This post presents the first half of the "Stairs" kiss," or, "Reunion" kiss.
It's been four years since the summer of herding sheep and making love up on Brokeback. Jack has sent a post card, out of the blue. Ennis is excited down to his bones. Once Jack actually shows up, he bolts out the door of the little apartment over the laundramat. With a joyous, vulgar greeting, he careens down the steps and intercepts Jack, who is approaching with a smile, but obviously unprepared for the power and zeal of Ennis' greeting. When Ennis takes Jack by the collar and pulls him out of public view to kiss him fiercely, Jack looks surprised -- pleased, but surprised -- even flabbergasted. But only for a moment. Jack takes a breath and returns Ennis' unlooked-for passion with equal intensity.
* * *
When I first saw this sequence I was stunned. Not just by the excellence of the scene as acting and a piece of film, but by the power of the kiss portrayed. I watched the film five times in theatres, and never ceased being riveted by this scene. What was it that made it work so well? Was it because it was simply shocking, that two men were kissing passionately? No, they had already done so in the previous scene, even if the passion in that scene was far more tender. Was it the sheer physical force, smashing lips and teeth and contorting faces as they did so? (Many of the screencaps for this scene I have not saved, simply because the faces of the men are so distorted, as their hands stretch each other's faces out of symmetry: these actions look great with the camera rolling, but do not make good frames.)
No, it came to me in lieu of this discussion: it was the "face-to-face" quality of this kiss.
I said of the "First Tent Scene" that it was the "stairs kiss not consummated." In that dark tent scene, one of its strong features was the eye contact that was going on. It's hard to see, because the scene is so dark, but it's there. Lots of eye contact, but almost adverserial, because of Ennis' conflicted emotions. In the stairs kiss, the eye contact is even more notable, especially compared to the kiss in the Second Tent Scene, in which Ennis barely opens his eyes from beginning to end.
In this daylight scene, the lighting is much better, making what the viewer sees unmistakable. In the first part of this scene, Ennis sees his lover from the top of the stairs, beams, cries out a greeting, lunges down the stairs and nails him. Ennis pointedly holds his lover's face and looks at it, really looks at it, looks right into his eyes.
I think that's what stuns and moves Jack so visibly, what inspires him to return the kiss with such intensity. It's as if Ennis, finally, is kissing him, Jack, with absolutely no doubt as to Jack's identity. That is a very powerful thing. And audiences pick it up, even if they don't know what it is.
What lover does not want to be kissed for him or herself, not just for the pleasurable sensation of kissing?
As has been the case in the other entries, I have lightened and sharpened the images. Here is an unretouched image from the second half of this sequence:
~ Screencaps from "Stairs Kiss", first half:
Brokeback Mountain Links Page HERE