and I are feeling somewhat smug (never a good thing) because we reviewed
Annie Proulxís short story Brokeback
Mountain over two years ago when almost no one had heard of it. I think
weíre both glad that we discovered this gem of a story before it became
so popular with the making of the movie.
was doubtful they could pull off making a movie of this story, because
the story was told more by what wasnít said than by what was. I was wrong.
With the right actors conveying the painful suppression of emotion, the
film works brilliantly. You donít need me to tell you that this is a great
movie, buy it rather than just rent, and watch and watch again.
that, there are some things that niggle me about the film.
movie is more upbeat and positive than the story. Firstly, the boys are
so pretty that some of the desperate harshness of Ennis and Jackís life
is smoothed over by their representations. Neither Heath Ledger nor Jake
Gyllenhaal looks as if theyíve come up living hard lives
on farms. They donít have the physical imperfections that Annie Proulx
is at pains to describe for her characters. Itís hard to believe that
Ennis-Heath wouldnít move on from Jackís death, whereas the sad little
man in the book seems more trapped by his time and place. For some reason,
the screenwriters chose to put in a final scene with Ennis and his daughter,
which gives us some hope that Ennis had learnt by his mistakes with Jack
and that he might be able to move on. This scene doesnít exist in the
book, and itís much clearer in the original story that Ennis isnít going
anywhere: heís trapped with his dreams of Jack and two shirts hanging
in a closet on a flat plain of nothingness. Perhaps cinema-going audiences
werenít quite ready for a tragic love story without some hope of redemption.
of the other major differences that irks me somewhat is the lack of intimacy
between Ennis and Jack in the film compared with in the bookóand I donít
mean gay sex. They meet two or three times a year andÖ ride aroundÖ? In
the book, Proulx manages to convey the passion of this relationship without
once going into detailóas soon as they stop riding, they are desperate
to touch each other, unbuttoning each otherís pants even while they catch
up on family news. Iím not entirely convinced that the way the relationship
is conveyed in the film sells you on the premise of Jack being held hostage
to this situation for twenty years. More could have been included without
treading on the sensibilities of straight audiences. I think it was lost
to the vastly increased roles of the women: Alma and Lureen. Again, I
feel this was done as an underhand way of selling this ďgay cowboyĒ (I
hate that term as they were neither gay nor cowboys) to straight audiences.
We got a gratuitous shot of Ann Hatherwayís breasts, a fairly lengthy
sequence of Ennis and Alma in bed, but Ennis and Jack are shot either
in total darkness or in such close up that not an inch of their bodies
is shown or, indeed, at a vast distance through the lens of binoculars
(itís left so unclear what is happening in this scene thereís a whole
forum devoted to why Ennis appears to have mud on his knees). †Again,
Iím not being prurient. I have oddles of gay porn to watch if I want.
I want the intimacy and fun and pure male physical joy that Ennis and
Jack find together to be brought onto the screen to sell the story. I
love the way Annie Proulx describes the motel scene: jouncing the bed,
lying wet and spent. The film manages to de-sex the relationship, as if
the physicality of cum and sweat and shit might damage the elemental message
the director is trying to convey. I donít think Annie was going for elemental:
she saw the magic in the mundane. And just a tiny point which tends to
support my theoryóLee chose to set the relationship over twenty years
on Brokeback mountain, whereas in Annieís original story, they make a
point of never returning to Brokeback after that first summer (ie, Lee
was going for the premise that this story is elemental and applies whether
you are gay or straight, whereas in the book I think Annie was much clearer
that this relationship was based on physical desire). These might all
be very minor gripes, but it does rankle with me that for this first major
Hollywood film about two men who prefer having sex with each other than
anyone else, the sex is mostly absent.
really canít discuss this film without discussing its impact on those
who have seen it. Visit Dave Cullenís amazing Brokeback
forum and find threads where thousands of people tell their own stories
of their Brokeback lives, taking courage from Ennis and Jackís experience
to put their lives in perspective. There are also fascinating threads
exploring the imagery of the film.
was afraid this film was going to be an anti-climax because I expected
so much. That Iíd read too many reviews, interviews, articles, been immersed
too deeply in the buzz of anticipation and subsequent reaction to its
release for the reality of a simple movie to be anything other than a
I really didnít need to worry.
†Itís one of the best films I have ever seen. One of the saddest too.
From the opening sequence, with those plaintive guitar chords, tears pricked
my eyes. I was emotionally raw, sniffling quietly into my hanky, yet equally
captivated by the brilliant imagining of a story thatís been close to
my (broken) heart since I first read Proulxí simple yet stunning novella.
Ang Leeís film has stark simplicity similar to the source, rendering visuals
equal to the stripped-down prose of the original.
Itís been a long road to get here, surreptitiously blubbing on a cold
station platform bench while frantically scribbling notes to preserve
my first reaction for later transcription. When I heard about the casting
I scoffed: how could two straight pretty boy actors possibly be MY Ennis
& Jack? This early scepticism was quickly squashed when I saw the
trailer and began reading interviews with Heath & Jake. But oh how
very wrong I was ever to question their abilities! Talk of Oscar nominations
does not exaggerate, if thereís ANY justice in the world. Nothing can
prepare you for seeing them inhabit the skins of Ennis & Jack. They
ARE the characters. Iíd read the hype attached to Heathís performance,
but Jakeís is equal to it, if less obvious.
Itís not whatís said that matters- though Heath Ledgerís way of talking
is perfectly pitched to get to the core of Ennis Del Mar; itís all in
their looks, body language, silences. A roller coaster of emotional peaks
& troughs, one of the most moving love stories of our times. Devastating
isnít too strong a word. And that comes from someone very familiar with
the story. I canít imagine what it must be like to come to it unknowing.
