In comments for the previous entries, we discussed whether Jack and Ennis would have kissed the way they did in the film during the summer their love affair began. Was the stairs kiss their first face to face kiss? What was the significance of “face to face” for Ennis?
I have tended to think the lovers in the short story did not kiss in the first summer, mostly because of something written from Jack’s POV when he is remembering his favourite moment, a non-sexual but intimate “dozy embrace.”
Paul Monette’s memoir of growing up as a closeted man in roughly the same era, not in rural Wyoming but in a New England prep school town (quoted in Part I), seemed to reinforce the likelihood that the two men never actually kissed that first summer, at least not in a significant way.
Here is Jack’s memory of the “dozy embrace” from the short story:
What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor
understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come
up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some
shared and sexless hunger.
They had stood that way for a long time in front of the fire, its
burning tossing ruddy chunks of light, the shadow of their bodies a single
column against the rock. The minutes ticked by from the round watch in
Ennis's pocket, from the sticks in the fire settling into coals. Stars bit
through the wavy heat layers above the fire. Ennis's breath came slow and
quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight, and Jack leaned against
the steady heartbeat, the vibrations of the humming like faint electricity
and, standing, he fell into sleep that was not sleep but something else
drowsy and tranced until Ennis, dredging up a rusty but still usable phrase
from the childhood time before his mother died, said, "Time to hit the hay,
cowboy. I got a go. Come on, you're sleepin on your feet like a horse,"
and gave Jack a shake, a push, and went off in the darkness. Jack heard his
spurs tremble as he mounted, the words "See you tomorrow," and the horse's
shuddering snort, grind of hoof on stone.
Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single
moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives.
Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him
face to face because he did not want to see or feel that it was Jack he
held. And maybe, he thought, they'd never got much farther than that. Let
be, let be.
I quoted the passage in full, simply because it is so beautifully written but also because it reveals a lot about what Jack values in his relationship with Ennis. (If I end up doing caps from that film moment, I’ll re-quote this.)
But, for this conversation, what drew my attention was the sentence,
"Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him
face to face because he did not want to see or feel that it was Jack he
Casey 28, with whom I have been having an extended discussion in comments section for Part I of this series, suggested that this was said metaphorically; Ennis wouldn’t look at Jack “face to face,” but in the deeper sense -- that he wouldn’t look at and accept their love, and the love he felt for Jack. But, Casey thought, they actually had kissed from the first summer.
Casey’s comments are very thought-provoking so I am re-posting them here. Casey wrote,
Jack treasured the dozy embrace, because it was a moment of pure happiness between them. He felt entranced and connected to Ennis. In the book, they actually stand together for quite some time. They feel very deeply "intimate" with each other, from just being held. Without kissing.
Just because this was the memory that Jack chose... the dozy embrace... doesn't mean that book Jack and Ennis didn't kiss. Going back to the reunion scene... they could have had kisses that were slow and sensual, or a bit rougher or more passionate beforehand. We don't know. It's more the leap of seeing them go from zero kisses to kisses of that magnitude in the reunion scene. I’d find really hard to believe. Doesn't seem realistic. But that's just me.
In the book, Jack thinks about the fact that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face, because he didn't want to acknowledge it was a man he held. Then Jack says, maybe they never have gotten much further than that. That last sentence, I take as being symbolic. Obviously, Jack and Ennis later on had embraced face to face many times. It was more about Ennis not facing who he is in reality... a man who loves another man.
Casey is right, I think, that Jack, in reflecting on this remembered scene, sees that even though they have been embracing "face to face” for many years, they really aren’t much further along than when Ennis would not hold him face to face – because Ennis would have to “see or feel” who he held (and thus see and feel who he was himself). But, when it comes to that summer tending the sheep on Brokeback, I tend to think the memory is a literal one That is, Ennis, in their first summer, had not been able to take Jack into his arms, face to face. Or, maybe Jack meant that although Ennis had been able to kiss him face to face that first summer, when it came to actual sex, he could only approach Jack from behind. But, I think that’s pressing the plain meaning more than is necessary. I see that there is a deeper meaning of “face to face” at stake here, and that Jack's thoughts point towards it. But a remark that is true at a literal level, even though it carries layers of meaning beyond it, still can be literally true.
