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11 January 2006

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar), Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist), Anne Hathaway (Lureen Newsome), and Michelle Williams (Alma Del Mar)

Directed by Ang Lee (Sense & Sensibility)

From Focus Features: "An epic love story set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two young men - a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy - who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, the complications, joys and tragedies of which provide a testament to the endurance and power of love."

I went to see this yesterday while taking advantage of the fact that Keven is still home until he starts class again on Tuesday. Instead of staying in while the girls napped, I took off to see a film!

Brokeback Mountain becomes the sixth (of ten) films by Ang Lee I have seen. All of them are entertaining and remarkably different in both tone and style, with this picture proving no exception to his talent and deft handling of resonant emotional subject matter. However, despite the unusual homosexual angle, this was a typical ill-fated romance. Replace Ennis and Jack's struggles with those of any other heterosexual leads and the only significant difference (barring one, which I will discuss) would have been the lack of press.

Heath Ledger deserves every accolade he receives in connection with this role, wherein he fully capitalized on his screen charisma and brooding energy. Physically, he seemed bound up with wires, so tightly leashed against his character's emotions and the scrutiny he saw behind every gaze. And fury lurked underneath. The most poignant and wrenching moments in the film belonged to Ledger and his character's deep rivers of emotion.

Ledger's accent was fantastic, slipping only occasionally on short "u" sounds - not that he spoke at length. Ennis was of a particularly quiet, introverted nature, living within himself as much as he lived within the world. Perhaps that explains why Ennis was better able to deal, outwardly, with his separations, while Jack was driven by the need for attention, company, validation, and sex. Ennis folded up within himself, but Jack sought an outlet for his frustration and hurt.

And hurt is the right word; these characters lived in pain. They hurt each other when the world was too much, beating each other with fists, words, and harsh sexual encounters. Subject to the constrictions of their world and hating themselves for feeling something so unrelenting and taboo, they took their anger out on each other. They were each other's passion, but because of the deep uncertainty of their love, words could not resolve indecisions or hints of betrayal. They simply had not the vocabulary to talk about thier love, their predicament. This seemed to me the most significant difference between their love story and that of a conventional heterosexual couple.

Jake Gyllenhaal was good enough, but his smug, smirking character was not as accessible as Ledger's. Michelle Williams was sympathetic as Ennis's wife, Alma, but this was not her character's story. In fact, Alma seemed so lost and bewildered by her husband's behavior as to appear simple and completely without strength. The other supporting cast members were good, but the film was constructed in such a way as to focus almost entirely on Ennis and Jack. No one else mattered, except that the very existence of other people meant that Ennis and Jack would never be together and would never be the men they should have been.

A note about my cinema experience: only one theater in west Madison is showing Brokeback Mountain, but that theater is running eight showings a day. When I arrived to buy my ticket for the Wednesday 3:45 pm showing, I was informed that only three seats remained. When I left, both of the viewings following mine had lines extending out of the theater, and the evening shows were sold out.

However, its draw did not keep the audience from giggling just a bit too loud. When Anne Hathaway stripped off her top and practically jumped Gyllenhaal, no one really noticed. But when Gyllenhaal and Ledger looked at each other just a little too long, there were giggles. Worse, when Alma spied Ennis and Jack kissing - in what would have been a radically, nauseating, frightening experience for a 1960s housewife with two toddlers to care for - there was outright laughter because of the nature of the kiss they shared. Unrestrained, unobscured, passionate, and in broad daylight, their embrace shocked some of the audience into laughter when outrage for Alma would have been more appropriate.

I hope that these brave, convincing performances and Ang Lee's sympathetic storytelling will help to change some of those reactions for future films dealing with homosexual romance. Inevitably, such films will be compared to this one, a remarkably well-crafted, memorable, and ground- breaking work.

Blogger Pacze Moj said...

Just saw Brokeback Mountain a few days ago.

Ennis was of a particularly quiet, introverted nature, living within himself as much as he lived within the world.

That's the best description of the character I've read anywhere. I don't really have anything to add; I just agree.


However, despite the unusual homosexual angle, this was a typical ill-fated romance.

That's one of the things that struck me about the film, and about its warm critical reception. It's such a typical film, made in that slow, careful, subtle-yet-not style that Clint Eastwood's proved critics and award-givers eat up. After watching it, I'd be surprised if it didn't win some Oscars. Taking aside content, and looking at form -- or film "language" -- Brokeback Mountain is one of the most conservative films of 2005.

Although that might sound like something negative, I don't mean it that way; I liked the film. Well-written, well-made, well-acted. I only wish I had gone into the viewing without knowing the characters were gay -- I wonder how I would have reacted.

NB: Although you mention Alma as a kind of secondary character, it was one of her scenes that had the biggest emotional effect on me. The note-on-the-fishing-pole one.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

The "note on the fishing pole," I thought, was the emotional climax of the film, although I think Lee intended it to be Ennis finding the shirt. But the idea that he was revealed - that Alma knew all along when he was so paranoid about people knowing what he did, who he loved - seemed the most important revelation. He still had to live in the world knowing that someone else knew, which for such an introverted person must have been hard to bear.

And yes, I'd have loved to see it without knowing they were gay. Although Gyllenhaal's "meaningful looks" upon their first encounter would have made me suspicious. That whole first meeting was a too over-played for me.

Blogger Ashok said...

Wow !!! Actually I never thought about that angle. Watching it without know that they were gay. That would have made the movie even more better. Great review and great comment !


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