Brokeback Mountain

I am probably the last person on earth to see this movie, and I hesitated to write about it here, because it’s so last year or something, but who cares. It’s my blog, and you don’t have to read about how much I loved a movie that came out last year.

One of the things people say over and over about Brokeback Mountain is that it stays with you. I felt that after initially reading the short story. It was so powerful, so spare, and so moving. I don’t often tell my husband he has to read something, because our reading tastes (most of the time) aren’t all that similar. It isn’t that he doesn’t like literature. I think he just sees reading true crime as research, and I think that’s the direction he sees himself going, writer-wise. One thing I read that Larry McMurtry said after reading Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain,” was that he wished he’d written it. That was how I felt after I read it. I can’t explain why, because it’s not like anything I write. It reminded me, actually, of Cormac McCarthy. The characters were so well drawn with so few words. They were so real. And their story was so moving. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it, and after seeing the movie, well, I can’t say I’m speechless, because here I am blathering, but it was probably one of the most amazing movies I’ve ever seen in my life.

One of the things that pierced me to the core was the sky. The sky only looks like that in the West. The movie was filmed in Canada, but I was forcibly reminded of the landscape and sky in Colorado, where I grew up. You kind of forget that sky, I guess, but then when you see it again, like I did in this movie, it seizes you; it all comes flooding back. My family has lived in the West, mostly in Texas, since the late 1800’s. I kept thinking of the trips we’d make to see my great-grandparents, who lived in a very small town in Texas. It looked so much like the small towns in this movie. The house that Jack’s parents lived in was so much like my great-grandparents’ house. They paid $500 for it when they first married and lived there until they died in the 1980’s. Everything about the setting in this movie was totally authentic. It made me so homesick.

I think it’s a shame that Heath Ledger had to make this movie the same year that Philip Seymour Hoffman made Capote. I have not seen Capote yet, but Steve loved it and said Hoffman was totally deserving of the Oscar he won for best actor. If it had not been for Hoffman, I feel sure nothing would have stood in Ledger’s way of winning the Oscar. He was incredible. I am related to guys like Ennis, and Ledger perfectly captured that set of the jaw and the way they swallow their words. There is a beauty in their simplicity. It took me a long time to appreciate that.

One of the things I admired about the story, and then the movie, was the way that it dealt with Ennis and Jack’s relationship as one of passion and love — one that couldn’t be fulfilled because of society and Ennis’s fears. I can’t figure out how to explain this, but you don’t dwell on the fact that they are two men in love so much as that they are two people in love, and they can’t be together. It’s heartbreaking. On the one hand, it’s rather obvious that it’s two men, but somehow that isn’t where you focus. It is so subtle, and I just can’t figure out how to explain it. On the one hand, I hate to even say that, because it insinuates that there’s a problem with having a love story about two men. Let’s face it — in our modern American society, there still is, isn’t there?

Obviously you’d probably have to be living under a rock not to have heard some of the more famous lines, and having read the story, I knew how it would end. I was still sobbing at the end. It was so moving — the tiny little shrine Ennis created in his closet. I started crying when Ennis and Jack parted for the last time, and I didn’t stop until the film was over. If anything, I just sobbed harder.

The movie was incredibly faithful to Annie Proulx’s story. The women characters were fleshed out a bit. Some of the relationships were expanded a bit. I don’t remember the Thanksgiving scene at Jack’s being in the story. The Thanksgiving scene at Alma’s was rendered exactly as it was written in the story.

In all, the movie was pitched perfectly. The actors, screenwriters, and director are to be commended on their performances.

7 thoughts on “Brokeback Mountain

  1. I still haven't seen it. I have the DVD. I've had the DVD since it came out. I just haven't had an uninterrupted block of time to do the movie justice. Your review makes me want to carve out that time though.

