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(WARNING: This blog entry contains spoilers! If you do not want to know about the movie’s content or ending, do not read this entry.)
We finally went to see Brokeback Mountain Saturday afternoon. We went to the 1:00 matinee figuring there wouldn’t be any hecklers or assholes there at that time of day. I was very pleased that, once the movie started, I was unaware of anyone else in the theater. It was that quiet.
In all, there were about 20 people in the theater, and we were pleased to see the mix of people in that theater watching that movie. Surely everyone knows what it’s about, right? We saw older (50ish) heterosexual couples there. We saw female friends (but didn’t seem like “family”). We saw lone viewers, male and female alike. And we saw same-sex couples, too.
Brokeback Mountain is not a movie about gay cowboys. Oh, sure, if you want to encapsulate the theme of the movie in five words or less you could use the term “gay cowboys,” but only if you don’t understand the intent behind the story.
Brokeback Mountain is more than a movie about two gay cowboys. It is a story about internalized homophobia, living a lie, and living your life with the love of your life just out of reach. It is about fear, anger, love, passion, and longing. It is about denying who you really are. It is about conforming to societal molds. It is about a love so deep that, while denied, it can never be lost.
Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two broke and out-of-work cowboys who get a job tending sheep during one summer in the mid-1960s. Their instructions are that one of them will sleep in the field (in a pup tent) with the sheep, while the other maintains the base camp (cooking, keeping up supplies, etc.). Jack is the one who has to sleep in the pup tent, and Ennis maintains the base camp. Jack comes in for meals and, while they eat, they sip from a bottle of whiskey, and chat.
At some point, after Jack complains about being out in the field, Ennis volunteers to go out, while Jack stays at base camp. One morning Ennis comes out of the pup tent to find a layer of freshly fallen snow. Later, at the base camp, he and Jack drink too much whiskey and Ennis struggles with getting up to go back to the sheep. He decides to sleep right there on the ground near the fire. Jack tells him that, if he stays there, he’ll freeze to death after the fire dies down. Later, Jack is awakened by Ennis’ whimpering in the cold. He tells Ennis to come into the tent with him, and Ennis grabs his blanket and drunkenly staggers into the tent with Jack. They fall asleep.
In what seems to be a sleepy haze, Jack reaches back and grabs Ennis’ hand and pulls Ennis’ arm over himself. For a brief moment, they lay there like that, and then both seem to realize the position they’re in and they abruptly sit up and face each other, surprised and somewhat horrified at the same time to realize the position they’d been in. Then Jack grabs Ennis’ head and they kiss, passionately. They tear at each others’ clothes and suddenly Ennis flips Jack over, and enters him. (Notably, this will be the only sex scene you will see between the two of them throughout the movie.)
The next morning, Ennis mounts his horse to return to the sheep, looks at Jack and, without a word, rides off. Ennis discovers that one of the sheep had been killed by a predator and, as he surveys the scene, he begins to struggle within himself. He’d left the sheep and one had been killed, but he’d also done something unspeakable.
Later, at base camp for dinner, Jack and Ennis talk:
Ennis Del Mar: I figure we got a one-shot deal going on here.
Jack Twist: It's nobody's business but ours.
Ennis Del Mar: You know I ain't queer.
Jack Twist: Neither am I.
Ennis Del Mar: I tell ya there... there were these two old guys
ranched up together, down home. Earl and Rich. They were pretty tough ol' birds.
Anyway they... they found Earl dead in an irrigation ditch. Took a tire iron to
'im. Spurred him up, drug him 'round by his dick 'till it pulled off.
Jack Twist: You seen this?
Ennis Del Mar: I wasn't... nine years old. My daddy, he made sure me and brother seen it. Hell for all I know, he done the job.
Their relationship continues through the rest of the summer, but neither of them routinely sleeps in the field with the sheep anymore. At one point, Ennis tells Jack that he and Alma (Michelle Williams) will be married in November. We see a scene with them frolicking shirtless at the base camp, falling into each other, and kissing. Unbeknownst to them, their employer (Randy Quaid) is witnessing this from afar, through binoculars. Soon they discover that their herd has mingled with another herd, and they struggle to separate their own sheep from those of the other herd.
As summer ends, they receive word to bring the sheep down the mountain. Their last night on the mountain, they argue. Jack punches Ennis, giving him a nosebleed, and Ennis punches Jack, leaving him with a bruise under his eye. Ennis wipes the blood from his nose on the sleeve of his shirt.
Later, as they watch the sheep enter the corral and are counted, the employer says “Some of these sheep didn’t go up there with you.” He looks knowingly at the two cowboys. They stare guiltily at the ground.
Later, there is nothing more to do than to say goodbye. Jack briefly mentions getting a ranch together, having a life together, but Ennis really doesn’t want to hear it. There is no kiss. No hug. Just a look of longing, and they go their separate ways. In his rearview mirror, Jack sees Ennis fade into the horizon.
Ennis marries Alma, they settle in Wyoming, and they have two daughters. They struggle to make ends meet. Jack marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a wealthy Texas man. They have a son and Jack’s father-in-law employs Jack at his business, selling large farm equipment.
Four years later, Jack sends Ennis a postcard, saying that he’ll be through that way on a certain day, and was he up for a visit? Thrilled by the postcard, Ennis sends a postcard back to Jack that simply says “You bet.”
