8 January 2006
Forces of nature
The third of May, nineteen ninety-nine. Some of the strongest winds ever measured on planet Earth are passing literally within a few hundred yards of my door. Everything I've been taught tells me to stay inside, batten down the hatches, and wait. And yet I'm standing outside, watching what I can through clouds that go beyond grey, beyond black, to some non-color that surely exists only at the end of the world, because I can't look away: this is one of two primal forces of nature, and, I realize, the only one I will ever experience.
Brokeback Mountain is about the other. No one, I suspect, can prepare for passion at this level: it simply is, and everything you've been taught is pushed to the background, biding its time for an inopportune moment to remind you of its presence. And yet this particular primal force doesn't demand either Sturm or Drang, something director Ang Lee well knows. Sweeping and sumptuous visuals aside, this is a deliberately small film: it keeps its focus on the two leads and the different ways they come to grips with the same fact, and in more than one scene, the words that go unspoken cut closer to the heart than the words you hear out loud.
Which is why this isn't one of those tedious "message" pictures that go out of their way to beat you over the head with whatever bit of philosophy is au courant for the moment: every scene, every line, every offhand gesture is bent to the service of the story of these two men. And in that specificity, paradoxically, lies its universality: denied easy access to the stereotypes we might desire, we are forced to look at these characters in comparison, not to a pattern, but to ourselves. Brokeback Mountain speaks to everyone who's ever had to cover up the most important facts of his life.
Or her life; the audience when I attended was about sixty percent women. For this is, when you think about it, a "chick flick," a classic Hollywood weeper, gender considerations notwithstanding. I can understand why some men might shy away from it; I found the sex scenes between the two guys a bit gruesome. But then, I found their sex scenes with the women they married to be just as gruesome: any points they scored for "normal," they lost for "obviously going through the motions." Ennis did love Alma; Jack might even have loved Lureen; but those relationships would inevitably have to take second place behind what happened up on that damnable mountain back in '63.
Manipulation of the audience? Certainly. That's why we go to the movies in the first place. Moralists will no doubt point out that there is a price for giving into one's desires; I would remind them that there is also a price for suppressing them. Brokeback Mountain tallies them both, side by side.Posted at 7:00 PM to Almost Yogurt
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» You mean it's good? I'd never have known from the blogs...until now. from Harshly Mellow
Finally, a review of Brokeback Mountain that makes it clear why a body would want to see the thing. Thanks, Charles....[read more]