I have not written anything about the movie Brokeback Mountain on purpose. I saw it two weeks ago when it first came out in Chicago. I also have read the short story - three times.
The reason I have not written is because I saw the movie with an audience that was 95-99% gay and I wanted to see it again with an audience that is at least 95% straight. I want to see the differences in reaction. [I thought I was going to do that tonight at a suburban theatre with a friend, but I have the plague. It's what happens when you spend Christmas with a 2-year old, 4-year old, and 5-year old. They carry diseases you thought you could never catch.]
My main reasons for wanting to do it this way are first to see if there is a major different overall reaction between the audiences and second to discover why the gay audience laughed at very inappropriate moments in the movie. They were powerfully sad moments and the laughter was not nervous laughter or surprise laughter as when something unexpected happens in a movie. They were amused at what was happening.
So, I decided to make some comments now while I have thoughts fresh in my mind and then post again after seeing it with a straight audience. It could also give me a different impression because I have spent a lot of time thinking about Brokeback Mountain.
My own personal reaction, though it is skewed because of my take on the short story, is extremely positive. I really, really didn't like the short story. Not even re-reading it the week before I saw the movie. I think it is very poorly written contrary to everyone else's thoughts and not deserving of the O'Henry award and another it received. It is actually too long for a short story and too short for a novella. It is lacking in a cohesive character development.
Before anyone comments that a short story can be limited because of its length, I have to offer up O'Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief. You know exactly what all the characters are like in that story. You feel their dilemmas, especially because of your attraction and repulsion for Red Chief! You can't have character development better than this.
Ennis Del Mar comes across as an ass in the Brokeback short story in my opinion. He knows what he wants; he doesn't know what he wants; he treats Jack like a jerk; he treats Jack as the most important thing in his life; he treats his wife like a nothing; his family is everything to him. Heath Ledger, in the movie, adds the depth and dimension lacking in the story. You know where the conflict is coming from within him
Jack Twist is not a gay man in the story but a victim of circumstance right until the very end. He knows what he wants and he knows he can't have it. He realizes that he can have no control over anyone but himself. In the movie, Jake Gyllenhall gives Jack the personality he needs.
Ennis and Jack become two very believeable characters.
These two actors give the movie, along with Ang Lee's direction and Larry McMurtry's writing, what is missing in the short story. The other characters are also developed better. It is important to know about their lives away from each other and of both of their wives. The written story doesn't give as much of an insight. Because of these things the movie is tremendously better than the story. Usually, it's the other way around: the story is better than the movie.
My personal reaction to the movie did not hit during or right after I saw the movie. It hit me three days later when the impact of what is in the movie suddenly connected with my own life. Boy, did it hit! I had a breakdown that lasted all the way to work in the car. [I don't know why but breakdowns always happen to me in the car.]
I saw the hopeless situation that the two men were in and didn't know of a way out of. I also saw that the hopelessness was of their own making. Jack has a way out, but Ennis stops it, or, rather, can't imagine it. Yes, it does have to do with the time that the story takes place [1963-83] but there are stories of people who took the route in spite of it. [I'm being vague on purpose for anyone who has not seen it yet. I DO recommend everyone see it to make their own decisions.]
As a consequence, I saw the hopeless situations I had put myself into by not realizing that I had innumerable possibilities. Though I now know of these possibillities, I still can put myself into the hopelessness. All of us can. Knowing something and action are two different things. Everyone knows how to lose weight - diet and exercise. However, knowing about it doesn't lose the weight. Actually doing it is a completely different thing.
The passage of time is very important to the story but it does not come across too well in the written version. The movie uses it to the fullest advantage. Just seeing the 80's Jack is to see how time has affected the two men. The aging on Ennis is done without make-up, as far as I can tell. Ledger's transformation in the movie is remarkable, especially since you know it is from all of the torment Ennis created for himself.
This is an extremely personal movie. It is a love story as the reviews and commentaries say. Everyone can identify with something in the movie, even if it is the scenery that is stupendous. [We have spent the last two vacations at the site of the filming, actually arriving right after the filming completed.]
As far as the sex, the AFA and Pat Robertson have nothing to worry about. The gay sex is practically non-existent. There is a lot of rolling around and liplocking, but only one time that there is no doubt what is going on. The sex that is prevalent is all straight boobie sex with Jack's and Ennis' wives. The gay audience had very little reaction to it. The AFA and Robertson should be shocked by this not the gay theme.
What had the greatest affect on me the most were the simple unspoken thoughts, the holding, the caressing, the cuddling and the quiet moments between Ennis and Jack. These moments spoke volumes about what was going on. It was not a sex movie; it was a loving, compassionate story between two men who knew what was important to them but couldn't act. These moments are what life, romance and uniting are all about, not the sex, and it is broadcast very well in my opinion.
Academy Awards? I leave that to the politicking in Hollywood. Brokeback Mountain is a movie that was ready to be made, to be seen, to be discussed and finally with which to be identified. No matter who you are. It is a step in the right direction.
A hint: there is a symbol mentioned more than once in the movie that is very important. It is also talked about in the short story. It is important because it answers a question that is not explored deeply in the short story but holds the crux to Ennis' actions. The film has a much better handle on it.
As an aside, I can't get over the music either. It all fit so beautifully and added to the movie at all the right moments and you weren't even aware of it. The album is wonderful.