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My Thoughts After Seeing Brokeback Mountain

Posted by Bruce Carroll at 9:33 pm - January 8, 2006.
Filed under: Gay America,Movies/Film & TV

I have to admit that the more hype that built up about Brokeback Mountain during the past few weeks, the less inclined I was to go. Perhaps it was my Mom seeing it first that tipped me over the edge, or maybe it was the good reviews the movie has been getting. I also have to admit that when Americans are “voting with their feet” and making it a blockbuster (on a per theater grossing basis), I am influenced by that.

I also am glad to have read GayPatriotWest’s posting this morning about the review by Gene Shalit and the subsequent outrage by GLAAD. I completely agree with Dan, and many commenters, that the GLAAD reaction was over the top. And as Dan has so eloquently stated, his review was certainly not “anti-gay” as GLAAD is now charging.

That all being said, I was a bit biased toward the idea that Jake’s character might be a sexual predator when I sat down in the packed and sold-out Manor Theater this afternoon. (All shows yesterday were sold out in the one Charlotte theater showing the film!) But I cannot for the life of me see what Shalit saw in Jake’s character, Jack Twist. In fact, there is quite a good argument in my mind that it was Heath Ledger’s character, Ennis, who was more of the physical aggressor…. at least initially. I frankly didn’t see either one of the cowboys as victims in this movie so I don’t give much stock to Shalit’s view of Jack Twist-as-predator.

Now to my personal thoughts on the movie. Frankly, it was quite sad and depressing and not the kind of movie I would normally find enjoyable. Nothing about it was uplifting and hopeful at all. I am finding I agree with a lot of what Dan said in his review and what many of our commenters said today in this posting.

(Note — some spoilers will be included after the jump and potentially in our comments)

First, I felt the early relationship between Ennis and Jack was quite empty. I didn’t feel they had bonded as friends or even lovers and it made me feel like I had missed a scene or something. The flashback scene of their first summer, shown when they last see each other, came close to showing that first bonding they had. Perhaps if that scene and others like it were shown during that “first summer” sequence, I would have believed more that these two guys had feelings for each other. Those feelings became apparent over time, but I think it was needed early on.

I do think that Heath Ledger’s performance as a personally conflicted cowboy was very good and quite worthy of an Oscar nomination. Frankly, the movie would not have been as good without him in the role of Ennis. He really carried the film, in my view. The film, however, didn’t go to the same heights as Ledger’s performance.

I also agree with many of the commenters on the blog today…. there were no winners in this movie and the lack of concern about the wives by their husbands were quite disturbing. These were two men whose relationship really did seem to be defined by their physical actions. And damn the consequences. And I said to PatriotPartner on our way home (as also one of our commenters noted), the only person in the movie that seemed happy was Ennis’ oldest daughter. Frankly, I felt like drowning myself in a bottle of whiskey by the end of the flick.

A couple of other unrelated but funny things happened before, during and after the movie worth noting. As I mentioned it was sold out. Well, as we walked into (and then out of) the theater, two separate guys were on their cellphones saying virtually the same words: “You better get here soon, there’s no parking left, and every gay man in Charlotte is here!”

And I do have to close with this reflection. There were a couple of times during Brokeback where I cringed and thought, “Geez.. my Mom saw this scene!” No Mom, not every gay relationship begins with a tent-rape scene! *grin*

-Bruce (GayPatriot)



