Monday, January 02, 2006

Brokeback Mountain: review

I decided to see a late matinee at my local arts theater where Brokeback Mountain was showing and unwittingly ended the year on a true highlight. From the instant the huge truck with its lights traveled across the screen and Brokeback Mountain rose to assert its presence, from the moment Ledger walked into view, the movie tore open and claimed a piece of my heart, permanently. Yesterday, New Year's Day, all I could think about was the movie, not exclusively about the plot, scenery and cast--though I've done my share of that--but rather about the way of life cowboys and others working in America's lonely backwaters lead and how some of them are, as we journey into 2006, living the very circumstances depicted by these two terrific actors. For this Irish man, it pierced for two hours and fifteen minutes the veneer of onion-layered sophistication created by a solid education, law school and years of big city living, and I almost joyously became once more the raw Irish boy who'd loved and hated in equal measure growing up in the rural backside of Ireland with all its prejudices, fears, limitations and hang-ups, including my own.

The movie is upliftingly sad rather than depressing as some gay friends have called it. Yes, uplifting sadness is the paramount emotion I'd venture is experienced by the viewer, and it is also crammed to the brim with richness and terrible beauty. And it has its minor flaws, but then many of the best movies I've loved do, also. One, for example, I could not get past was the fact Ennis had two daughters, yet only one of them appeared throughout the final third of the film. The aging of Jack (played by Gyllenhaal) from 19 to 39 is unconvincing, a visual amplified more so when one considers how well they aged Ennis (played by Ledger) and how his voice deepened, though Ledger being Australian where the culture of machismo is worshipped undoubtedly helped. And Ennis's wife Alma (played by Michelle Williams) seemed altogether too passive for my taste, especially when she accidentally witnesses and is devastated by the sight of her husband passionately kissing Jack when the two men meet up for the first time after their love affair began on Brokeback mountain. But the crushing power of that scene, as the stricken wife realizes her husband harbors a love and voracious yearning for another that is stronger than his love for her, banished the stirrings of cynicism.

Ennis is brutishly heroic, a magnificently tortured soul, a man quietly at war with himself because he is possessed of deep-seated homophobia and unable, if not indeed unwilling, to kill his all-consuming passion and love for another man. I could scarcely breathe when the two cowboys parted after their initial summer spent together on Brokeback (ostensibly forever because Ennis stated he would not return the following year in response to Jack's inquiry) as first Ennis watches Jack's truck pull away and then retreats to a dusty sidestreet where he falls to his knees, vomits, beats at the walls of the unyielding building and cries furiously; another cowboy happens by and watches and Ennis roars at him to get the fuck away, his timbre perfectly articulating the torrent of loss, confusion, denial and pain swirling within. The film is magnificent in allowing us to slowly realize that it is the stoic, reluctant Ennis whose love is the most searing, the most faithful, and, at one point, he tells Jack that meeting him has cost him everything. Ennis's life, the life of a married man with two daughters (whom he adores) which he is compelled to live because in his circumstances and milieu there is no other way, is an interminable midnight with little illumination except for occasional intense rays afforded when Jack and he meet up several times each year for a week's camping on Brokeback Mountain.

The movie is raw, breathtaking, overwhelming, all-consuming; a story as full of poignancy and universals as any of the greatest Hollywood love stories, and it does not descend at any point to cheap sentimentality or attempt to pontificate. When Ennis visits Jack's impoverished parents at one point, the subtext in the movements and looks exchanged between this rough-mannered yet vulnerable cowboy and the love-of-his-life's mother is heartbreaking to the point of inducing headache...and then, of course, there is Ennis's discovery in Jack's closet of the plaid shirt--placed over the shirt Jack wore and with the sleeves of both intertwined--he'd thought he'd lost during the first summer they'd spent together on Brokeback Mountain. (Thanks to a blog comment for pointing out an error I'd made about that.) Nor does the movie correctly offer apology for its being a love affair between two men. Rather, in its own way, with the credible sexual immediacy of the initial tryst between the two men, in its unapologetic acknowledgement that enduring love begins often with and then moves beyond raw sexual attraction, it seems to poke a finger in the eye of Hollywood's conventional, cardboard and cliched treatment of developing love relationships.

