Brokeback Mountain got me good
By Norah Wilson
Well it finally opened in my hometown. Brokeback Mountain. I knew it had cleaned up at the Golden Globe Awards (best motion picture, best director, best screenplay), and I’d heard the performances by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaall were not to be missed. So I rounded up two of my sisters and we went on Wednesday.
As I watched the movie, I think it suffered from all the advance hype. After having read the glowing reviews, my expectations were sky-high, and I found myself judging it against the hype. Yes, it was beautifully filmed (the Alberta Rockies pass nicely for Wyoming), the acting was wonderful, and it delivered a good story. But as I left the theatre, I asked myself, “Was it a great movie?” Sometimes it takes me a few days to figure that out. Now that a few days have passed, I can safely say yes, it was. It didn’t make me cry, but it left a kind of ache that keeps coming back to me at unexpected moments. That’s my personal barometer for measuring a movie’s impact.
The acting really was wonderfully. I went in there with an objective curiosity about how these two virile, heterosexual actors were going to pull this off. But they did their job so well, the actors and characters merged in my head. I forgot to watch the performance critically. All I know is that they did pull it off, beautifully. When Ennis/Heath put his arm around Jack/Jake’s neck, there was no mistaking the tenderness. And that reunion kiss after a 4-year separation was just plain hot! Throughout this story, they make you believe completely that each is the sole object of the other’s desire.
The movie has something important to say—quietly—about a lot of things, including same-sex love (or any kind of forbidden love), societal intolerance/pressure to conform, and personal choices.
But one of the most courageous things I think it does is to expose its big romantic heart. It plays it totally “straight” (if you’ll excuse the expression), and never hides behind cynicism. In retrospect, it seems to leave itself vulnerable to ridicule for many of the same reasons that critics deride the romances I love to read (and write). My prediction is that if Hollywood puts a few more movies like this in front of mainstream audiences, the novelty will wear off and the critics will start sharpening their claws. “Yeah, yeah, they’re lovers already. Now let’s see a bomb explode or a car chase.” Personally, I think that would be a crying shame.
In fact, I had two people ask me the same question after I told them I’d seen the movie. The question: “When Jake Gyllenhaall says ‘I wish I could quit you’, is it as cheesy as it looks in the trailers?” The answer is no; it was very powerful, within the context of a very powerful scene. As a romance writer, I'm keenly conscious that you could take some of the most electrifying dialogue out of the context of any book and make it sound overwrought and corny. To my astonishment, what I was seeing was not intolerance for gay relationships, but intolerance for romance. And how sad is that?
Personally, this is exactly what I want to see on the screen -- big, passionate, high-stakes love stories. I want to see more films that leave their exposed hearts beating out there in the open. This is more important for me than whether the relationship in question is heterosexual or gay.
So what did you think of the movie? Weigh in with your comments. I’d love to read them.