  1. Okay my bf and i saw brokeback twice in two days. Probably t show our support for the film and also we thought it was very good, not great. H Ledger does carry the movie…and it does leave u feeling very sad. However we kept trying to remember this was set in the 60′ and 70’s primarily. To overlay todays attitudes in the midwest on something happening in wyoming in the 60’s misses the point. Seein the movie twice u pick up things u miss the first time.
    Iv’e asked others…where did u think the bloody shirt was from? Some thought it from Jakes murder, we knew it was from their fist fight and Innis saying “damn i forgot my shirt up there.” Did Jakes old man know about their affair or was he just botherd about all Jakes dreams?
    What was Innis thinking making out with Jake in the stairwell in full view of the doorway so his wife saw them> Esp after the way he ran out to meet Jake. Any wifes reaction would be to at least go wave and say hi!
    How much experience did Jake have before hooking up w Innis? He obvioulsy had some cos he kept hinting about how its was unfair for him to have to sleep in the small pup tent w no fire…he “outta be down here in the big tent, keepin warm” And Jake undid his jeans and flipped himself around and offered his ass awfully quick for an inexperienced boi.
    And Jake must have had some what of a rep on the rodeo scene judging by the reaction of the rodeo clown turning down the offered drink from Jake…and snickering to his buds back at the pool table. btw it’s no surprise Ledger came out w “Cassanova” within days of brokeback is it?And the marriage to whats her name and first child coming. A bit of over kill I ‘d say. lol Doesnt want any repeat of the Harry Hamlin career track i guess. All the best to fellow conservative fags, oops gays.

    Comment by Gene — January 8, 2006 @ 11:21 pm - January 8, 2006

  2. I don’t think Jack showed any great injustice to his wife. She came across as wanting a husband not out of love, but simply to have a husband. She never seemed very loving to me. Ennis’ wife, I felt sorry for her, but then she also knew how remote and how cold Ennis was when she married him.

    I guess the film could have made the men loving husbands, but that would have been a bit of a cheat, like “Same Time, Next Year”, where we found out that Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda’s spouses had known about the adultery for years, and they thought it was just peachy.

    I think the movie just showed no one is perfect. So yes, people might come from the movie with a negative opinion of the way they treated their wives, but at least it will show them how hollow these sham marriages can be, and show them that gays are human just like anyone else. I will take that over another TV show or movie where gays only decorate the house, or gays are deranged serial killers.

    Comment by Carl — January 9, 2006 @ 12:05 am - January 9, 2006

  3. Agreed, Carl.

    I’ve said my piece elsewhere, so here I’ll just comment on something that suddenly struck me:

    And I do have to close with this reflection. There were a couple of times during Brokeback where I cringed and thought, “Geez.. my Mom saw this scene!” No Mom, not every gay relationship begins with a tent-rape scene! *grin*

    This reminded my wicked mind of the old saw about kids getting grossed out when confronted with the thought if their parents having sex, even though they obviously came from somewhere; what do parents think when confronted with the thought of their kids having sex?

    I’ll have to ask NDT Dad and Mom about this; they may still live in a fantasy about me and even my married brother, but my married sister’s production of a piece of crotchfruit has completely shattered THAT illusion.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — January 9, 2006 @ 1:53 am - January 9, 2006

  4. GP, I think the movie did show that Ennis and Jake were in love with each other. Even in the beginning. After the tent sex scene, they were, at first, saying how it was a one time thing. But in the next scene, we see them snuggling with each other, as opposed to wam bam sex. And when they say their goodbyes, my impression was that Jack was waiting for Ennis to say something about continuing their relationship, but neither of them felt they could show or verbalize their affection back from the mountain. And as Ennis is walking away, he cries his guts out, because he just let go the best thing that ever happened to him. Anyway, it was clear to me that even during the first summer, it was more than a romp in the woods.

    Comment by Pat — January 9, 2006 @ 9:29 am - January 9, 2006

  5. 1) It’s jack and Ennis’ shirt from their last day on the mountain when they rolled and punched. Notice that when Ennis finds them, Jack’s shirt covers Ennis’ shirt, but in the last scene, it’s Ennis’ shirt that covers Jack’s.

    I don’t think Ennis was thinking at all….after 4 years the hormones just took over. And asfor Alma’s reaction, I think about the time/place/person; She probably has no reference in her life for this kind of thing…probably never thought or considered about 2 guys going at it….the situation just makes her numb. Even when she brings up Jack later, she doesn’t discuss that kiss, but only mentions her own experience of tying the note to the fishing reel.

