Thursday, January 19, 2006

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Certain shelves are groaning with statuettes, with more to come. Random thoughts and SPOILERS ahoy.

I can tell I liked BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN because it's stayed with me, the memory of it sort of deepening and melding over time.

DONNIE DARKO was another film that had this lingering effect, so maybe it's just a Jake jones.

I knew Heath Ledger had this in him from his tiny but shattering role in MONSTER'S BALL, and of course Jake has proven chops. But former lightweights Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams? Damn.

Michelle may seem to have the meatier role, with Anne hidden behind adding machines and big Texas hair for most of the movie, but just watch girlfriend go in the phone call scene where she tells Ennis of Jack's death. Subtle work from an unlikely quarter.

It takes no small amount of skill to craft a short story (and it is short) into a feature length screenplay as Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana did, even if Mr. McMurtry is grumpy about computers. Did hieroglyphic scribes bitch about the "dry embrace" of papyrus?

Much of the best dialogue was retained from Annie Proulx's story. "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it." Jack's spotlight "I wish I knew how to quit you" speech, lifted wholesale. Many interior thoughts appear onscreen as spoken lines.

The movie fleshes out Jack's story in particular, adding more about Lureen and her father. The latter scenes form an interesting counterpoint and foundation for when you later meet Jack's own father, and glimpse that stunted relationship.

The story says right out that Jack's ashes were never going back to Brokeback Mountain, but the movie doesn't need to. You just know.

I don't think the waitress subplot works. Ennis is damaged when she meets him, and the movie doesn't illustrate why she falls in love with this broken, closed-off man. For his part, she's a convenience, maybe even a bit of a beard. She's just a one-liner in the short story.

Amazing visuals throughout, from the gorgeous, wild "Wyoming" (see comments) countryside to its threadbare prairie towns.

While the reappearance of the shirts is a standout of the film -- a classic emotional gutpunch -- the story handles their backstory a bit better. Because it's prose, you can learn when you see the shirts that Ennis lost his back on the mountain.

In the film, Heath says as they leave, "I can't believe I forgot my shirt," which rankled me as an archetypal tell.

Why not show the shirt, forgotten at the campsite, as they pack? Or show Ennis rooting in his knapsack in the truck, not finding it?

Of course, Larry and Diana have been presented awards on TV and I haven't, so what do I know.

Love that Ennis re-hangs the shirts at the end, putting his outside Jack's, protective and enveloping.

Another great metaphor? The corraling of Ennis's spirit into smaller and smaller spaces, from mountainside to shabby house to small apartment to tiny trailer. Will this guy ever be happy again? Can he be?

I'm of two minds on the added scenes with Ennis' daughter. The sentimentalist in me appreciates the addition of a thread that shows that Ennis still can connect with another human being, and that offers some hope for him. But that hope is not present in the short story, and seems a little dishonest for his character.

Who thinks Ennis actually went to his daughter's wedding?

5 comments:

Shawn said...

I think we can believe that Ennis goes to his daughter's wedding. He was reluctant at first, but accepts her invitation because he wants to have some human connection in his life.

As for the shirt, you can't show it left behind at the campsite because Jack took it as a keepsake. The line didn't really bother me.

Great analysis!

Kira said...

Yep, I know Jack kept the shirt. What I meant was, say, show them packing up in the background with the shirt in the foreground (or something framed more interestingly -- I'm not a director). We don't need to see Jack take it.

Whatever the tack is, it needs to be lightweight or the impact of the shirt's reappearance is diluted.

The line bothers me with its obviousness. You hear it and know that the shirt'll be important later, rather than seeing or hearing something subtler that only fully resolves when Ennis finds the shirts.

Anonymous said...

"Amazing visuals throughout, from the gorgeous, wild Wyoming countryside to its threadbare prairie towns."

It was shot on location in Alberta, Canada.

Kira said...

"It was shot on location in Alberta, Canada."

Nifty, more great acting. And the Award for Best Supporting Canadian Province in the Role of an American State goes to...

Scott the Reader said...

Nice post.