. Many were middle-aged like me, some elderly. "The retired crowd," I thought.

Then my older sister arrived to visit. Heck, she said, she had wanted to see it, too. Would I be willing to see it again?

Would I.

We went to a night show, mostly older men and women again. My sister, who has been through a long, gruelling, miserable series of years for various reasons, couldn't stop crying. She sniffled during the last sequences but bawled during the end credits when they played Willie Nelson's, "He Was a Friend of Mine." On our half-hour drive back to my mother's she was too upset to speak, but, when she had recovered, we talked for hours into the night, about the film, about everything. Granted, my sister was in a vulnerable state, but her response to the film was unprecedented. She loved it, she said.

Back in my own hometown, Brokeback had opened on one screen at the local multiplexes. My daughter wanted me to take her. We went to a late Friday night show with a lot of giggly, chatty college students. What did she think, my daughter, whose favourite film is RotK but whose second-favourite is King Kong? "Not much happens in it, does it? There's just a bunch of talking scenes and scenery, except for the sex scenes. [She hates sex scenes.] Why do they always have to show the girl's boobs?" she complained testily. "I'll give it an 8 out of 10," she declared, "but only a 6 1/2 for entertainment value."

I thought that that viewing would be "it" for me, but, lo! my husband stepped forward and said he wouldn't mind seeing it, after all. He had declined until then. We went this Friday night to an earlier show, with an attentive, older crowd.

Would he like it? I was afraid I had talked it up too much, raising his expectations too high, and he would be disappointed. He said nothing as we sat there for the end credits. I felt sure he had found it ho-hum.

When he finally sucked in his breath to speak, I did, too, from suspense. "Well," he said, "that was great. The direction was great, the music was great, the cinematography was great, the actors were great." After another breath he said, "I loved it."

Wow. My husband said all that -- about the, "gay cowboy movie."

I want to say here that I agree with him. Brokeback Mountain may be my all-time favourite film, after the the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It's funny, too, because only a month or two ago, I didn't know a thing about the film, or the story by Annie Proulx from which it was adapted. It was talk on the LJ's of LotR friends that let me know it existed. I am a terrible media isolationist and rarely read contemporary authors. When I learned from my LJ browsing that Ang Lee was the director, I became really enthused. (His The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility are among my favourite films.) But, as for the cast, I did not recognize the names of any of them except Randy Quaid, whom I had seen in some films in the past.

Because I am still processing this film, I am not quite ready to put forth my own responses in depth. However, browsing the reviews for this film, I found this review of Brokeback Mountain by Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, the magazine in which the short story of Brokeback Mountain was originally published, Oct. 13, 1997.

I love what Anthony Lane wrote in this review. And, since it very nearly expresses my overall response to the film, I am going to quote it here in full. Only when Lane says the film's first section did not succeed do I strongly differ with him. I thought it succeeded beautifully. The opening pulled me right into the film's world, one hundred percent. I was no longer in the theatre, I was in the world the film had created. I call that a pretty good opening.

“Brokeback Mountain” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” [Note: Narnia review not included in this post]
Issue of 2005-12-12

The new Ang Lee film, “Brokeback Mountain,” is a love story that starts in 1963 and never ends. The first scene is a master class in the dusty and the taciturn, with gusts of wind doing all the talking. A cowboy stands against a wall in Signal, Wyoming, his hat tipped down as if he were falling asleep. Another fellow, barely more than a kid, turns up in a coughing old truck and joins the waiting game; both are in search of a job. There is something wired and wary in their silence, and the entire passage can be read not only as an echo of “Once Upon a Time in the West,” whose opening hummed with a similar suspense, but also as an unimaginable change of tune. Sergio Leone’s men were waiting for a train; these boys are falling in love.

At last, we learn their names: Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Both are hired for the summer, to tend the flocks on Brokeback Mountain, and that is where we follow them for the first, idyllic act of their story. This is the most gorgeous part of the movie, and the least successful, partly because an idyll is less an event than a state of being. Lee wants to suggest the savoring of time, yet the camera tends to alight on ravishing formations of rock and cloud, grab them, and then move on, as if we were shuffling through a pile of photographs. (Does any director still have the patience to let our gaze rest without skittering upon the Western landscape?) On the other hand, you could argue that such transience sets the tone—at once wondrous and fleeting—for the rest of the movie, and that, if Ennis and Jack have fashioned a rough and rainy Eden for themselves, it is a paradise waiting to be lost.