    I think Jack’s father knew and wasn’t happy at all. Jack’s mother knew too…tells Ennis to go up to Jack’s room, gives Ennis a knowing nod when he comes back down with the shirts – and wasn’t she quick with that bag to give Ennis for the shirts? She talks about how she keeps his room since he was a boy: She goes to that room a lot and knows everything in there; including the little jog in the closet where the shirts were hidden. Mothers always know….

    Jack/Lureen’s marriage seemed pretty interesting: Down and poor, rodeo wanna-be marries the pretty/rich rodeo girl. Pretty, rich, rodeo girl marries the guy who her father hates the most. She can’t really stand up to her father, so she’s hoping Jack will at some point (Of course that big payoff comes in the dinner scene – the look on Anne Hathaway’s face is priceless.)

    Comment by Kevin — January 9, 2006 @ 9:29 am - January 9, 2006

  6. Poor Jack! You guys are really hammering him – especially in the previous post on the film.

    I take GayPatriot’s point in this post about the flashback, but only just. Take a look at the short story at:

    The memory is Jack’s in the story and set at night; in the film it is set – probably for continuity – in the daylight. There is a trade-off here: the viewer is disoriented for a brief moment, “is this the present or the past?” A nice touch of ring composition; but in the story the reader is transported instead to a dreamy, romantic night by the campfire beautifully evoked; the soaring description of this context and of Jack’s deep emotional reaction to it as set out by the author leaves me at least in no doubt how profound and enduring Jack’s love for Ennis already was. By contrast this scene in the film was emotionally light.

    The flashback is placed perfectly by Proulx. Jack is watching Ennis leave for what will turn out to be the last time. With a trick as old as Homer, both reader and audience need to be reminded at the end of just what put this sad, terrible drama into motion. In fact they need this allusion augmented. Proulx has kept her powder dry, so to speak, in explicitly describing their love for one another. In both story and film, little details are there and they accumulate; but how artistically and emotionally satisfying that the author lets rip just at this point? Having Jack and Ennis dreamily carve hearts and initials over all the trees on Brokeback in earlier scenes would undercut this effect.

    Poor, “predatory” Jack … well, I just don’t see it. In the story there is a long and essential conversation between Jack and Ennis at the motel about their tragic predicament, including its potentially destructive effects on their families. The screen writers astutely slice this up over several scenes in the film. One advantage of this is that it gives their predicament a timeless and hopeless quality: all those years have passed – and film time – and still this “thing” is not sorted out. On the other hand it obscures that fact that they already know in this scene how strong their love for one another already is, just four years after their first meeting – even if they cannot articulate it.

    Proulx has Ennis state (again) that he won’t think of sex with other men, enjoys sex with women: but sex with Jack is something else entirely. There is never a suggestion that Ennis would ever turn to other men for release: “I never had no thoughts a doin it with another guy except I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about you.”

    Ennis then asks Jack whether he has ever done it with other guys. “‘Shit no,’ said Jack, who had been riding more than bulls, not rolling his own. ‘You know that. Old Brokeback got us good and it sure ain’t over. We got a work out what the fuck we’re goin a do now.'” For me there was just a slight doubt at that point about Jack; but as the story progresses any such doubt is obliterated. Jack goes to other men as a surrogate, and only as a surrogate, for what Ennis rarely apportions him. It is characteristic of the more open Jack that he does this; pent-up Ennis just masturbates.

    The screen writers carry this out faithfully in their adaptation. They make up the whole scene at the bar where Jack buys a drink to pick up the rodeo clown. Like Ennis always, he wears a white hat and a light shirt; Jack is always dressed in dark colors and his hat is black. Like a bright memory this man comes out of the darkness of the bar. Second, the narrative arc of Jack’s scene with the hustler in Mexico is spun out of Ennis’ violent accusation in their last scene together that Jack goes to Mexico for sex. But this new plotline is placed by the screen writers just after Jack runs to Ennis, having misunderstood the reasons for Ennis’ divorce. Jack never cries in the story (Ennis does); here in the film Jack does cry and, rejected, then drives to Mexico.