When Jack arrives, they embrace in the parking lot of Ennis’ apartment building. When Jack seems to want to get a little friendlier, Ennis pulls him out of public view and they kiss, passionately, urgently. Unfortunately, Alma sees this from the kitchen window. She is shocked beyond words –says nothing.
Jack and Ennis go into the mountains together for a few days. But, when it’s time to go back:
Jack Twist: Swear I didn't know we were gonna get into this again. Hell, yes I did, redlined it all the way, couldn't get here fast enough.
Ennis Del Mar: We can get together once in a while, away in the mountains somewhere. Jack Twist: Once in a while? Every four fuckin' years?
But, the reality is, they’re married, they have lives, and while Jack seems ready to embrace who he is, Ennis is unwilling to slip out of the societal mold that he lives in.
The years go by, and they meet occasionally in the mountains. While with each other, they know peace, contentment, love, fulfillment, happiness. All that they do not have in their daily lives.
Eventually, Alma tells Ennis what she knows about him and Jack, and they divorce. Jack shows up at Ennis’ place one day, but Ennis has his two teenage daughters in the truck – it’s his weekend with them. Jack goes away hurt and disappointed, and heads south for home. But, he bypasses home and heads into Mexico, where he picks up a male prostitute. This becomes something that Jack does frequently, in order to satisfy his needs. As more years go by, Jack is more and more frustrated with their relationship, needing, wanting more from it than the few fleeting days they spend together each year. He lets it slip to Ennis that he’s been going into Mexico.
Ennis Del Mar: I'm gonna tell you this one time, Jack fuckin' Twist, an' I ain't foolin'. What I don't know - all them things I don't know - could get you killed if I come to know them. I mean it.
Jack Twist: Yeah well try this one, and I'll say it just once!
Ennis Del Mar: Go ahead!
Jack Twist: Tell you what, we coulda had a good life together! Fuckin' real good life! Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it, Ennis! So what we got now is Brokeback Mountain! Everything's built on that! That's all we got, boy, fuckin' all. So I hope you know that, even if you don't never know the rest! You count the damn few times we have been together in nearly twenty years and you measure the short fucking leash you keep me on - and then you ask me about Mexico and tell me you'll kill me for needing somethin' I don't hardly never get. You have no idea how bad it gets! I'm not you... I can't make it on a coupla high-altitude fucks once or twice a year! You are too much for me Ennis, you sonofawhoreson bitch! I wish I knew how to quit you.
Ennis Del Mar: [crying] Well, why don't you? Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you that I'm like this! I ain't got nothing... I ain't nowhere... Get the fuck off me! I can't stand being like this no more, Jack.
And finally, Ennis tells Jack:
Ennis Del Mar: Bottom line is... we're around each other an'... this thing, it grabs hold of us again... at the wrong place... at the wrong time...we're dead.
I won’t ruin the ending for you.
Brokeback Mountain is a tender, painful, and brilliant portrayal of the journey between the first suspicion that a person has about their sexuality, and finally accepting it. While some may argue that it brilliantly portrays the fact that sexuality is a choice, based on the fact that the two of them live married lives separately from each other, I think the point is that, while they live married lives separate from each other, their lives are lies, and it makes them miserable.
I had an affair with a married woman once. In fact, it was my “transitional” relationship – I was 44 and she was 39. She had been raised by parents with deeply held, Bible-based beliefs and, while our short times together were passionate, happy, and fulfilling, there was also a sadness about our relationship. She struggled with the adultery as well as her sexuality and what to do about it. It was more than she could bear. Like Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain, I wanted more – more than she was willing to give. It wasn’t that she couldn’t give more, it was that she wouldn’t. She had a shitty marriage. She and her husband lived like roommates, each with their own bedroom. But, she was afraid to step out of the mold that society had insisted she live in. She was afraid of her family finding out and turning their backs on her. She was afraid that her daughter, whom she loved dearly, would find out and reject her. She believed her job would be in peril.
But, like Jack and Ennis, our times together were not the real world. They were a fantasy that we knew we could never live. Our relationship was turbulent because of my need for more, and her unwillingness to embrace who she was, and to step out of her comfort zone. I knew, deep inside, that she would never let herself be happy. And, as much as I wanted to “quit her,” I couldn’t.
Like Jack and Ennis after their first summer together, she and I parted ways, bloodied and hurt, stinging from the effects of our relationship.
But, unlike Jack and Ennis, I was determined to live my life with integrity and, eventually, I found Lisa and we now live a happy, fulfilled life, full of love, promise, and excellent companionship. Of course, it’s 40 years later than the time in the movie and “out” same-sex relationships are more common these days.
I thought about that “ex” of mine that night. I wondered if she has ever allowed herself to be happy; if she’s ever fully embraced who she is. Will she live the rest of her life like Ennis, harboring the guilt of a forbidden love?
I hope that the straight people who saw this movie truly understand what it’s about – the struggles and fears and doubts and sadness and denial that homosexuals experience in their early relationships.
This is an important movie, I think. Not just for the GLBT community, but for all of America. If it can change the minds of just a handful of people with preconceived (and incorrect) ideas of homosexuality, then it has accomplished a tremendous amount.
This is a must see film. It should be required for everyone.