Thursday, December 29, 2005

Brokeback Mountain: A (partial) review

I was going to write a review of Brokeback Mountain but the movie broke down about three quarters of the way through. I don't mean the plot went off the rails. I mean the film literally broke down. The screen just went black.

We sat there in the dark for about half an hour while a technician tried to fix the projector. But there was nothing they could do so they sent us home with free movie passes instead.

Since I have no idea how Brokeback Mountain ends, this is a spoiler-free review.

What I saw of the movie, I liked. No, loved. It's probably the best movie I've seen all year (and I haven't even seen the whole thing yet). It is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.

The film opens in the mountains of Wyoming. The setting is wild, rugged and untamed. It is the perfect backdrop against which to set a love story, especially a love story between two men. It is impossible to see their relationship as anything but natural and pure. Which I think (I hope) is the point of the film.

Their environment is completely stripped of externally imposed morals and values. Only in the mountains, under the trees, with sheep and horses and bears for company, are Jack and Enis truly free to be themselves.

I'm oversimplifying it a little. Generally, life isn't black or white. It's mostly different shades of grey. But there are a few things I will passionately defend as being right or wrong. To me, the struggle by gay people for acceptance and equal rights is no different than the struggle by African Americans for the same thing 50 years ago. They are both fundamentally about human rights.

Brokeback Mountain is an important film because it highlights that struggle in a sensitive and moving way. This isn't a story about gay cowboys. It's a story about love.

It's painful to watch Jack and Enis emerge from the wilderness and get married and have children. But in 1960s rural America, they didn't have much choice. They could either suppress their true selves or be open and live with violence, fear and ignorance.

There were two scenes in the movie that stood out for me. The first took place when Jack and Enis spent the summer together up in the mountains. Nothing had happened between them yet. One night, Enis stayed at Jack's camp but chose to sleep outside alone rather than join Jack in the small tent. Enis woke up shivering in the middle of the night after the fire went out. Jack insisted he join him inside the tent where it was warm.

The scene almost made me weep. Not because they finally had sex but because it was the truest depiction I have ever seen of what it's like to sleep in a tent in the backcountry, walled in by mountains, blanketed by stars. You could almost smell the campfire in their hair, the mildew in the tent walls and the sweetness of the forest-filtered air. It's so romantic it hurts.

The other scene that almost made me weep was when Jack and Enis saw each other again for the first time in four years. The film broke down shortly after that so I'm not really sure where the story goes from there. It did seem to be taking a darker turn so I'm curious to find out if it continues to spiral downward.

If you've seen the movie please don't tell me what happens. My sisters and I are going to attempt to see the whole thing later today. More when we return . . .

UPDATE: We've just returned from seeing the entire movie. If the first half was heartbreaking, then the second half was heart wrenching. I don't know what to say. I feel like driving out to Brokeback and throwing myself off the mountain.

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