    The real clincher is Ennis’ encounter with Jack’s father. Viewers already know that Jack may be involved with “some ranch neighbor a his from down in Texas.” The screen writers make up a whole scene for them to cruise each other with sad, furtive desperation at the supper club. This is spun out of Jack’s lie during their last “fishing trip” that he is having an affair with the wife of a rancher down the road, a dangerous affair (“… and for the last few months he’d slank around expecting to get shot by Lureen or the husband, one …”) – a boast to counter Ennis’ boast that he is “putting the blocks” to a waitress, the latter to become a storyline, too, showing Ennis’s continual rejection of any emotional intimacy. Both men misrepresent their relationships because to represent them truthfully would expose at this point the emotional hunger they have for one another, a hunger which, tragically, they still try to satisfy with other surrogates. Only in their final confrontation will any of this come out.

    In Ennis’s scene with Jack’s father, however, Proulx makes it clear that the father does know what dreamer Jack has been up to with these men. He cruelly scoffs at the Brokeback dream: the cabin, the ranching, the living together. And in almost identical language he concludes, “then, this spring he’s got another one’s goin a come up here with him and build a place and help run the ranch, some ranch neighbor a his from down in Texas. He’s goin a split up with his wife and come back here. So he says. But like most a Jack’s ideas it never come to pass.”

    Proulx tells the reader that it is at this point that Ennis knows for sure that Jack has been killed. This is Ennis’ prophesy from the start, an arbitrary prophesy, perhaps screening something else, that to my mind does more to preclude their happiness together than any outside social forces. Ennis never flinches from this dire prediction – even in their last scene together – even though we know, technically, that we are now in 1983 (the “queer” ranchers of Ennis’ boyhood would have been killed in the 1950s); yet Jack has died because he tried to manufacture with another, point by point, the very relationship with Ennis that Ennis always denied him. Dreamer Jack (“But fuck-all has worked the way I wanted. Nothin never come to my hand the right way’) is no cad or predator.

    I think Ledger’s reaction to this is note-perfect in the film. He twitches and turns slightly away in anguish. Ennis knows something else, too. In their last scene, Ennis had threatened Jack: “‘I got a say this to you one time, Jack, and I ain’t foolin. What I don’t know,” said Ennis, “all them things I don’t know could get you killed if I should come to know them.'” The tragic irony is that Ennis now knows that his intransigence is ultimately responsible for his lover’s death at the hands of strangers far away from him; but “all them things” he only knows after that terrible fact.

    Comment by Thomas — January 9, 2006 @ 2:52 pm - January 9, 2006

  7. I have had occasion to note that rightwingers moralized about this movie and leftwinger politicized about it, both missing the point, viz. the way an artist –be it author Proulx or director Lee– simply shows complex emotional realities. In this case, GP, you’ve managed to both moralize and politicize. I may agree with your political thoughts often, but I think from now on I’ll pass on your cultural commentary.

    Comment by EssEm — January 9, 2006 @ 5:46 pm - January 9, 2006

  8. Come on, if GLAAD doesn’t have anything to crow about, then there’s no need for GLAAD, now is there?

    Comment by Queer Conservative — January 9, 2006 @ 9:14 pm - January 9, 2006

  9. Great observaton about the shirts…Ennis turned em out when he had em in his closet.
    Second time we saw brokeback, we sat behind a str8 couple and the guy, every time there was a gay romantic moment, put his hat over his eyes playfully for his gf;s benefit no doubt. After 5-6 times i wanted to tell him to grow up.
    During one of the times when Ennis bedded his wife i wanted to blurt out “God do they have to show such filth?” Just to get some payback. Ahh but i didnt. btw didnt u think they did a great job of aging these guys? Added weight..excellent and not over done makeup. I think so.
    Whats your guess on who killed Jack? Friends of the “new man”?

