Saturday, December 10, 2005

Brokeback Mountain - Just Friends

I went to see Brokeback Mountain last night at the Pacific Grove theaters, which is a very odd place to begin with. The beauty of this post's title is that this is precisely how the title appeared on the marquee, placed firmly above the title for some dreadful "I'm fat, you're not, so you can't love me" movie. And it really sums up the attitude of the audience in attendence last night. Of course, I'm not writing to critique a bunch of wealthy Hollywood assholes, but I thought that this little nugget was worth repeating

I'm finding it harder to write a review of Brokeback Mountain than I had initially thought it would be. It is a feature that has become so weighted by politics and countless reviews - by queer critics, by straight critics, by evil monstrously bad writers like Ella Taylor (i.e. my nemesis who writes for the LA WEEKLY). Reviews more concerned with content than the film itself. Believability...

I'll say first and foremost that Ang Lee knew what he was doing. He knew that he was going to be deviating from the dogmatic cinematic structure that is "The Western." And assuredly, he knew he would be pissing many people off in doing so. He chooses, rather boldly, to do this as quietly as possible. It is a good film, but not necessarily in the grand old Hollywood sense of the term. In a very Ang Lee way. The film is mostly whispers. When the men speak to one another, even when breaking out into gruff barks, it is in the form of a secret. One that they must not share. But the whom to which they are afraid of being exposed is not their wives or even their children, but to nature, themselves. And so they drag it up, as a way of passing, donning all of the attributes that signify masculinity.

Brokeback Mountain is a film of accoutrements. There's a cowboy hat in nearly every shot. Later in the film, as the Ennis character grows more weary, his hat begins to droop. It's also a shield - to deflect the gaze of others from your tears and to hide a certain business you may have stirring in your pants. Our lovers first consumate their desires in an old canvas pup tent, yet as the years pass, they find themselves in a blue mylar tent from Patagonia. Jack Twist trades in his unreliable pick-up for a newer model. This decline in the romantic ideal of the cowboy fuels the first two hours of the film. One feels a greater sense of remorse for this loss than for the lovers who, it seems quite clear, will never ride off happily into the sunset on a horse with no name. The cowboys watch their idealized world get swallowed up by $100,000 tractors and apartments above laundrymats. Their wives can hold their own. They don't need a man with masculinity, just money. They need an electric cutting knife and a television. The film resembles a more simplistic vision or Chronenberg's any-old-america-town feel displayed in this years A History of Violence, instead here, where Cronenberg's world was one seething with unspoken undercurrents of violent impulse, Lee's is a world in direct contrast with itself - a world forlorn at the death of the dream which defined it, yet excited by the fruits which this boom of modernity promise. What serves as the outlet for this modernization, are the "fishing trips" that Jack and Ennis take. And I don't think that I really need to state here that fishing is the last thing they do on these trips (though it is also pertinent to state that, though there is one surprisingly frank sex sequence, Lee get's the nasty "out of the way," and there is litle physicality to their relationship after the occernce on Brokeback). Instead, even here the cowboys are feminized, talking (or being unable to talk) about their relationship. Ledger's Ennis Delmar is the stoic one, more unable to speak the "love that dare not speak its name." Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist is the youthfull resident homo of the movie (it also helps that he's married to - what in todays times would be - a total fag hag (sorry, Anne Hathaway).

The acting is quite decent, though I'd never believe anyone but Michelle Williams would ever be in any of these situations. Especially at the beginning, as we watch our cowpolks (pun very much intended) and notice their flawless skin and quietly effeminate nature. They more resemble Calvin Klein's idea of a cowboy than anyone that has ever done hearding or even eaten out of a can of baked beans heated right over the fire. Ledger's Ennis deserves (and I think will get) oscar attention. The film, when not focusing on the browbeating of a modern cowboy, is all about the internal conflicts of Ennis Delmar. Gyllenhaal is fine, but his Twist is not as developed as Delmar. He is the homosexual for the general public to not understand. Because Ennis is a more masculine figure, racked - much like the general audience - with confusion about how to deal with these feelings, he is the figure to whom we are to ascribe our viewpoint. We can relate to he old masculine ideal - the Marlborro man (even though they smoke Camels in the film) - far more than the man who lusts and find other ways of obtaining that lust because Ennis' turmoil is more controlled.

There are many weak elements to the film. Originally adapted from Annie Proulx's short 55 page story, about one hour of the films run time is extraneous stuff added just for dramatic effect. These elements are the sore thumb of the narrative - they detract from the narrative drive and potency. Eventually, all that matters is the trite line, which in context holds much more depth. During an argument, a forty year old Twist moans into the stream with his back to Ennis, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Brokeback Mountain is eventually the good followthrough at what might have seemed impossible. Lee knows how to massage your tearducts, which normally pisses me off, but here it seems par de course - in terms of subject matter. I must admit, I did get rather moved at the end. I didn't cry, but it seemed like a good idea. The landscape is really the main character, but it is not a tangible thing any longer. The film takes a sentimental postmodern approach to a very much nostalgic subject. It could be argued that the film is not even about homosexuality at all, but a long poem to nostalgia. And it really works as this. It's not the best movie I've seen this year, but it is a feat. I'm hessitant to say that it's one of the better queer films in a while, as I'm not sure I would consider this a queer film - or at least an addition to queer cinema. Though I am certain Lee will be proud of for the rest of his life.






in case you're interested...


Anonymous nexus pheromone said...

thanks for the info

9:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home