Given Hollywood's misguided and overly simplified treatment of sexuality in general, as well as its poor understanding of what the general public will or will not accept in movies, it is entirely understandable that Ledger and Gyllenhaal were 'very, very nervous' about playing two men in a love affair for fear of alienating their teenager fan base. It is testament to their strength of character and a measure of the men they are that they saw the script's power and cast convention aside, ignored their innermost fears and the shrill warnings of doom from their timid male fellow actors, agents and others in the industry, and threw themselves headlong unreservedly into the roles. In fact, Ledger in an interview said that, after the first kiss with Gyllenhaal, it was just the act of kissing another human being. How very true. And, if the teenage girls who sat next to us in the cinema are any indication, the actors need have no fear. All the girls were riveted, riveted by the story, by the love affair, by the poignancy and human condition...and their balled tissues were working overtime. Great things come only from taking great risks and Ledger and Gyllenhaal have proven their mettle as actors of the highest caliber.

The movie is correctly positioned mainstream and will be enjoyed by all, except for the homophobic (male or female), and any heterosexual men with doubts about their sexuality should probably stick to the action flicks. Congratulations to Ang Lee for another superb piece of work, to Annie Proulx who did the research and wrote the original story, and to Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for seeing its potential and writing the script.

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44 comments:

Anonymous said...

RE: your comment “..and then, of course, there is his discovery in Jack's closet of the shirt and jacket he wore that first summer they spent together on Brokeback Mountain.”

It’s actually two shirts – Jack’s old shirt from Brokeback days with another shirt inside in, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack’s sleeves. It was Ennis’s own plaid shirt thought lost.

Damian McNicholl said...

Ah, yes--thank you for pointing that out. An even stronger, more poignant visual.

Sinéad said...

I'm so looking forward to seeing this, it's gettng great reviews over here.

Is Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto being released over there soon?

Marc said...

Did anyone notice the symbolism of the shirts' reversed positioning at the end of the movie, when Ennis opens his trailer closet to reveal the hanging shirts on his closet door's inside? Ennis had reversed the shirts: His plaid shirt was now the outer apparel of the two, Jack's shirt being the inner one in reverse positioning.

That symbolism seemed to powerfully summarize and convey Ennis' feelings toward Jack -- that Jack would live forever in him. It reminded me of how Ryan O'Neal ended "Love Story" years ago, with the memorable line "Love means never having to say you're sorry." What a truly awesome and inspiring way to end the film!

Anonymous said...

I love America! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and here is a right wing shot for you: I think this movie is another example of left wing liberal, Hollywood’s wackiest people trying to impose their immoral ideas on American society thru film. Yes that statement was very cliché, but blogs are made for posting. Brokeback Mountain is a movie that should have never been made. Two male sheep farmers getting it on in the mountains just because they are lonely and work closely together, how sick is that? I was in the military for 20 years, deployed away from my family in a war zone for a year or longer on numerous occasions and never once thought of trying to slip it to the guy in the cot next to me. The men depicted in the movie are both married have families, it is just despicable to think about the deceit and immorality depicted here. Infidelity, lying and homosexuality, Is this what we really want to teach our children?

Speaking of Homosexuality - is it genetic? I don't know. But I do not believe that because some people "might" be genetically predisposed towards something (like being gay), that it is therefore ok. According to the Bible, God gave us free will. Free will which we can either use to give into our sinful urges, or we can use to resist unnatural urges. In my opinion, one of the main points of the story of Adam and Eve is to say that we are all predisposed to sin and that we all have significant temptation to overcome in our lives and we should do our best to not give into sin but make appropriate moral socially acceptable choices. Another point I got out of the story of Adam and Eve was that God created Eve (a woman) as the companion for Adam to help populate the Earth. Notice, he did not chose two men or two women for the task at hand, it was man and women he designed to accomplish this task.