  2. I'm still among those who haven't seen the movie. I'm not a big movie fan, but this is one I knew I'd have to see at some point in time. I was also wondering: do you recommend reading the short story before viewing the film, or do you think it matters? Both the reading and the watching have been on my list of things to do, so it's good to have some added inspiration (your review) to get it done.

  3. Oh I still think about that movie…months and months and months later – the thing that haunted me was the music – it was just as piercing and regretful as the story – I agree with you – I was devastated for Heath Ledger that he didn't win Best Actor – because really, how amazing was he and how many times in your career does a role like that come along? I loved Jake G as well – i want to rent it on DVD – i saw it in the theater and i know what you mean about the sky….

  4. Kelly, do both! The movie very closely follows the short story, so I am not sure it really matters.

    Wendy, I agree with you about the music. I haven't seen Capote, but Steve says Hoffman is great. I think any other year, it would have been Ledger's.

    I read a post at the Guardian by Annie Proulx. She basically said, though she couched it carefully and indirectly, that she thought Ledger had a harder job than Hoffman and should have won. She came right out and said the movie should have won Best Picture. She even called Crash "Trash." It pretty much sounded like sour grapes. I didn't see Crash, so I don't know, but I fail to see how any movie could have been better than Brokeback Mountain. I think it might be my new favorite — a place that has been alternately occupied by Braveheart or Amadeus for a very long time.

  5. After reading your blog about BrokeBack the short story – I found it on the net and read it. It was very powerful stuff. I'm still not sure I can say I liked it – the writing was amazing and it certainly stayed with me for a while afterwards. But I am a coward at heart and prefer happy endings.

    I read lots of reviews from people about the film and they put me off seeing it. But after yours I will probably grit my teeth and watch it when it finally gets round to airing on cable. That way I can watch it in chunks if it gets too depressing.

    Lots of the reviews were complaining because the landscape was filmed in Canada instead of wherever it should have been in America and they said it looked wrong – not being from the US I wouldn't notice that kind of thing – did you?

  6. I suppose there is something within us that always prefers happy endings, and I have to say the ending of this story is torturous, at least for me. I think it may be one of the saddest stories I've ever read or seen in film because of the unadulteratedly sorrowful ending. It is traumatic. It is brutal. It's also, sadly, life. I think a lot of us go to literature to escape the brutality that is reality, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Most literature looks enough like life that we can buy it, but it doesn't smack us around like reality does. I have to say this story is very naturalistic in the vein of Stephen Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris. Stephen Crane once wrote a poem with the following sentiments (I can't remember divisions, so I wrote it as a statement):

    A man said to the Universe, "Sir, I exist!"

    "However," replied the Universe, "the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."

    We live in a world where bad things happen to good people, so we like to see the good guy win in what read. Annie Proulx offers up reality instead. I think it is beautifully written. It's haunting. This story has been told many times — it's the Romeo and Juliet template. Romeo and Juliet got off easier, because both of them died and did not have to live on without their lover. Ennis's plight is more tragic to me than death. He has lost the love of his life and will have to live on — lonely, empty, perhaps wishing he'd made different choices. That's why the ending was sad. If they had committed suicide in each other's arms like Romeo and Juliet had, we wouldn't feel as bad at the end of the story, because we can tell ourselves they are together in some better place (perhaps) or at least that their suffering is over. Ennis is not yet 40, and his suffering will last for half a lifetime. It's excruciating to think about.

    I don't think you are a coward for wanting happy endings. I think you're human. I think we all want them.

    As for filming in Canada, I couldn't have told you. I've been to Wyoming and grew up in Colorado, and it looked like Wyoming to me. I think Ang Lee was careful about choosing locations that looked like the setting of the story. As for people being put off by that, well, I suppose that's their right, but the facts remain that it's cheaper to film movies there, and they had the resources to support a movie cast and crew, whereas the actual settings in the story did not.

    I have to say I think it is the single best movie I've ever seen. The acting was superb. The setting was accurately rendered. The score was perfect. It was beautiful.

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