More Brokeback Mountain thoughts

After a three year interval between the silver screen visit and last Saturday, I saw Brokeback Mountain again. I was a little worried at first. Would it still hold up, after the controversy? Would I feel jaded and bored, because I knew the outcome? Would I appreciate certain details more or less? Read on to find out.

This is not a critical review of the movie. In order to dig a little deeper, I have to spoil some plot details. Check out my original, non-spoiling thoughts here.

I was in awe. Truly, truly in awe. A second viewing of Brokeback Mountain is a must. Three years ago, I was very impressed, but the movie did not manage to secure a place in my all-time countdown. Now, I feel the need to add this engrossing tragedy to the pantheon of "greatest stories ever told". Each and every aspect of the film is jawdroppingly excellent : the music, the cinematography, the sparse dialogue - and of course the cast.

I'm very glad Heath Ledger ultimately got his Academy Award for The Dark Knight and I still think his Joker ranks among this decade's defining performances, but his turn as Ennis Del Mar is even better.
Ledger could really flesh out The Joker, because it was a caricature, a larger than life persona. Ennis Del Mar is a real man, with doubts and frustrations. At one point during the Jack Twist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) speech, he starts crying and shouts : "Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you Jack, that I'm like this! I'm nothin'... I'm nowhere... Get the fuck off me! I can't stand being like this no more, Jack." A lot of actors would make it sound pathetic, forced and ridiculous. But not Ledger : he barely opens his mouth, mumbling in the best Don Corleone tradition, he squints his eyes and fights the tears. Incredible.

The last fifteen minutes may well be the most touching I have ever seen on film. Ennis visits Jack's childhood home after Jack has passed away. Once there, Ennis takes a look inside his deceased friend's chamber. He finds his old shirt, tucked away inside Jack's shirt. He takes a simple sniff, as if he wants to smell Jack and feel the same love he felt back then. The scene is extremely well done : no crappy violins or sappy voice-over to evoke fake emotions from the audience, but just the heartbreaking sight of Ennis weeping. Incredible as well. I sure did cry along.

Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic too, of course. His Jack Twist is honest but weak, which will lead to his personal downfall. Ennis seems to accept the fact that he'll spend the rest of his life alone, but Jack has a steady craving for sex.

Another thing that escaped me during the first viewing, is the fact that the word "gay" is never mentioned. These men may be bisexual, because they seem to love their female companion - at least for quite some time.

One story point still puzzles me : when Ennis calls Lureen, Anne Hathaway's character, and hears the sad truth about Jack, Lureen seems oblivious. As if she knew all along and as if she couldn't care less. But at one point, she finds out "Brokeback Mountain" is a real place after all (she used to think Jack made it up). Small tears do appear in Lureen's eyes. What does this mean? Does she realize that she truly did love Jack in the past? Does she remember the good old days? It's really quite confusing, but moving nonetheless.

Brokeback Mountain is a miracle of a movie. If you've read this far, you have probably seen it already. See it again, then. Let it amaze you. Let its heartbreaking story and brilliant cast wash over you. See it again. And again. And again. Just be sure to bring enough Kleenex. Ang Lee, you are my man.

Julian De Backer, 11 June 2009