As for how Ennis could kiss Jack with such unloosed fervour on the laundramat stairs if he had never kissed him before, I don’t have difficulty imagining this. It came out of four years of reflecting on what had happened that first summer, reflection tinged with regret that he didn’t have it to do over.
When the two get back together four years later, in their post-coital conversation in the Riverton motel room, Jack has just been telling Ennis how bull-riding has left him physically disabled.
Ennis pulled Jack's hand to his mouth, took a hit from the
cigarette, exhaled. "Sure as hell seem in one piece to me. You know, I was
sittin up here all that time tryin to figure out if I was_? I know I ain't.
I mean, here we both got wives and kids, right? I like doin it with women,
yeah, but Jesus H., ain't nothin like this. I never had no thoughts a doin
it with another guy except I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about
At the very least this shows that Ennis has been thinking about Jack all that while, including imagining making love to him while masturbating. I agree that the reunion kiss on the stairs doesn’t come out of nowhere. Ennis has been thinking about what happened for years, and that reflection made him see how much he cared for Jack, and how much he wanted Jack. That stairs kiss, to me, was the concrete (volcanic?) result of those four years. It was as if a second chance had materialized out of nowhere in the form of a post card. As soon as he saw that card and sent it off -- "You bet" -- Ennis knew what and whom he wanted. And he burned with anticipation until Jack got there.
I wanted to give another example of an event that carried a lot of meaning beyond the literal fact of it. That would be the dry heaves Ennis experiences after Jack drives away at the end of their first summer:
"That summer," said Ennis. "When we split up after we got paid out
I had gut cramps so bad I pulled over and tried to puke, thought I ate
somethin bad at that place in Dubois. Took me about a year to figure out it
was that I shouldn't a let you out a my sights. Too late then by a long,
Of this scene, Casey thoughtfully wrote,
In the movie, Ennis broods on their last day together. He ended up punching Jack, because he couldn't deal with the pain of their separation. He dry-heaves after Jack goes away. In the book, he says he took a year to figure out what that meant, but does he really mean that literally? It's open to interpetation, but I see it as it may of taken him a year for him to ACCEPT that this is what happened, but that doesn't mean he didn't know it, deep down inside.
I agree that Ennis meant that it took him a year to “accept” what had happened between them and how he felt about it, not that it took him a year to feel it. Yes, I agree fully that Ennis knew it then, deep down inside him. Of course he knew it, or he wouldn’t be having dry heaves. But that doesn’t mean Ennis knew why he felt sick, that he loved Jack -- at the time.
More on Ennis and “face to face.”
The screencaps I am going to show below are not of Ennis with Jack, but Ennis and Alma. Their early lovemaking was described in the book in a fairly lack-luster, even unappealing manner:
"Ennis, please, no more damn lonesome ranches for us," she said,
sitting on his lap, wrapping her thin, freckled arms around him. "Let's get
a place here in town."
"I guess," said Ennis, slipping his hand up her blouse sleeve and
stirring the silky armpit hair, fingers moving down her ribs to the jelly
breast, the round belly and knee and up into the wet gap all the way to the
north pole or the equator depending which way you thought you were sailing,
working at it until she shuddered and bucked against his hand and he rolled
her over, did quickly what she hated. They stayed in the little apartment,
which he favored because it could be left at any time.
The writing of this scene is very revealing of Ennis’ real feelings for Alma, or women, or for the fact that Alma wasn’t Jack. She has “thin” arms, “silky armpit hair,” “jelly breast”, “round belly and knee”, a “wet gap.” Not exactly erotic. And, in every detail, not Jack -- or any physically desirable man. Any of these would have muscular arms, a thatch of coarse armpit hair, a hard chest, flat abs, big-boned knees and projecting genitals.
