Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Brokeback Mountain: a movie review

Today, 9 years after it came out, I decided to finally watch the movie Brokeback Mountain,  and I found it hauntingly moving.   I don't usually go for slow-paced romantic movies.  I'm more of an action/sci-fi fan, but this one kept my attention from beginning to end.  Ultimately, the love that the movie explores transcends labels and stereotypes.  It is simply a deep love between two human beings.  Unfortunately for the two men who are in love, they live in the American west of the 1960s and 1970s--a place not accepting of their love.  As I watched their decades-long love-affair play out, with all its joys and sorrows, I found myself reflecting on the joys and sorrows of my own romantic relationships.  One of the main "messages" of the film is that love is universal.  

The movie follows the relationship between two dudes named Jack and Ennis, who first meet each other on a sheep-herding job in Wyoming in 1963, in a beautifully rugged landscape called Brokeback Mountain.   As they spend a lot of time alone together, a subtle romance develops that eventually becomes a full-blown love affair.  The year being 1963, a time when even consentual sex between persons of the same gender was a felony in most states, the two don't really know what to make of what is happening between them.   The morning after they make love for the first time, Ennis says to Jack, "I'm not queer."  Jack says, "Me neither."  Regardless of labels or social categories, however, Ennis and Jack develop a special bond of friendship and love that is undeniable, one that will shape their lives, for better or worse, for decades to come.

After the sheep-herding gig, the two men part ways--Ennis to his wife in Wyoming, and Jack to Texas, where he will meet his future wife.  Again, because of the social environment in which they lived, the option of these two men living together is not really an option.  Ennis tells Jack a story about a gay man who was brutally beaten to death when he was a child, a story that scarred him for life, and left him with the grim realization that those kinds of relationships are dangerous and must remain a secret.

And so, despite their marriages, Ennis and Jack continue to meet up a few times a year, to go "fishing" on Brokeback Mountain.  Both men lead double lives that ultimately prove disastrous for them and their families.  Ennis gets a divorce, and Jack remains stuck in a basically loveless marriage.  The film spans at least 20 years of the relationship between Ennis and Jack.  With each passing year, as they get older, their love grows deeper, and their lives become more sorrowful.  They don't see a way to be together, and the film takes us down a slow, elegiac, and beautiful path of forbidden love.  

Ultimately, the film feels like a very real American tragedy.  As Jack says to Ennis toward the end of the film, "Why can't I quit you?" we feel the sadness of their lives.  This sadness does not stem from the fact that they are gay, but from the fact that the society in which they live does not permit their love to exist openly.  Ultimately, this closed-ness crumbles the expansive potential of their love, which is real, beautiful, and unexpectedly moving.   

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