    Comment by Gene — January 10, 2006 @ 1:56 am - January 10, 2006

  10. Enjoyed Fabulous site!

    Comment by Alaska Joes Fishing Trips — January 26, 2006 @ 12:54 pm - January 26, 2006

  11. The scene of Jack getting killed shows his father in law as one of the murderers.

    Comment by Just a Girl — January 26, 2006 @ 11:03 pm - January 26, 2006

  12. I have heard so many personal reviews of this film by non-critics. I am inclined to believe now that the point of view represented by those who are disinclined towards the ‘greatest love of my life’ genre of romanticism are the most critical of the relationship between the men in the story. If you’ve never had it, how could you emphathize with their willingness to forego so much just to be together in such a limited manner?

    Those, however (and count me in this crowd), who have experienced that powerful kind of love, ‘get it’ all the way. Everything else in life pales in comparison to this summit experience.

    Comment by Permo — February 18, 2006 @ 3:01 pm - February 18, 2006

  13. From the film, we don’t knoww what happened to Jack. The flash on Jack getting beaten to death was in Ennis’s mind, in my opinion, and reflected Ennis’s worse fear coming true. The story told by the wife was completely bizarre, but bizarre things happen. It seemed like she was concockting a story to cover up something, but what? What count’s is what Ennis thinks and feels and does.

    Comment by JasonM — February 19, 2006 @ 2:17 pm - February 19, 2006

  14. Very interesting analysis here. I must admit i didnt know what to expect going into seeing this film but after last night i cannot get this flic out of my mind; it has that lingering quality that only exceptional films have. It really makes you think and of course feel incredibly sad about the outcome.
    In the beginning i was complaining to my hubbie that it seemed unrealistic how they jumped into bed together so suddenly. I was expecting more of a building of lust/enamorement happening. I will say i thought Jack was aware that he was gay initially from when the film began whereas Ennis was not, but found himself in this place once meeting Jack. But the believability of their love grew with the film.
    My husband and i talked about how what they were doing to their wives seemed selfish and cruel at times (more to Alma) b/c she was so innocent and naive. But we also discussed how they had no other way to be together since the intolerance and violence was so “normal” at the time.
    It was a film that resonates so much being real in all of its frustration, despair, and desperation.
    I was amazed at the acting performances which really blurred the gender lines for me. Makes me wonder, what would have been the effect of two gay cowgirls?
    Cheers 🙂

    Comment by Nicolette — March 4, 2006 @ 9:16 pm - March 4, 2006

  15. Hey I was just surfing around and decided to post a short comment here. I run a movie review message board and am looking for people to write reviews and contribute at my forum. You can even post a link to your blog on your signature file at my forum. It’s all good! Take care.

    Comment by Movie Reviews — March 31, 2006 @ 12:19 am - March 31, 2006

  16. Great Blog.. totally in agreement with a lot you wrote about.. it was a VERY sad film indeed… and that was the reality of it… I just sure hope people gets that point… haters are the worse ever, and in todays world.. I only wish for peace with everyone… live, and let live.. it would be such a wonderful world then… guess I am dreaming… but nonetheless.. thta’s my dream anyway..
    Good write up!

    Comment by Randy — April 16, 2006 @ 3:07 pm - April 16, 2006

  17. brokeback mountain has gotten to me big time. seen it 6 times and still have those tears strolling. never has a gay toned movie…been so well portrayed. heath and jake…what a tour de force…the actors…the music…the scenery…the unbelievable story…im astounded. i would love so much to sent a personal message to mr. ang lee but i know its impossible…but i have so much to tell him. as for the academy awards…that passe or over for me…they are rotten to the core. rick

    Comment by rick dumesnil — October 7, 2006 @ 2:36 pm - October 7, 2006

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