Saturday, January 07, 2006

For once - believe the hype

I saw Brokeback Mountain at the cinema last night and have to report that I will abolish my usual cynicism, particularly over "gay" films, and say that I really enjoyed this one. Except "enjoyed" isn't the word, as I was a bit teary when it was all over. I'd add it to The Boys in the Band, which is the only other well-made gay film that I like. The two films are about as different as you can get. While Boys in the Band features relatively sophisticated, urbanised, bitchy queens who never stop talking at a birthday party, Brokeback Mountain is about two inarticulate, repressed butch men who aren't even aware that a gay scene exists. Certainly, if they'd had the sense to up sticks to one of the bigger cities, then things could have worked out very differently for them. In fact, the word "gay" isn't even mentioned in Brokeback Mountain. The closest we get to it is when Ennis (Heath Ledger) mutters "I'm not queer". Love stories between two men who are "real men" are incredibly rare, and this one captures all of the complications that occur when both partners are expected to bury their feelings and be dominant and self-sufficent. A number of key scenes stand out as incredibly powerful - after falling in love while looking after sheep on Brokeback Mountain, Ennis and Jack (Jake Gyllenhall) have their work cut short by a month, possibly because their boss has realised what they're getting up to, and detests them for it. The men realise that this will end their relationship and respond by attacking each other. There are no fond farewells and as Ennis walks off, he suddenly runs into an alley, bends double and starts punching the wall, full of regret, lust and self-disgust. In another scene, years later, Ennis tells Jack he can't spend the weekend with him as his daughers are visiting that month. Jack makes the long drive back home, alone in his truck. Even when by himself, he's unable to express his disappointment fully, covering his mouth with his hand. And it's not just the men who are repressed - the culture of Wyoming Ranchland means that everyone has to be hard. After Ennis's wife, Alma (Michelle Williams) discovers her husband likes to kiss men, she doesn't confront him with it, but instead holds all of her sorrow and confusion in, letting it eat her up, while trying to carry on as normal. The film's central story is so repressed, that we aren't even given a lot of the key details - just a few hints - and we're left at the end to piece things together ourselves, just like the song "Ode to Billy Joe".

Both men are incredibly sexy, almost because they are so closed-off and brooding. As one of Ennis's girlfriends tells him "Women don't fall in love with men for fun." And Ennis sure as hell ain't fun. He's inaccessible to everyone - possibly even (to use a cheap innuendo) impenetrable. It's notable that we only see one bout of anal sex and Ennis is most definitely the top in the pairing. It's also notable that riding a bucking broco is used as a recurring theme throughout the film, as a metaphor for the sexuality of the lead men. The sex is as brutal, macho and difficult as staying on a wild bull who wants to throw you.

The acting is superb throughout and the central actors do a great job of portraying the ageing of their characters (the makeup artists also did a good job). Jack's wife Lureen (Anne Hathaway) gets some great wigs to wear as the 1970s unfold. Indeed, for a gay film, the only bit of camp excess that's allowed, is in the increasingly tacky 1970s furniture that gradually starts to creep into the later scenes. Adding to the film's great story and acting are two other features worthy of note - the music is hauntingly evocative, while the cinematography makes the most of the film's outdoor setting - there are some breath-taking scenes of natural beauty, including a couple of iconic set pieces - for example, when Ennis is lit against a backdrop of fireworks, after attacking a couple of foul-mouthed drunks.

Over at the imdb, a lot of the reviewers have given this film 10/10 and have written startlingly personal reviews. One reviewer says "I am 29 yrs old and still in the closet and hiding who I truly am.I grew up in a small town where i was a star athlete,prom king in high school,the all American boy so to speak.I cannot come out to my family or friends for reasons of maybe loosing all of them as well as my job.I once had a very special love in my life,he is dead now,he took his own life when he was only 23." Another writes "I still don't really understand what makes a man fall for another. This is still beyond my comprehension. Is it genetics? is it choice? is it environment? what exactly it is, I have no clue. But I cannot deny it after this very enlightening film. It is a hell I probably couldn't bear if I were asked to suppress love. I was stunned, even as I write this I am lost in my own surprising reaction to it all. I wanted to reach into the screen and just say, LOVE HIM for GODSAKES, don't let the likes of me stop you. (I am ashamed of every joke I've ever cracked, every negative comment I have ever made)" A lot of the reviewers have said that they can't stop thinking about this film, long after they've seen it. I agree with them. This is a great movie and I hope it cleans up at the Oscars. Ang Lee - you're my hero!


matty said...

Ang Lee is an amazing filmmaker. With the exception of HULK, I think his body of work is so very impressive.

Michelle Williams broke my heart in that one moment when the realization hits her. Incredible performances all the way round.

Caress said...

I've still to see Bareback Mountain (couldn't resist) but anything with a guy from Aussie soap "Sweat" a buy who's been in Kirsten Dunst and a girl who's worked with Julie Andrews and someone who saw more than Dawson's Creek HAS to be good!

Happy new year Lubin and hope you've recovered from Morocco!


JayMaster said...

As usual, your posts are far superior to mine! I too thought this was a fantastic and moving film, and the first one to move me to tears for a very long time.

Expect to see an upsurge in cowboy hats, shirts and boots! Jay x

rhino75 said...

I have to say I was shocked by the reaction of "my" audience to the moment when Michelle Williams sees Jack and Ennis. They laughed. Maybe because I once put someone through that myself, I found her acting of that moment heartbreaking.