The first time I saw Brokeback Mountain, I didn't particularly like it. This is terrible, but I had to pee the first twenty minutes and that little fact kept me from being comfortable and getting into the movie. As a result, I wasn't sympathetic to the plight of the characters. The poverty of the main character, Ennis Del Mar, made me very uncomfortable. It reminded me too much of my own upbringing. Also, I didn't like the fact that both principle characters spent their whole lives cheating either their wives or each other. I had a lot of issues. Not having read the story upon which the movie was based, all of my criticisms were directed at the movie. Once I read the story by Annie Proulx, I reassessed all of my criticism. This past week-end, I saw the movie for a second time. I still have some issues, but not with the movie. It is incredible.
First, the story by Annie Proulx is one of the best short stories I can remember reading. All of my questions about the movie were resolved by reading the short story. All of the ambiguity from the movie was clarified, including the lines mumbled by Heath Ledger, whom I think deserves the Oscar he is going to receive in March. "Heath Ledger is just almost really beyond description as far as I'm concerned. He got inside the story more deeply than I did," said Annie Proulx. Amen to that. Heath's portrayal of Ennis has haunted me for over a week now. Jake Gyllenhall's portrayal of Jack Twist was also disturbing. I identified very strongly with Jack, especially as portrayed in the movie.
Jack's the one Gene Shallit called a sexual predator. I take Gene's son's word for it that his father is not homophobic, but the old son-of-a-bitch is totally clueless. If Jack's a sexual predator, he sure didn't need to feed very often. Going out of your way to see someone a few times a year hardly rates someone a predator status.
Jack was an assimilated homosexual, or less kindly put, a real closet case. It's too bad he drove to Mexico instead of California that week-end when Ennis wouldn't let him stay because he had his daughters for the week-end. The movie would have had a much happier ending. He and Ennis might have ended up in Sonoma County with a nice little ranch and maybe even a B&B. Yeah, it's too bad he went to Mexico. Kudos to Ang Lee though for showing Jack walk off with a normal looking guy in Mexico. Hollywood would have gone for the cheap shot and we'd have seen him getting picked up by a very effeminate semi-drag queen.
I know dozens of guys like Jack and Ennis. When I was in college, way back in the days before there were entire communities of Gays, men who were attracted to men met in strange, out-of-the-way places, like bookstores, restrooms, and roadside parks. Young men, in their sexual prime, seek out sex. They return to areas where they have had success. That's why my friend Robert always liked tearooms (that's what Gays called restrooms back in the 70s) and I always liked dinner parties. Guys like Jack are sexual opportunists with a little bit of a compulsive bent.
The reason Gene Shallit is an idiot is his choice of the words "sexual predator." Gene's a wordsmith. His choice is deliberate, unless he really is the blubbering old idiot that other bloggers have inferred. Sexual predator, Gene? Was there something in Jack's behavior that reminded you of a Catholic priest? Despite the incredibly negative imagery that word conjures up, do you really think Jack "preyed" on Ennis or other unsuspecting heterosexual men? Did you think that Jack's bite was so incredibly toxic that anyone upon whom he "preyed" would be turned into a
vampire homosexual, too? Do you think were it not for Jack, Ennis would have been happily married to his doormat and satisfied with his oppressive poverty? What an incredibly insensitive and stupid thing for Shallit to say. Homophobic? Well, certainly not intentionally so, taking his son at his word, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck....
Not everyone will agree with me on this, but my experience has been that some men are incredibly threatened by homosexuals. Smart, intellectual men who deal with their fear much the same way I deal with my fear of spiders. I know the likelihood of a spider metamorphosing in front of my eyes into a giant monster that will eat me alive is very unlikely. That does not keep me from screaming like a little girl if I think I've been touched by one. I regain control of myself almost immediately, but the scream is involuntary. I do not know why Gene Shallit had a slip of the tongue or a slip in judgment, but he had one or the other.
