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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

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

Posted on 2006.01.23 at 15:41
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~ 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


(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-24 00:02 (UTC) (Link)
Where do you live, Mews? You don't have to tell me the exact place. I take it your local theater only plays blockbusters. That's not unusual even with a town like ours, which has three multiplexes. Over two dozen screens, altogether, but they all play the same stuff. It's like fast-food chains all having the same menu. Our only "independent film" theater folded last year. Or did you mean your town might refuse to show it? In the U.S., I haven't heard the film being actually withdrawn from a theatrical engagement (anticipating public protests), except one place in Utah. Even in Utah it has been doing very well in Salt Lake City, or so I hear.

It is a film with a lot of elegiac moments, relying on expansive shots of scenery to establish mood. It certainly benefits from being seen on a big screen. But, SO many scenes involve interaction between characters, which use close and medium shots, it still should come across beautifully on a DVD. (I've already put my name in to buy one from Amazon, when it comes available.)
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-24 00:50 (UTC) (Link)
Ok, I get a better picture of your situation. You have the "we only have a multi-plex" problem. If we only had one, there would not be a showing of "Brokeback Mountain." In my small city, all the multiplexes are owned by the same company. I think that makes them feel they can "take a chance" by showing an "iffy" film of one of the two dozen screens. Otherwise, they certainly wouldn't do it. "Munich" is an Oscar-contender, too. Directed by Spielberg! It is playing on one screen only out of all the multiplexes. Other films (The Squid and the Whale; Capote) that I would like to see will not play here at all, I am sure. I only saw "Everything is Illuminated" because I was in Indianapolis for the LotR exhibit. There is an itty-bitty independent theater there, a total hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall, that showed that film. That was how I was able to see it. EII didn't even play Minneapolis-St.Paul, I think, a metropolitan area of millions, and lots of college students.

Ah, it's epidemic.
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2006-01-24 01:06 (UTC) (Link)
maeglian at 2006-01-24 00:19 (UTC) (Link)
It's embarrassing, but when I see the pic of Ennis with the shirts, I want to make some quip about the newest detergent smelling funny, or something. The reality of the scene is so devastating and shattering that some psychological defense mechanism of out-of-place humour kicks in automatically.

I've enjoyed following your various viewings of the film and look forward to your in-depth responses when you feel ready to share them. :-)
mechtild at 2006-01-24 00:43 (UTC) (Link)
Well, you have already heard most of them. P.S. I just sent you another one.
mechtild at 2006-01-24 13:24 (UTC) (Link)
[I] look forward to your in-depth responses when you feel ready to share them. :-)

I just said you'd heard all of them. No, I'm still thinking. But I do want to drag over some of the things I've said over in your thread and the other one that's locked, where I've been unbosoming, just for my own sense of "journal" -- keeping track of thoughts that really matter to me.

P.S. I hadn't thought of that "smelling the laundry," idea, YOU. In the actual film, I hadn't got the idea Ennis was sniffing the shirts, really (what could be left after twenty years, even if they had never been washed?), mainly just of his burrowing his face in the memories of what had passed when the shirt had last been worn, and into the remembered body of the one who wore it -- and the pangs of love that would be piercing him more than ever for the one who would have saved those shirts, unwashed -- Ennis's old, bloodied shirt covered, as if sheltered or hidden or held, by Jack's.

Now I'm going to think of him, "taking in his lover's remembered fragrance," out of fanfics, I suppose.
(Anonymous) at 2006-01-25 22:55 (UTC) (Link)
Seen it for the 3rd time tonight. It still bowls me over, but it doesn't just hurt, now. I guess I'm more reconciled to the impact - affected by the compassion that the film has for all its characters. I can see the beauty and love, not only the pain and loss and misery.

You're entirely right about the silence before "sometimes I miss you so much....". Jack *is* planning to say something else, something that will hurt Ennis - he's going to break up or pose that long overdue ultimatum at last. But he can't. Did you see the forum link in my LJ - it's a discussion of that scene and someone there is on to the same thing.

I've written a long diatribe on stuff that impacted or impressed me, or little things that I loved or noted, or things I'm wondering about - but I can't post it! LJ is still not working for me - they haven't answered my query either. If it's not fixed till tomorrow I may register at some board to join discussions.

mechtild at 2006-01-25 23:07 (UTC) (Link)
I am getting your replies just fine, Maeglian. I am really sorry and distressed that this LJ snafu has effectively cut you off from communicating with the people who appreciate what you say and who you are.

You're entirely right about the silence before "sometimes I miss you so much....". Jack *is* planning to say something else, something that will hurt Ennis - he's going to break up or pose that long overdue ultimatum at last. But he can't. Did you see the forum link in my LJ - it's a discussion of that scene and someone there is on to the same thing.