I don’t consider myself a bible thumper in fact I do not even attend church but I do use and read the Christian bible in hope that the guidance provided within will help me make good moral decisions in this turbulent life. Not much of a movie review, just a rant. I do not concider this a mainstream movie and would not recomend this film to anyone I know. There is my two cents, let the yelling begin :-)

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Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

I also love America as well. So do most people who viewed 'Brokeback Mountain'. The America that you love is about free expression, and to say that Brokeback Mountain is a movie that should never have been made, just because you don't agree with the morality of homosexuality and what not is pretty unamerican. Many people are flocking to see a film that shouldn't have been made. This film that shouldn't have been made just won the Golden Globe Award for best picture, and has recieved a zillion Oscar Nominations, but of course that is all the doing of "Hollywood left".

I actually agree with you when you complain about the deceit, lying and infidelity of Jack and Ennis cheating on their wives. They SHOULD'NT HAVE HAD TO GET MARRIED IN THE FIRST PLACE!! They were forced into it by bigotry. If they could have lived openly and proudly as a couple, they wouldn't have had to cheat on their spouses they never would have had.

As for your biblical rantings, in 1967 the movie 'Guess who's coming to Dinner' was released about an interacial couple. The bigots who used the scriptures to justify and sugarcoat their predjuice would rant that got created a WHITE Adam and Eve and that colored people and all non whites were either the decendents of Cain (from Cain and Abel) or Ham (the cursed son of Noah) take your pick. Any intermingling of the races was against "god's law". Just something to think about.

Damian McNicholl said...

Thanks for your comments, the right wing Anonymous God and bible cheerleader included. Unfortunatly, I've heard and/or read your argument so many times, I fall asleep half way through these kind of reads nowadays. Oh, and that's my God you're talking about, too...so have a care when you quote and invoke the Higher Power's name.

Sinead, Breakfast on Pluto is on limited release here in the US according to his agent. I'm hoping he might read my book because I think he'd like it.

Anonymous said...

Great review!!!

At the end, Ennis still hung their love in the "closet".

The last scene is very interesting as well - a closet and an opened window.

Anonymous said...

I'm a heterosexual happily married male that is anxious to see this movie. I believe I would be able to relate to it on a certain level; not in regards to homosexuality, but at struggles against oneself and social expectations.

I've had my own struggles against what society considers "right" and of course internal struggles within myself on issues entirely separate from sexuality. I know what it's like to be at odds with "the world" and with myself, and that's why I'm attracted to this movie. Great review Damian, I think this will be just the type of picture I'm looking for.

To the Christian advocate; I don't want to derail this thread much but I have to say that you're confusing the notion of free will with the idea behind making a choice. For example, if someone puts a gun to my head and says, "money or death", that's not free will, I have a choice of which one to offer. The same holds true for following your religion, which basically says to worship Jesus or burn in hell. Free will would be that I could choose anything. What if I didn't want to follow God, but didn't want to go to hell either? That would be a free will circumstance. Being threatened into acceptance of Jesus (whether you want it or not) has nothing to do with free will.

Anonymous said...

you do your country heritage proud, you're a true wordsmith.
It was enjoyable reading your blog, I came to it as I was doing some research for a piece we're involved with that I was trying to find some interested people for.
It is a parody of sorts about the movie and is entered into the MobiFest, mobile film festival in Toronto, Canada. They decided they wanted to use our piece to promote their festival as it tied into one of the Oscar nominated movies. Well, when the TV show Good Morning America wanted to highlight their festival, they all decided that our clip would be the ideal thing to use, it's supposed to be appearing the end of this week or Monday before the Oscars.
I thought lovers of the movie would be a good read on this.
Please check it out and share it if you feel its warranted.
Thanks again,
I'm a fellow Irishman, Belfast born.....
,

Anonymous said...

Belfast born forgot the link to the article and the clip
Clip: Mike Browne is the animator who did "BROKEBACK CHICKEN' which is appearing on www.REVVER.com right now.
http://www.dinkymovies.com/dinkymovies_01.html
Article:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060301.PHONE01/TPStory/TPEntertainment/

Anonymous said...

