Brokeback Mountain (2005)

“I wish I knew how to quit you!”

Sue’s Rating: Sticks in my craw like lumpy oatmeal – but in a good way.

Sue’s Review: Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I fell in love. Yes, frumpy, moderately unattractive, introverted me. In love. Messily, sappily, obsessively, head-over-heels, rainbows-‘n-unicorns in love. Suspend your disbelief. This is for real.

He was incredible; everything that I wasn’t. Outgoing and funny, adventurous, romantic and kind. He saw qualities in me that I’m still not sure were ever there. Heh, he thought I was smart and “deeply introspective”. When we were together, everything was right. It was as real and wonderful and mind bogglingly perfect as anything could ever be. I wanted, more than I think I’ve ever wanted anything, to spend the rest of my life with him.

It was impossible.

We lived several hundred miles apart. We were both freshly divorced. We both had half-custody of our respective children. For us to have what we wanted, would have meant turning our backs on at least one set of kids. Impossible. Heart wrenchingly impossible. Gut churningly impossible. There wasn’t a solution. There wasn’t even a question. Over the course of three years, we had nine days together. He’s since remarried and I wish him well. When you love someone that much, you wish them well.

But you know, for the longest time, I kept thinking, wishing, hoping, dreaming that there’d be a solution after all. That one day he’d show up on my doorstep – with or without white horse (brown would do) – and tell me that we’d overlooked the obvious. That yes, there was a way to make things work and that yes, we could be together. Maybe he thought that too. In truth, that’s probably what kept us going for as long as we managed.

It hurts to think about it, even now. Those three years might count as the best of my life, but make no mistake, they were also the worst. In the end, I wrote a book. Not a true story in fact, but as honest a reflection of the emotions of that time as I could put onto paper. The emotions, if you will, that come with an impossible relationship.

So here we have Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, two strangers, barely out of their teens, and working together as sheep tenders on an isolated mountain back in the early 60’s. Ennis is taciturn. Jack plays the harmonica really badly.

Ennis and Jack fall in love.

Impossible.

It’s not just that they’re both men. They’re cowboys; a dying breed raised during a time when John Wayne in a ten gallon hat represented everything they were supposed to be. Jack rodeos when he has the cash. Ennis works mainly on ranches and he’s engaged to be married. They don’t exchange flowery words or promises because they know (Ennis more than Jack) that what they have is impossible. Men don’t fall in love with men. Men don’t settle down with men.

“I’m not queer,” Ennis says, despite evidence to the contrary.

“I’m not either,” Jack replies without any hesitation.

When their job on Brokeback is over, they part ways and go on to live the lives they’re supposed to live. Marriage, kids, jobs, domineering in-laws. But four years later, Jack visits Ennis and they rediscover in an instant what they’ve always known. They love each other — genuinely and fiercely love each other — and it is still impossible. They can steal time together, a few days here, a few hours there, but there is collateral damage and the risk of mortal danger every time they do.

Jack thinks and wishes and hopes and dreams that somehow there’ll be a solution after all. That one day Ennis will say that they’d overlooked the obvious. That yes, there was a way to make things work and that yes, they could be together.

Ennis does too, but his is the more pragmatic personality. “If you can’t fix it,” he says to Jack years into their relationship, “you gotta stand it.” But how can anyone stand it indefinitely?

This is the core of Brokeback Mountain.

What you take out of the movie is, I think, directly related to what you take into it. If you’re looking for a pretty-cowboy homoerotic skin flick, look elsewhere. You’ll be disappointed. If you think Harlequin romance novels mirror real life, hang onto your hat honey. This is as real a story as I’ve ever seen and you won’t find it as a three dollar paperback.

This is a good story, a poignant story, maybe even in some ways a cautionary story — not against sexual preference, but regarding impossible relationships and the debilitation of heart and soul that they bring about.

“I wish I knew how to quit you!” Jack rages at Ennis.

Wishing for the impossible. Yeah. I guess I can understand that.

Lissa’s Rating: Jake Gyllenhaal must be part puppy with those eyes.

Lissa’s Review: Ah, Oscar season. The time of year when pretentious independent films and tear-jerkers flood the theaters, when your fare is a choice of stupid (usually) Christmas movies and, as Stan from South Park would say, gay cowboys eating pudding. Deep and meaningful plots, three hour movies, and biopics all run rampant at the movies. Depending on the offerings that year, I either love it or hate it. Of course, this year has a lot of good ones. And while I won’t get to see most of them in theaters, thanks to the benevolence of my husband and his best friend, I did get to see Brokeback Mountain — a.k.a. “the gay cowboy movie”.

I learned something very important about human anatomy during this one. Oh, please, get your minds out of the gutter. What I really learned is that the human bladder can fill up full enough to constrict the tear ducts. Seriously.

Brokeback Mountain, as you’ve probably heard, is a tear jerker. No, not just a tear jerker. It’s the kind of movie that rips your heart out and stomps up and down on it and bruises all your insides and makes you cry like a little kid. Then it puts you back together with a pat and dusts you off and tells you that it’s all all right and to go play, even as you keep sniffling about how it’s not fair. Normally, I would be bawling at a movie like this. I mean, come on, I can’t even make it through a freaking Disney flick without tearing up. Add to that I’m six weeks postpartum and making me cry should really be easy. But thanks to my need for caffeine, all I could think in those last emotional fifteen minutes was “dear God, I need to pee.” However, after the movie was over and I was safely ensconced in the bathroom stall, as my bladder emptied I started to cry. Seriously. See? Scientific evidence that the fullness of the bladder is directly proportional to the difficulty of crying.

