Saturday, December 19, 2015

Becky watched Brokeback Mountain for its 10-year anniversary, and she has some thoughts...

This is full of spoilers. If for some reason you've always wanted to see Brokeback Mountain but haven't found time in the past decade to see it, don't read this. (Also, pull yourself together, man. It shouldn't take you that long to see a movie.)

The ghost of Brokeback past
If I hadn't really liked Brokeback Mountain the first time I saw it, I wouldn't have gotten into Jake the way I did, meaning I wouldn't have been involved with Jake Watch, meaning I wouldn't have had a blogging career, meaning I wouldn't have been able to add "web content" to my resume, meaning I likely wouldn't have been able to work in the industry I currently do.

I owe a lot to Brokeback Mountain. Let's get that out of the way at the start.

Brokeback was released in December 2005, so today I rewatched it in honor of its 10-year anniversary. The movie I thought I was going to see was the one that I remember: The devastating twenty-year saga of two men born in a time when they couldn't openly love each other.

The movie I saw instead? Man with traumatic childhood is complete asshole to everyone who loves him as an adult and destroys every opportunity for a better life.

Let's break this down.

Assumption from 23-year-old me: This film highlights the destructive effects of homophobia.

Revelation from 33-year-old me: Ennis is the most homophobic character in this movie. 

Alma does say some hurtful things during the kitchen scene after Thanksgiving dinner, but let's give Alma a little breathing room here. Ennis cheated on her for most of their marriage. Not only that, he did not provide for his family or make any effort to better their financial situation. Alma continued to work out of necessity, and yet he jeopardized (and always failed to see the importance of) her job. Despite all this, she invited him to spend Thanksgiving with her, their daughters, and Alma's new husband, and how does Ennis react? He's a fucking jerk to her when she asks about his current love life. So she snapped. She should have done it years ago.

Aguirre? Was completely within his rights to say what he did to Jack when he came back looking for work the year after he and Ennis met on Brokeback. They were hired to do a job and they didn't do it. More specifically, Ennis didn't do it. I was always confused by the scene where he finds the killed sheep the morning after his first night with Jack, because I wasn't sure what that symbolized. Now I get that that wasn't symbolism. That was straight-up demonstrating that Ennis wasn't doing what he was being paid to do. Aguirre's comments would have held true for a man and a woman or a man and a sheep or any other combination. Plain and simple: they were shitty employees.

Assumption from 23-year-old me: Jack was cruel to give up on Ennis and pursue someone else toward the end of his life.

Revelation from 33-year-old me: Why the hell did Jack keep seeing him?

There's this whole "undying love" argument that movies (among other forms of entertainment) often put forth that I'm calling bullshit on here. Loving someone means being there for them, compromising with them, and strengthening them. It does not mean demanding someone always bend to your will or sacrificing your own happiness because of someone else's fears. Ennis tore Jack down and Jack enabled Ennis. Their relationship was unhealthy and mutually destructive. And it got progressively worse the older they got. Jack should have started backing out years earlier.

Assumption from 23-year-old me: This is a movie about gay cowboys.

Revelation from 33-year-old me: This movie has practically nothing to do with gay cowboys and everything to do with what happens when you squander the one life that you have.

Jack isn't blameless here; he let people walk all over him for years and clearly married the wrong woman. But it's Ennis who shows us the ripple effect of getting so wrapped up in yourself and your issues that you not only waste your life away, you hurt everyone around you. He knows it too, though it's not until he breaks down and says, "I'm nothing; I'm nowhere," that we see it. Yet I'd have more sympathy if he took some responsibility instead of blaming Jack. "It's because of you, Jack, that I'm like this," he says. No, it's fucking not. (See point above about this being an unhealthy relationship.) 

Ennis's life is full of people who care about him and want him to be happy. But set as he is on being miserable, he consistently disappoints them, and then ultimately drives them away, one by one.

Assumption from 23-year-old me: Ennis will maybe be okay. Because he's going to go to his daughter's wedding!

Revelation from 33-year-old me: Ennis will maybe be okay. That is, if he follows through and actually shows up to his daughter's wedding...

There was a deep sadness that came with watching Ennis become more inaccessible and paranoid the older he got. We prefer to think of the aging process as one of wisdom-gathering and softening. It's not always, though. He's 40 as the film closes, not old by any stretch. And yet. Forty years of habit would be hard to break. He's got a long damn road ahead of him, and doesn't even have a wealth of happy memories from the past to sustain him.

Brokeback's tagline was "Love is a force of nature." After this rewatch, I submit a more apt one would be "Brokeback: Even more depressing than you remember."

What hasn't changed over the years is that this is a beautifully-shot movie, and Jake and Heath were themselves beautiful in their youth and in the earnestness of their portrayals. It remains a powerful story.

It's just that for me, it isn't quite the same story it once was.


  1. Becky, I loved this! I rewatched the movie some time ago and also re-read the shortstory. How one's perspective can change! Can I devote an e-mail to this?! ;)


    1. Ahhh, I wish I'd seen this comment before I wrote you back earlier!! I think you mentioned that you'd rewatched it in your last email (which I still owe you a response to), and it's been in my head ever since that I should watch it for the anniversary! So I did. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts!!! :D

    2. I'll write them down in an e-mail! As soon as possible (erm, whenever that might be, hehe). :)