I am not a homophobe, but I do think homosexuality is immoral. Again, even though you may have heard it a million times, Scripture condemns it. To those who think this movie is so wonderful, ask yourself (1) if this love story was between a man and a woman, would it even have been nominated for an Oscar (no); and (2) if one of those cowboys was your son, would you be proud and happy for him? I've never heard any parent say with a big smile on his or her face, "Guess what? Johnny is gay! I'm so happy for him! What great news."

belgian said...

i think people say 'scripture condemns it' really have to start doing their homework about different bible versions, how the bible was printed over so many hundreds of years and how small words, contexts etc changed over this period in different translations...

it time to get real about the bible if u're belive is strong enough to see what a 'printed' bible translation x really is...

people are paying and dying for something that even isnt 100% sure that it was stated in such a manner...

oh well...

as long they think they're doing the right thing it maybe makes themselves happy, at least that is someone...not/

greetings...

Anonymous said...

Kevin TX USA
I was apprehensive about going to see this movie, but with a lot of persuasion from my gf, I finally caved in. I was expecting the usual pretty gay boy thing, with lots of gay trash and all that comes with the "in your face" crap. Not this movie. It made me wonder just how many buddies I know might be in this situation and maybe because of people like me are doing more harm to them than good. I realize things are different for these type guys now than back them, but still, I'm sure there are plenty we will NEVER know that a keeping this all inside of them. It has caused me to think about these things differently.

I love my gf and we're not going to wait until spring 2008 to get married. We're now planning to get married this fall. I was thinking, what if something happens to one of us and we never get the chance fulfill our love. I don't want my love to end up like Ennis and Jack's. This movie has caused me to get up off my ass and go after the love of my life. Thanks for changing me and my girlfriend’s lives.

Anonymous said...

Man, this movie was killer!

Cameron said...

Kevin -

You're a brave man, and you'll never know what you have done to the world with your words. I hope your fiancé knows what a good man she has. All the best to you.

Thank you.

AngieBaby said...

the shirts together have a lot of meaning to me. i cryied so hard at the end of the movie.

Damian McNicholl said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Kevin, I was much moved by your post and you clearly have fallen in love with a wonderful woman. Love in all its forms is what life's about. I wish the both of you much happiness together.

Anonymous said...

oh man, kev, you got pussy whipped before you got married. that's just wrong.

Linda said...

This movie makes me wish I could go back and relive some of my life over again. What a sad feeling this gives me. :(

Damian McNicholl said...

How so, Linda? What part affected you?

Cameron said...

Wow, seems to have all kinds in here blogging about the BBM movie. I have to say, as a gay male not out to but a handful of people, it's been very, very hard to come to terms. However, this movie is my “intervention” and I plan to make that change. Steps must now be taken to make life easier for me. The line of the movie that describes where my life is now is when Ennis says to Jack, "I just can't stand this anymore, Jack." I can’t stand my life anymore, shut up in my trailer. I don’t want a life sentence to living my life alone, as Ennis finally did.

And Kevin in Texas, if you're listing, a big THANK YOU! You'll never know how much those words coming from a straigh guy means, to any of us. THANK YOU!!

Sorry to rain on your blog, but it helps to say or write the words. Thank you for reading my plight.

To help me with my healing process, I've created a tribute to BBM at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=HOHzqVu9aGM

AngieBaby said...

Cameron,

I loved your short video. Very sad, made me cry.

Ab

Cameron said...

Hey guys, just got my Brokeback Mountain DVD... Some extras about production and interviews with some of the writers,director, and cast. Some about cowboy camp too... But no extra scenes :( I was hoping to see some alternate scenes... mayber there just weren't many... Oh well, Brokeback Mountain is perfect anyway.

Cameron said...

Thanks AngieB.. --

It's my way of helping the hurt. I want to do more when I get the time from my school work.

Thanks,
Cameron

Cameron said...

ahhh, I guess everyone is all "brokebacked" out? I don't think I'll ever get over this movie, NEVER!!!

Cameron said...

God, I still haven't gotten over Brokeback Mountain. I feel now, the only thing that will help me get over Brokeback Mountain, is another Brokeback Mountain type movie.

Cameron said...

Still searching for those still affected by Brokeback Mountain. Sadly, no one has returned. I wish I could quit you Brokeback Mountain!!

Cameron said...

I'm still struggling with Brokeback Mountain. When will it let my tired soul rest?

-Cameron
(Trailer #17 from somewhere in Virginia)

Cameron said...

I still think about Brokeback Mountain, everyday. I know now, it will never leave me.

-Cameron

Cameron said...

Me again....