Now, I realize the fact that I was sitting crying in the bathroom makes Brokeback Mountain sound like whole heaps of fun, but it truly was a good movie, a movie worth seeing, and a movie I enjoyed. No, that sentence is not redundant. I’ve seen good movies that weren’t really worth seeing, I’ve enjoyed bad movies, and I’ve thought that movies were good, but I didn’t really enjoy the experience of sitting through them. Brokeback Mountain actually fulfilled all three.

It’s been called “the gay cowboy movie”, but frankly, that’s like calling your best friend “the short guy” or something. “The gay cowboy movie” doesn’t really describe Brokeback Mountain at its core — it just picks up on the most obvious characteristic and uses it as a label.

Besides, they’re sheep herders.

Anyway. Yes, the story starts out with Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) working on Brokeback Mountain and falling in love. Not that they call it that, mind you. There were a few things I really appreciated about Brokeback Mountain that related directly to that. The first was the fact that, thanks to the climate of the time and place where Ennis and Jack were living, acknowledging their relationship as love wasn’t something that was accepted. In fact, it was beyond “not accepted” and into “can get you killed” territory. But the other thing I liked was that the characters were well, men.

In so many media forms, two gay guys become immediately feminized and stereotyped. They’re into fashion and interior decorating, overly enthusiastic, good dressers, good dancers… you know the list. Worse, they fall victim to behavior that no man I know would ever even consider indulging in. Cutesy nicknames, crying, long talks about emotions and huge impassioned pressures to commit…. Brokeback Mountain does break molds, but not by addressing homosexuality. No, Brokeback Mountain dares to actually have gay characters that are CHARACTERS. They act in certain ways not because they are gay, but because they are Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Their orientation is a characteristic of them, rather than them being characteristic of their orientation. They’re gay, but they’re cowboys. They’re working men. They’re fathers. They’re friends. They’re a clammed up guy and a really bad harmonica player. They’re a pragmatist and a dreamer. They have emotions besides love and lust. They’re characters far beyond the stereotype.

Anyway. Jack and Ennis fall in love. And, if you hadn’t picked it up, don’t acknowledge it. In fact, they both go off on their own ways for four years and each marry women. Not in a resentful sort of way, or revenge, or anything like that, but because that’s the life they both (especially Ennis) see for themselves. And as Sue says, it’s an impossible love story. Well, it’s near impossible.

It’s that little word “near” that makes me love this movie and this romance. I’m not into perfect romances in fiction. I’m in a good, healthy romance myself, and while it is fascinating to me, let me tell you it would make boring reading. The best fictional romances are the ones that have some problem that could maybe be overcome, but the participants just make it that much harder. As I was watching, I alternately wanted to hug Jack and Ennis and bang their heads together to make them see sense and freaking COMMUNICATE. And that’s ultimately one of the parts that hits you in the stomach so hard you can’t really breathe. If Jack had just told Ennis one little piece of information, maybe it could have all been different.

The story is stark and the ending is harsh, yes. But it’s not a complete downer. Ennis does actually learn something from his and Jack’s relationship. But what I love about Brokeback Mountain is that instead of the hero staring off into the sunset alone, or the hint that there’s someone knew, Ennis actually takes this lesson and applies it to someone he loves deeply (in a non-romantic way) in his own life. That sort of ending seems to be rare- and more realistic and touching. To me, it showed just how truly his relationship with Jack did affect Ennis’s life, and that love did make him a better person in the end.

It’s not a perfect movie. It can be slow. There’s not a lot of dialogue, which some people might find annoying. But for me, the most notable problem was actually in the makeup department. The story of Brokeback Mountain spans twenty years. To me, the guys looked exactly the same. Heath Ledger got some sideburns, and Jake Gyllenhaal joined David Thewlis in the Worst Mustache Ever Hall of Fame and got the hints of a beer belly (or maybe it was just his shirt), but other than bad facial hair, these two guys didn’t look like they’d aged at all. Considering the state of makeup technology and all, it really would have been nice if they’d made them look a little different. In fact, at the end there’s a flashback, and it looks more like they forgot to put Gyllenhaal’s mustache on for a bit than a flashback, because he looks the same age in present and past. (Although I will give them props to Anne Hathaway’s really bad hair in the 80s. Although she never seemed to come to her senses about the blonde dye job.)

I’ve also seen people saying that Brokeback Mountain gets its fame from its notoriety — just the fact that it’s about gay cowboys and has created controversy, and it’s not PC to criticize it because it is about homosexuality. I can see where that might be the case for some people, but I honestly thought it was a truly well written, well shot, well acted movie, worthy of merit on its own.

It’s not my favorite movie of the year, and I’m still annoyed that it will edge out Jarhead for Best Picture at the Oscars. (Edge out? After the way Jarhead was ignored by the Globes, I think “stomp” would be a better term.) However, it’s one of the few Oscar vehicles I’ve seen that’s meant to be deep and serious and actually sticks in my head as something more than a pretentious Oscar vehicle. Definitely worth checking out.

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