Brokeback Mountain

(I’m going to talk about this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to stop reading now!)

We finally go to see this movie last night. For weeks, I’ve been carefully avoiding TV programs, friendly conversations and e-mail exchanges that mention it. I wanted my own response to be really my own and not colored by the media buzz or personal opinions of others. Harald knew more about what was going to happen in the movie than I did, but I had him promise not to spill a word. And frankly, after all the excitement this movie has been generating, I was afraid that I might already be expecting too much from the film and that, like so often happens, I would be disappointed at the end of it all. Boy, was I ever wrong. Now I know why this movie has been receiving such popular and critical praise.

The scenery is magnificent and the cinematography was superb. Ang Lee has done an unbelievable job creating such an exquisite little film. It was all so perfectly under-acted, never descending into the kind of caricature or stereotype that I thought I might find. There were so many possible opportunities where the movie might have gone wrong in lesser hands, but it never did. It was poetic, sublime, and heart achingly beautiful – both emotionally and physically – from beginning to end. Ang Lee is a new hero to me for what he has done, not the less so because the film never once descended into political or social commentary, per se.

The love story was a classic. I haven’t read the story it is based on, but now I want to very much. Annie Proulx must be that rare, gifted writer to create a story that transcends so easily the specifics of its time and space, yet remains fully grounded within them. How did she do it? Rarely have I seen any production centered around two gay characters that was treated with such respect and emotional honesty.

The entire cast left me stunned. I read one review that said “Heath Ledger as Ennis is a revelation” and now I know exactly what that reviewer meant. I thought he was absolutely perfect for the role. And Jake Gyllenahaal was the perfect Jack, too, and very easy on the eyes too! The two of them, I thought, were both brilliant, relying as they had to more on body language instead of dialogue for much of the film’s message. Their performances were artfully subtle in so many ways. Michelle Williams as Alma was breathtaking. She played her part so incredibly well. She deserves her nominations. Randy Quaid was ideally cast, too. But you know who I thought really stole the scenes they were in? The two people who played Jack’s parents at the end of the movie. I thought the mother and father were absolutely incredible, even though they were only on screen for a few minutes.

And didn’t the scenes with his shirt at the end just make you want to melt? As we walked out the theater, I told Harald what I really felt like I needed to do was go home and have a good cry. I even woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep for thinking about this movie. It set me to thinking about my own life, about love that was not meant to be, at least not the way I wanted it to be. I identified with both Ennis and Jack and I think that many of us have had the experience of know what each of them was going through, at least in some small way.

And that scene at the end, where Jack and Ennis meet for the last time at Brokeback Mountain. Didn’t that just rip at your heart? When it was all over, many of the straight people in the audience (and it was mostly straight people) got up and left quickly. But the little pockets of gay men and women who were there were scattered over the theater, drying their eyes and trying to gather their composure before they left. So many of us have had the experience of loving a man or woman and having that love sabotaged by inner demons, old tapes, social expectations that we be something other than that which we truly are. Perhaps that is why this movie resonates with so many of us, though few of us have fallen in love with a cowboy in Wyoming in the early 60s. And that is the point of what makes the film so great. Although the story is clearly about one particular situation, its themes are so clearly universal and go far beyond the particulars.

It’s been a long time since I have seen a film that left me feeling like this film did. Perhaps the last was Longtime Companion, which was many years ago now. I do know that I will see this movie again, and in the theater despite its length, because it was that good. In a word, it’s a masterpiece. In my opinion, it deserves every bit of the praise it’s received, and then some.