It is now 04/22/2007, more than a year since I first saw Brokeback Mountain. I own several versions of the DVD, and watch it at least once every week or so. I'm still overwhelmed by this movie. There will NEVER be another like it, NEVER!

-Cameron
(Trailer #17 somewhere in VA)

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie on Bravo and I am overwhelmed with emotion. I am a heterosexual woman who have only felt sexual love for a man but I could totally identify with the loss and longing. My current relationship is interracial and my boyfriend had some strife in his life coming to terms with wanting to be with me and overcomed societal pressures(although things are a lot better now). I recommend this movie to anyone.

rusty said...

I love that film! Gay or straight aside, although stripping that from the premise would be near impossible, its a beautiful love story.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe it took me this long to finally watch this movie. My wife knows I had Homo experiences from the past, and we minister in churches. We both kind of made a pact to not watch it. I am so happy I watched it. It tells me that, like myself, there are a lot of hurting people, as I knew, but the lack of a forum to speak to anyone who cares, especially because of stupid taboo issues, really cuts me to the heart. All peoples need to be able to express their deep losses, and receive healing. I know that Jesus would be a friend to both Ennis, and Jack. The world is a shit hole of hurt, and we need to care about each other

Damian McNicholl said...

Amen, Anon.
Wishing you well on your journey.

thoughtsandlove said...

" 'scuse me while I kiss this guy "

megmichael said...

I have just watched this movie for the first time 3 days ago. Since then I can not get it off my mind. I have watched it all the way through twice and have watched several YouTube clips of my favorite scenes whenever I possibly can. It has consumed my thoughts. And every time I talk about it I can't stop from crying. I have never been affected by a movie this much. The acting was..... there are no words for how well those 2 did. The love and intense passion is so beautifully done. The symbolism with their shirts and all the complicated emotions and feelings and things holding them back. I just wish they could have gone forever camping together and being on that mountain. You said it right it is uplifting and sad. I don't think I'll ever get over the love jack and ennis had. So beautiful, so wonderful, so heartbreaking.

megmichael said...

Is it normal how cometely obsessed I am with this movie? It will forever be my all time favorite love story and tragic love story. I just can't seem to get over it or stop thinking about it. No matter if it makes me cry. Anyone else feel like this? Or is it just me?

Damian McNicholl said...

Meg, it's great to come across a movie like this which can really move one. And it proves the point that love is universal, neither straight or gay. Movie's been out a few years now. Had you never heard of it until now? I'm assuming you were

megmichael said...

Well actually when this movie first came out. I was in my last year of highschool, seriously dating my (now) husband, working and trying to juggle bills. So needless to say I didnt give it much thought and kinda forgot about it. Until about a year ago my mom was talking to me a bit about it. But by then I had sworn off tragic love stories after seeing "Tristan and Isolde" Lol! But I stumbled onto it on Netflix streaming and gave it a try. Needless to say, even though I knew it was a sad ending I was not prepared for it. Just such a wonderful movie. Wish I had watched it when it first came out.

Anonymous said...

megmichael 12.36, No, I am another like you. I'm an Australian woman, with a very close family but I am no stranger to sadness. I just caught up with BBM this year 2011, and seem to be hopelessly obsessed, can't wait to watch it time and again, but dread to fall back under its spell. I watch Utube snatches compulsively, have just bought the short novel and screenplay which I know will envelop me again. Even now I've searched and found this blog, and identified with your comments. What is wrong with me? The movie has caved in my heart, fogged my brain and caused me pain, sadness but joy as well. I wish I knew how to quit, it's too much for me. I swear.....

megmichael said...

It really is a wonderful movie. I'm glad there's someone that feels the same. (thought i wss just a bit on the crazy side, lol) I'm not exactly sure what really makes me love it so much. I've been a long time fan of both the actors and I'm sure that improved the movie for me. And usually I'm not one to watch the tragic love stories but I definitely make an exception for this one. I've started watching it "backwards."
I will begin watching at the motel scene and watch it all the way through and then start it again and end on the reunion kiss. That way I don't end drenched in tears with an empty box of tissues! Not sure if you've found this YouTube video but this one: "my best bits" is a great concloberation of scenes :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.