Monday, July 27, 2009

Brokeback Mountain

Somehow, I had missed Brokeback Mountain when the world seemed to be enraptured by it, and so after a conversation with a friend I finally sat down to it.

After the first watch, all that remained of the movie was a collection of images and a realization that never before had I been so utterly moved by a love story, for that is what it is, titles of a gay cowboy movie be damned. It is the story of a shared love, love that is not once called love through a lifetime, because it yet does not know its own name and also perhaps because it is denied by its own preperator.

The second watch still left me dazed , the sheer power of Lee's imagery is incalculable. Jack and Ennis barely speak, their dialogues, especially Ennis' are at a bare minimum and yet they wash you totally with a deep, gnawing, longing.

After the third watch to-night, I think I can finally begin to understand the different layers on which this movie is fleshed out.

What is truly heartbreaking is Ennis' tragedy of not knowing himself, He is as stoic as the mountains among which he had come to love, and in his confusion he has learnt to lock himself within his eyes that do not once overflow. He is unconnected and out of sync with the world, and in his happiness with Jack we discover his vast pain. It's not easy being different, and Ennis' difference nearly bleeds him out. 'Its a film about hearts - broken or otherwise. It's pure romance.'

There is something forlorn and broken about Ennis even as we see him in the opening scene, and he walks with a head bent forward, weight on his sturdy shoulders, all his worldly possessions in a brown paper bag. The brown paper bag would re-surface at the end, when again, he carries all that he has in this world in a brown paper bag- Two shirts, remnant of the only love he had ever experienced .

And he has an enormous capacity for love, coming even from his abandonment. Through his life he makes terrible sacrifices for jack, quitting jobs and forsaking his marriage, not mentioning about his jobs for nearly 20 years, and claiming , when Jack turns up after his divorce that "It's a mistake."

As the story opens, in the silence of Jack and Ennis for so long after they first encounter each other, we see a foreshadow of the course which their love shall run- silent and intense. They are
actually placed in the role of a husband and a wife by the foreman who employs them; Ennis is the camp tender, while Jack is the man, who goes out herding sheep and instructing Ennis "No more beans." But because of Jack's complaints, their roles are more effectively reversed to that which suits them more. And indeed , in Jack we see tenderness and affection, and in one of the most haunting scenes of the movie, watch out for Jack's expression when he dabs Ennis' wounds with hot water.

One late evening, over whiskey, as they always have it,
Ennis speaks of his bringing up and slow abandonment by
his siblings, and though he bears no bitterness, its understandable enough that Jack is the first person he's ever mentioned this to. ('Hell it's the most I've spoken in a year.")
Perhaps there is a consciousness of having spoken too much, for Ennis seems partly ashamed of his now exposed brokenness. There is a ghost of a smile that never does come, inhibited like all other emotions in him. Yet he shall soon learn to open up to Jack, however briefly or rarely.

Four years after they went their own ways, they re-unite to a heart- wrenchingly beautiful kiss, this time initiated by Ennis. And Ennis chalks out a plan for them to able to keep meeting over fishing, making it obvious by his easy lie to Alma "We was fishing buddies" that he had thought about it long before he heard from Jack. Ennis' plans, unlike Jack's adheres more to practicality, and gives their relationship scope to exist in midst of cruelty that Texas, even today, meets out to Jack and Ennis. But Ennis' practical plans can never quite fulfill Jack's longings and he blames Ennis for a half-life in the climax of the movie, a climax were vividly Ennis' confusion of himself is brought out.

The two parts of the movie were Ennis is faced with the reality
of losing Jack, draws extreme physical reactions from him.
The first time , he breaks down sobbing uncontrollably in
an alley, the second time when Jack states " I wish I knew
how to quit on you " Ennis falls down to his knees, both
trying to escape from him and cling to him. Ennis might be in a state of cognitive dissonance , or denial, but sure as hell Jack wasn't to blame- "Its because of you that I am like this. I'm nothin, I'm nowhere. " This is Ennis' fear in seeing a murdered homosexual as an 8 yr old. He has painfully tried to carve out a safe path for himself and jack and nowhere does his scarred psyche and need for Jack become as vividly apparent as here.

Here also, there is a flashback, and those who have read the story would understand it in all its enormity:
Proulx writes, "What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger. ...Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see or feel that it was Jack he held. And maybe, he thought, they'd never got much farther than that. Let be, let be.

This is a saga of an intensely complex emotional relationship, at the end of which we are left crying for the broken survivor: Jack is lynched to death as Ennis had feared he might and the closing shots are wonderful in their duality.

Ennis, finds a shirt of his which he had 'forgotten' on the mountain, in Jacks closet, still smeared with his blood, and within a shirt of Jack, also smeared in his blood. And in one of the rare moments of luxury when he allows himself to release his emotions, he feels jack's shirt with his cheek. We find the same pair of shirts in the very final scene of the movie, only, this time, the order is reversed, and it is his shirt which encloses Jack's. Perhaps Ennis is at last ready to commit, and maybe even protect Jack, but it comes a tad too late. Both times, their shirts, and metaphorically, their relationship, hangs within a closet, from which it could never emerge, and perhaps their only rightful place in those times.

Beside the hung shirts, we find a picture of the Brokeback mountain, framed within a postcard, which for Jack, is almost a pretend place, "where blue birds sing, and there's a whiskey spring" ; and just beside, framed within the frames of the window, is the landscape of America, certainly and cruelly real.
Both these frames are enclosed within another frame, that of the screen, and we realise that the movie is offering a choice- we can choose any of the two frames.

All through the movie, Jack and Ennis' love is shown against the background of the river, sometimes running and frothing, other times, calmingly present, yet immeasurably large and always pitted against the squalor and mess of Ennis' home and the lack of freedom in Jack's.

There is no doubt that the movie is a powerful lobby, and because it appeals to our hearts with images, rather than mind with words, we are left just all the more vulnerable.

7 chronicles more.:

"It's not easy being different, and Ennis' difference nearly bleeds him out."

This is an amazing post and your insights come from a place of deep understanding and empathy. In a long while I haven't read anything like it and my words come from one who has lived Brokeback Mountain for the past three years. The best part is I'm in your city too. All along I've been the only one I know here who's been affected the way I have. Today after reading this I feel so not alone anymore and so good. Thank you from deep down in my heart.

I got the link to your blog from fellow-veteran-member BayCityJohn of the Utimate Brokeback Mountain Forum (better known as the Dave Cullen Forum) I just emailed you as well. Do get in touch.

Longest post about a good movie after a long time I guess... Will find this movie and watch :)

The way you've put things about this movie is just too good Sayrem :)

Thank you so much for the insight and understanding of this review! You've captured the yearnsome beauty of the love story and its setting--along with the stark pain of its self-denial and social oppression.

I especially appreciate your understanding of the film's subtle and ambigious moments, and the way it reaches out to us through its images.

Your post is a reminder that this is a story the whole world shares, one that does indeed leave us all vulnerable.

I would love to see this film...

Can't bollywood attempt an honest one at gays?

I loved the movie, it was as haunting as love itself!

had to say you, i liked your review more than the film itself. You have an eye for detail. The words used are priceless. This is probably the best post i have ever read.

well this wud pretty much be a priceless comment itself. :)