For uncomfortable swathes of screentime thereís neither music nor dialogue
to distract, only the relentless wind that haunts the film and wordless
emotions of two men caught by a passion they donít understand and certainly
canít articulate, except to negate what they feel by denying outright
theyíre Ďqueerí- though the way Jake Gyllenhaal says it so quick you know
he only echoes Ennis because itís expected but he's not at all sure it's
What we see develop transcends labels, though no one with a heart could
possibly come away uncertain the ties that bind men together are as enduring
as hetero relationships. Up there in glorious Technicolor. A story that
elates as two lonely men connect, and drags you to the depths of despair
when they part and stay that way, then rouses bitter anger at the futility
of making do, allowing the love of a lifetime to slip away out of fear
and misguided pursuit of an unrealisable dream of safe conformity. A life
not lived but endured, a straightjacket imposed by societyís denial of
gay love which inhibits personal freedom by making men think they are
wrong for feeling as they do.
Bits taken from the novella, well remembered scenes and word-for-word
dialogue, mesh seamlessly with new material, opened-out sequences beyond
the Brokeback Mountain idyll thatís the most amazing part of the film:
long stretches of time between 'fishing trips' showing the horrible impact
on both men and their wives & families of trying to live a lie, how
everyone gets hurt, victims of Ennisí inability to admit even to himself
what it is he really wants- and Jackís reluctance to force the issue-
the paralysis of fear stemming from childhood trauma, forced to witness
the terrible fate that awaits men who dare to share their lives like husband
While the novella is told from Ennisí POV, the film adaptation ups the
pain by forcing upfront consideration of aspects Proulx covers in a few
lines: Ennisí experience of marriage and pressures of family life and
low-paid employment; Jakeís acceptance of necessity, taking a wife and
financial security, and his slow visible deterioration as absence of love...of
Ennis his heartís desire...destroys him. The film draws out the novella
most satisfactorily and gives secondary characters room denied by its
brevity. Alma and Lureen win sympathy for the unfairness of the situation,
no fault of theirs, particularly Ennisí wife, beautifully played by Michelle
Williams, confronted with this thing between her husband and his 'fishing
buddy', unable to comprehend what it means; the way Ennis despite it all
retains the love of elder daughter Alma Junior, their relationship nicely
developed to show it wasnít all negative, and give hope he wonít be left
People have said the pace is too slow, that the story drags, but for me
it went by too quickly. There isnít a wasted shot. Supporting performances
are uniformly excellent. I particularly liked Jackís mother who conveys
so much with her brief appearance, settling in my mind that she knows
and gives Ennis her blessing, thanks for giving her son whatever happiness
he had. Likewise Jackís father, hating the interloper who comes to remind
him of a son he never understood and denied approval or love.
I canít find fault with the film (okay the ageing make-up isn't the most
convincing I've seen but that's a quibble), not a thing Iíd change. Iím
numb, suffused with sadness, a hurt that lies like sickness in my stomach.
I canít think about it without starting to cry. I want to see it again.
This first time was all about the feelings, raw emotional reactions, an
overwhelming power so I just couldnít take it all in. I know I missed
details. I was surprised too how much humour was in there, despite the
pain and suffering.
What I donít understand is why so many (straight male?) reviewers have
focused on the sex, such a small part and tastefully done, so you see
almost nothing but know everything. The violence of the first-time shocks
but feels right because you see how what happens is the culmination of
weeksí building sexual tension- Jackís unspoken longing, subtly played
by Jake Gyllenhaal, matched by Ennisí drunkenly uninhibited need. Sex
is easy, like the boyish wrestling games they play on the mountain. Whatís
much more difficult to show is the unforced intimacy and affection of
lovers, which Heath & Jake carry off beautifully.
Their chemistry is incredible, a perfect match. All those questions to
Heath & Jake about how hard it is to play gay ignore how well the
actors convey the charactersí passion, confusion, unspeakable need. They
grunt and groan and huff like rutting beasts the first time in the tent
(the only coupling shown). Thereafter we see them entwined, intimate,
quiet and tender, isolated in their cocoon of love, playful in the great
outdoors far from judgmental eyes.
Heath Ledger is everything youíve read about, speaking in that closed-lip
way as though words hurt to speak (taciturn isnít adequate). With hat
pulled down, eyes hidden or averted or darting like a startled deer, heís
emotionally self-contained as the island in the sea conjured by his name.
Itís a joy to behold Ennis bloom as Brokeback Mountain works its spell.
Then the years take toll, a half-life of lost content sustained by infrequent
rekindling of passionís fire, the rest of the time a tight-wound coil
quick to temper and violence.
Then thereís Jake, and Jackís ebullient, confident, macho rodeo cowboy
swagger, checking out Ennis the moment he sets eyes on him at Joe Aguirreís
trailer, so vibrant, free and easy. Gradually worn down by a life circumscribed
by Ennisí fear, selling out for an easier life in Texas but, unlike Ennis,
unable to make do without what he needs, even if it comes without love.
By their final scene together, Jack just isnít the same man.
Iím so glad I saw this film on the big screen. The cinematography is stunning.
Beautiful painterly images on Brokeback and the high country of their
'fishing trips' contrast with the hemmed in existence Ennis & Jake
endure apart, the ugly reality of homophobia against the wide open spaces,
a place of freedom where societyís disapprobation has no remit, where
their love and its expression is something natural and uninhibited.
I saw the film with a mixed audience in a city centre independent theatre.
We were all very quiet, except for conspicuous sniffs and snuffles, sitting
rapt in this saddest of all love stories in which the word love is never
mentioned at all.
The most affecting scene? Same as the book...the shirts.