Poor Ennis. His character reverberated with me intensely. Ang Lee made Ennis a lot more sensitive than he usually is. Well, actually Annie Proulx and Heath Ledger did. She projected a lot more emotion into Ennis than he ever had in real life, and Heath suffered each anguishing moment of Ennis's life.
It isn't clear from either the story or the movie what really caused Jack's death. Was Ennis being prescient or just fearful? Violence is something Gay men and women live with constantly, in both the blue states and the red states. However, I think Ennis was seeing Jack's death through the lenses of his own fear. We certainly didn't see Jack taking many chances. Sexual opportunistic adventurers, like Jack, are very careful in their search for
prey (oops, there's that word) suitable objects of their affection. Any Gay who has ever cruised a straight guy learns to be an expert at reading body language. I don't think it likely that Jack would have got himself trapped in a desperate situation that would lead to being beat to death. Beat up? Yes, but getting beat up is survivable. Most beatings don't end up in death. Yeah, yeah, shades of Matthew Shepherd. I know the statistics. It could have happened. However, Jack was a romantic. He fell in love too easily. Men who fall in love with their tricks usually get to know them pretty well before the sex occurs. Jack wanted to play house with his love interests, and hadn't he already shacked up with the neighboring ranch's foreman? He's already shown us that he's not the most active homosexual on the range. Neither the story nor the movie suggest that Jack was very active sexually. The movie suggests he had sex with at least three men. I'm not sure he was trying to pick up the rodeo clown who wouldn't let him buy him a drink. It's not clear what the clown had to say to the other cowboys around the pool table. That might have been about homophobia, but since they all mumbled, I wasn't sure if the clown didn't want the drink because he sensed that Jack was queer and was hitting on him or because Jack was such a loser as a bull rider. Could have been either.
I really liked the shirt thing. That was sweet. I blubbered a bit. Been there, done that. It helped me to like Ennis. Almost. Actually I just felt sorry for him. What a waste.
The story and the movie annoyed me in that it is one more story about homosexuals being losers. We're probably about average when it comes to relationships, losing some and winning others. Can't blame this one on Hollywood, however. The movie is simply Proulx's story projected onto the screen. I can't fault Annie Proulx for her vision of Jack and Ennis being losers in love, because that's the way the story evolved. As a writer, I do know that sometimes my characters tell their stories differently than the one I have imagined for them. Annie Proulx's character, Ennis Del Mar, was based on her observation of a man in a bar in Wyoming whom she caught cruising straight guys. Her character took her down that path. I do not believe she projected it onto him.
I've been reading a litany of reasons from straight men as to why they do not plan to see the movie. You know what? It doesn't matter. I don't particularly like chick flicks, either, and this is definitely a "chick flick." You boys shouldn't delude yourselves, though. You might do well to examine why the idea of two guys making out makes you so uncomfortable. By the way, there's not a lot of making out in the movie or in the short story. President Bush showed more affection to that Saudi prince he walked around his ranch in Crawford while holding hands than Ennis ever shows to Jack. Okay, there is one kissing scene where Ennis's wife catches the two of them kissing, but it's not as much a romantic make-out kiss as it is a "fuck I'm so glad to see you again, let's fuck" kind of kiss. (By the way, Gene Shallit, Jack did drive the 500 miles to Wyoming, but definitely it was Ennis who kissed Jack.)
Back to the movie. . .
As a movie? I cannot recall in recent history seeing a movie that was as loyal to its source material as was this movie. Kudos to Larry McMurtry and Diana Osanna for their excellent work in bringing this story to the screen. Ang Lee was masterful in his ability to allow the characters to tell their story while capturing the scenery of the west without allowing it to distract from the characters stories.
Anything that makes uptight people less uptight is a great endeavor. If this movie causes a shift in sentiment towards the acceptance of Gays and our right to lead normal lives, including same-sex marriage, it's a great movie. As a Gay love story, it sucked. Me? I like happy endings.