As for his doing, “what she hated,” this was certainly anal sex. In a scene years later, after Alma has seen the men kissing on the stairs and the ‘fishing trips’ have begun, they are in bed:
A slow corrosion worked between Ennis and Alma, no real trouble,
just widening water. She was working at a grocery store clerk job, saw
she'd always have to work to keep ahead of the bills on what Ennis made.
Alma asked Ennis to use rubbers because she dreaded another pregnancy. He
said no to that, said he would be happy to leave her alone if she didn't
want any more of his kids. Under her breath she said, "I'd have em if you'd
support em." And under that thought, Anyway, what you like to do don't make
too many babies.
If it were only a matter of him entering her from behind, she wouldn't be thinking his style of lovemaking didn't "make too many babies."
The film lovemaking between Ennis and Alma conveyed a lot more heat. To me, anyway. Perhaps it was the real-life love affair between the two actors spilling over into the scenes. But what struck me in the film scene is how Ennis is shown making love to his wife -- how not "face to face" it was.
The “dozy embrace” passage having made a strong impression on me (in which Jack remarked that Ennis back then would not embrace him face to face), it struck me that Ennis seemed to resist looking at this wife, too. Talk about conflicted!
In the scene, it's been a long day. They've put the children to bed. Ennis is seated on the edge of the bed, his body language speaking its aches and exhaustion. Alma climbs across the bed and approaches Ennis from behind, as if tentative, feeling him out. She wants to make love and, furthermore, she wants to re-introduce the suggestion that they move to town. She does arousing things to the side of his face and his ear, stroking his cheek; she whispers the benefits of the move over the surface of his ear. Ennis’ facial expressions show that he is responding to the sensual appeal, but his answers show he is uncooperative. Finally, he begins to return her kiss, but without opening his eyes and looking at her, even for a glance. He looks as if he were in a trance. With a muttered drollery (“It ain’t so lonesome now, is it?”), he turns around (eyes still closed), tips her back, and begins to make love to her. They are technically face to face. She’s plainly responding. But, in a few moments, Ennis flips her over onto her stomach. The scene ends with Alma not looking particularly happy.
What I most notice in this scene, bearing in mind the “face to face” issue, is how much Ennis doesn't -- perhaps, won't -- look at his wife. She approaches him from behind, as Ennis might have done with Jack (according to Jack’s memories), but she is doing it in order to engage him, to “bring him around,” so to speak, inviting him to turn to her, to turn to them, symbolized by the move into town. She says, it’s so that Ennis won’t be so lonesome, “like you were raised." But really she is talking about all of them. All of them are left lonesome out there, not just Ennis. “Don’t make us stay out here," she seems to be saying. "All lonesome," is a condition she probably feels even while he is present.
But Ennis does not turn to her; he doesn’t respond to her appeal. He not only remains turned from her, his eyes remain closed. The viewer can see he is responding to the sensuous appeal of her movements, the feel of her breath in his ear as she speaks, but whom does he hear? Whose breath and touch does he feel? I am guessing it is Jack he is thinking of, not her. Ennis turns around at last, more to stop the sound of her talking, I am guessing, so he can get to the part that most reminds him of Jack.
I think this is a fantastic scene, wonderfully rich and multi-layered. And so revealing: when he is with Jack, he won’t look at him because he doesn’t want to see that he is making love to a man and thus queer. Making love to Alma, he won’t look at her because he doesn’t want to see that he is making love to his wife, rather than Jack.
The screencaps below have been lightened and sharpened. The scene is not filmed in the sort of darkness the tent scene was, but the screencaps still were too dark to see well on a computer monitor. Here is an unretouched cap:
~ Screencaps from Alma and Ennis’ first bed scene, “Let’s move to town,” before his reunion with Jack:
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