Saturday, December 10, 2005

Well, I Saw The Movie.

It was as good as I’d heard and expected. Heath Ledger should be at the top of the Oscar list, and Michelle Williams deserves Best Supporting Actress, for sure. Jake Gyllenhaal is also excellent, but unlike Ledger, he isn’t called on to carry a physical manifestation of guilt and self-doubt with him through almost the entire film, an amazing labor.

Which brings me to the important part the physicality of the story plays in this film. We see in this movie, in a way that film was invented to capture, how much these two men are indeed physical creatures, at the mercy of their body’s limits in the harsh environment of the mountain, and at the mercy of the way their physical desires betray them once the mountain cracks them open to each other. It’s what makes the performances so compelling to watch. You see Ledger’s Ennis trying to cut the desires out of his flesh by punishing his body; he throws himself manically into backbreaking physical labor, even when other, less taxing opportunities arise, in an attempt to crush what lies within him. When he’s not sweating, he’s medicating his wounds in a bath of whisky and beer. Jack seeks to tame himself by mastering the bulls he rides in the rodeo ring, a battle that he finally gives up, in the same way he accepts more easily than Ennis the limits of his will and the crooked nature of his timber. So much of the physical contact we see between Jack and Ennis is almost fighting; these men, who come from a culture where bodily work is valued above all and a man is proven by what he can stand, both feel deeply undermined by their inability to break their physical attachment. They get literally sick with need for each other. Whatever argument has ever been made about natural or unnatural attraction is made mute by the way these two strong men are made weak in the face of their own natures.

The portrayal of the Western landscape was another intrusion of this natural world into the film, and Ang Lee has beautifully captured the Kodachrome existence of bleak poverty and exquisite beauty that was the West not too long ago. Many of the scenes looked like the snapshots of my Seventies boyhood, shot at my grandparents trailer up on the Kamas River in Northeastern Utah. The art direction of the film is detail perfect (if you’re a car nut like me, you can tell the bones of this story through the succession of period trucks in different states of repair that the two characters drive) , and the cinematography is shaded with a look of slightly dated film, a fuzzy edge that captures beautifully the thin air of the high altitudes.

Certainly I recognized a bit of myself in the characters, an alternate universe version of myself, of my more bitter and self-destructive elements. I wonder how I would have reacted, as a deeply closeted nineteen year old, if I had fallen in love like these two do. At nineteen, I was a Mormon missionary shipped off to the French West Indies, and I can only imagine the hell I would have found myself in if I had, say, fallen into love with one of my missionary companions. I can’t imagine what my reaction would have driven me to. It was hard enough working it all out on my own, without having to carry a love like Jack and Ennis’s through the crucible, the same crucible that left those two so deeply damaged. In one of the great climatic moments of the film, Jack and Ennis erupt into a wounding dispute, as Ennis realizes what his love of Jack, and his refusal to acknowledge that love, has cost him. It was bad enough letting down my family, community, and religion by accepting who I was. I can’t imagine the pain of letting down my one true love.

After the film I drove up to my old rugby practice grounds in the hillsides of Elysian Park. It was one of those winter days in Los Angeles, the bright, dry, smog-less days that remind you that you do, indeed, live in the West, when you can see the gray San Gabriel Mountains that ring the city, and you feel briefly a connection to the land that exists down under all that concrete. As I watched those slopes grow pink in the late afternoon light, the vaulted bridges over the Los Angeles River arrayed like natural arches marching to the South, I thought of how my ancestors must have found themselves when they crossed the plains out of civilization and into this foreign landscape. “I am a stranger in a strange land” Moses said as he fled into the deserts of Sinai. It’s a sentiment, no matter how long I live here, no matter how elaborate a life I build, that I cannot ever, finally shake.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in elysian park, or next to it. I saw the 8PM show last night at the grove.

Not from that part of the US but have been going there in recent years for visits - MT, UT, WY, etc. and not just the resorts and parks, BTW.

Made the movie really get under my skin. Thanks for your words. I could grieve for months for these two guys, the way I did when I first read Baldwin's 'Giovanni's Room', but the context helps me put it in a different, more regional and historical light.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

beautiful review - I just saw the movie, and got a little teary in it - actually started to cry reading your review.

The movie reminded me of how powerful love is, the power of nature and our own nature.

New York here, but grew up in Ireland, so have a love of the land too



2:24 PM  
Blogger James said...

What a wonderful reflection on your experience and the movie. I thank you for your generosity in sharing such a personal point of view. I just came back from seeing the film a second time...I'm greedy. So much better--and I didnt think that was possible. I especially appreciated the power of love displayed so skillfully by such talented and compassionate actors. Just the way Ennis changes the shirts so that Jack' is now inside his forever, Ennis now carries Jack inside forever. Ennis is a man changed by the power of this great love. What better testament to love.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous udibi said...

It's been two days since I saw Brokeback Mountain, and I find myself still profoundly haunted by the film. Although I have never cried in a movie before, this film had me sobbing like I seldom, if ever, have. The movie's quiet, yet screaming, exploration of unfulfilled love, wasted opportunities for happiness and self-repression hit a very deep, deep and tender spot in my heart. - I am still trying to digest this powerful medicine.

The strengths of this movie go far, far beyond anything about homosexuality. It is about two people who should, but cannot be together. The story could have had the would-be lovers held apart by race, class, war, family rivalry, what have you. The fact that the "obstacle" here is being gay/bisexual/queer in a homophobic society is simply a fresh approach.

The sweeping Western landscapes, the beat up trucks, trailers, horses, etc. - all of which elicit childhood memories, really got this film under my skin. Now if I could only get rid of this tight, squeezing ache around my heart.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Vancouver, Canada said...

After 3 days, this film is still gnawing at my guts. I take as a warning Ennis's inability to believe in love. (What if I make such a monumental mistake in my own life?) I'm scared that the communities in which Ennis and Jack live oppress them to such an extent that love slips by. (I know the movie is only fiction, but ... what if my own community won't allow me to choose another path?)

It's Christmas Eve as I type this, and I'm thinking also of how abandoned I feel by the Church. I see a parallel: Ennis and Jack, me and God. I know the Church -- the community -- drove me away as a gay teenager. I feel anger and frustration and loss, and I'm not sure this can be reconciled, or that I have the maturity to do what it takes to make peace with this issue.

At times, I wish this movie would let go of me, so I can ignore, even forget, how I've felt these last 3 days.

I need to grow up. I'm scared.

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great comments by everyone. I hope Vancouver can hang in there. It's a lonely world out there whether str8/bi/gay. Take it one day at a time. Some days will be easier than others.

For me, the movie was much to much like my life. In nearly every scene I saw too much similarity. I grew up a cowboy, my bi lover is from Wyoming, so on and so on.

Living that movie is just as painful as watching that movie. I just hope what happened to Jack doesn't happen to me. I'm still trying to digest that movie which I saw about 4 hours ago.

11:10 PM  

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