Ha. You [they?] are faster on the uptake than I am; it took me FIVE VIEWINGS!

I think I know which board you mean from your LJ post, the Dave Cullen place, right? I won't be there, though. Hanging out on Suspect Terrain's LJ for a few days and following her links and all, I decided that I really don't fit in over there. (Not that I "fit in" anywhere, now, LOL.)

I thank you for coming here and responding, Maeglian. ESPECIALLY since you can't even read what you posted or what people wrote in reply!!!!!!!!

You know what? I'm going to copy this and send it to you as a PM, through K-D.

*scampers off*
Map-Maker, Lighthouse-Keeper
marinshellstone at 2006-01-24 01:46 (UTC) (Link)
I didn't write a review after I saw BBM simply because I couldn't gather my thoughts together, I was so devastated by its beauty and power...but I think you said it better than I could. It is one of the most amazing movies I've ever seen, and I wept and wept afterwards at the glory and tragedy of love!
mechtild at 2006-01-24 01:56 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, Hadara, wasn't it wonderful? I know it sounds funny to say I loved being devastated, but I did love it. It made me feel ... alive. I so easily slip into my own "cocoon mode," I need to have it ripped open for me. RotK did that for me. Now, Brokeback Mountain has done it.

Thanks so much for posting. ((((Hadara, soon of CA))))
stillscarlet at 2006-01-24 06:52 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I can't wait to see it. We only have one small theatre with one screen, but I have every confidence Brokeback Mountain will be shown here. It sounds terrific.
mechtild at 2006-01-24 13:13 (UTC) (Link)
It sounds terrific.

It is. And, since one screen is all it takes to see it, your town's theater will suit.
lembas_junkie at 2006-01-25 03:16 (UTC) (Link)
Wow, I can't wait to see it (Jake Gyllenhaal's not too hard on the eyes, either!). ;)
mechtild at 2006-01-25 03:52 (UTC) (Link)
Hey, Lembas!

I am sure you will enjoy/be moved by/be impressed by this movie.

If you like Gyllenhaal, you might like this image I gleaned, looking for a "get-well" pic of him for a smitten friend:


He's definitely a good-looking man with big, hound-dog eyes, a soft voice and exceedingly pretty lips. But, in the film, it's his craggy co-star that I feel more drawn to.
pearlette at 2006-01-25 15:28 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, me, too. I'm a Heath girl through and through!!!! :)

Lembas! Your icon! *squees* Frolijah in a cowboy hat. Now THAT makes me happy. Very. :p
mechtild at 2006-01-25 15:54 (UTC) (Link)
Yep, that Ennis, he TEARS ME UP. As for Heath, himself, I don't know much about him that makes him seem like a person I would like. But his Ennis, sakes alive, but that character pulls at my heart something awful.
pearlette at 2006-01-25 17:28 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I meant Heath-as-Ennis. Incredible acting.

'Ride em, Frodo.' Mmmmmmm.
pearlette at 2006-01-25 17:29 (UTC) (Link)
And of course, I wouldn't object to riding HIM.

OK, OK ...
mechtild at 2006-01-25 17:47 (UTC) (Link)
And of course, I wouldn't object to riding HIM.

Ennis or Frodo? Oh, I see. Frodo. Well, I think he'd have to do the riding in my case. I might crush him. *titter* Naaah, he's a wiry little hobbit.
mechtild at 2006-01-25 15:51 (UTC) (Link)
I agree with Pearl, Lembie-baby, GREAT hat!

Ride 'em, Frodo! Yee-ha!
lembas_junkie at 2006-01-25 16:28 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! *hugs* I'm going to tweak it later on, heh heh...he's gotta say *some*thing, ya know! ;D


p.s. Checked out the Jake pic...whew! Thanks for that Mch, he's kinda buff, isn't he? :D
mechtild at 2006-01-25 17:46 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Lembie,

I wrote this reply but somehow it didn't get entered, I see....

Yes, he is "kind of buff" in that shot. Perhaps that was taken during "Jarhead," a film for which, interviewers say, Gyllenhaal worked out two hours a day(minimum) with a drill-sergeant of a personal trainer, so that he'd look like the heavily-muscled marine sniper he was cast to portray. He had a scene in the film in which he was to dance naked except for a Santa-hat tied around his hips that flapped around over his Person rather like a triangular red-and-white fleece loin cloth. With no uniform to disguise his actual condition, his body had to look right.

However, the interview said, after he put on all that muscle for the film and stopped training, it went away again.
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