One evening, a drunken Ennis shares Jack’s tent, and, in the heat of a cold night, there is a breathy, wordless unbuckling of belts. Rumor had it that “Brokeback Mountain” was an explicit piece of work, and I was surprised by its tameness, although Lee’s helplessly good taste, which has proved both a gift and a curb, was always going to lure him away from sweating limbs and toward the coupling of souls. Not once do our heroes mention the word love, nor does any shame or harshness attach to their desire. Indeed, what will vex some viewers is not the act of sodomy but the suggestion that Ennis and Jack are possessed of an innocence, a virginity of spirit, that the rest of society (which literally exists on a lower plane, below the mountain) will strive to violate and subdue. If the lovers hug their secret to themselves, that is because they fear for its survival:

“This is a one-shot thing we got going on here.”
“Nobody’s business but ours.”
“You know I ain’t queer.”
“Me neither.”

American Rousseauism, with its worship of open plains and its dread of civic constraint, is nothing new. The erotic strain of it that unfurls in “Brokeback Mountain” may seem unprecedented, although, considering that womanless men, bedecked in denim, rivets, and distressed leather, have been pitching camp in the wilderness since movies began, it doesn’t take much of a nudge for the subtext to rise to the surface. There is little in Lee’s film that would have rattled the spurs of Montgomery Clift in “Red River.”

“Brokeback Mountain,” which began as an Annie Proulx story in these pages, comes fully alive as the chance for happiness dies. Its beauty wells from its sorrow, because the love between Ennis and Jack is most credible not in the making but in the thwarting. Duty calls; they go their separate ways, get married—one in Texas, one in Wyoming—and raise children. Ennis weds Alma (Michelle Williams), while Jack’s wife is a rodeo rider named Lureen (Anne Hathaway), whose knowing wink, from the saddle, is the most brazen come-on in the film. After four years, the two men—as they now are—hook up again, and from then on they meet when they can. The most crushing moment comes as Alma glances from the doorway and catches her husband kissing his friend, in a rage of need that she has never seen before. In their frustration, the men are spreading ripples of pain to others, and the others are women and children. The female of the species (think of Lee’s previous heroines, like Joan Allen in “The Ice Storm” or Jennifer Connelly in “Hulk”) suffers no less than the male, but she struggles to escape the suffering, whereas the male swelters inside his strange cocoon. That’s why, when Jack and Ennis part at the end of the first summer, Ennis slips into an alleyway, retches, and punches a wall—as if the only option, for the unrequited, were to waylay one’s own heart and beat it senseless.

In the end, this is Heath Ledger’s picture. There is no mistaking Jake Gyllenhaal’s finesse (look for the wonderful scene in which he can’t look—his jaw tightening as Ennis, still just a friend, strips to wash, just past the corner of his eye), but it is Ledger who bears the yoke of the movie’s sadness. His voice is a mumble and a rumble, not because he is dumb but because he hopes that, by swallowing his words, he can swallow his feelings, too. In his mixing of the rugged and the maladroit, he makes you realize that “Brokeback Mountain” is no more a cowboy film than “The Last Picture Show.” (Both screenplays were written by Larry McMurtry, the earlier in collaboration with Peter Bogdanovich, this one with Diana Ossana.) Each is an elegy for tamped-down lives, with an eye for vanishing brightness of which Jean Renoir would have approved, and you should get ready to crumple at “Brokeback Mountain” ’s final shot: Ennis alone in a trailer, looking at a postcard of Brokeback Mountain and fingering the relics of his time there, with a field of green corn visible, yet somehow unreachable, through the window. This slow and stoic movie, hailed as a gay Western, feels neither gay nor especially Western: it is a study of love under siege. As Ennis says, “If you can’t fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.”

I could greatly expand on what Anthony Lane has written, but I'll save it for now. I am a terrible wind bag.

~ Ennis, Jack, Alma and Lureen, from the prequel....

~ Mechtild

Brokeback Mountain Links Page HERE

Tags: brokeback mountain, films

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