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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

entry arrow2:14 AM | The Silence and Brokeback Mountain

I can tell you the reason for my silence of the past four days. Sure, there was work. But to be honest, a movie made me weep, that's all. This MSNBC article by Erik Lundegaard is probably the best review I've read so far of Brokeback Mountain. It somehow crystallizes for me what I earnestly feel about the movie.

Because, like my friend James, I am still in shock and in a kind of terrible awe coming from that date with my DVD copy. I am in some kind of possession that has rendered me sleepless for three nights now, unable to even articulate what it is exactly about the movie that has struck a deep, deep chord in me. It is not the familiar gay narrative even. It is certainly something far beyond the tiresome debates of sexuality. It is not even the spare dialogue -- with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana adapting the rugged simplicity of Anne Proulx's words -- peaking to what has now become the catchphrase for the lovelorn: "I wish I knew how to quit you."

But that last scene got me: Ennis del Mar -- played with such internal intensity and immense control by the Oscar-nominated Heath Ledger -- opening his closet in his cramped trailer home, and tearing at the sight of their (his and Jack's) well-worn Brokeback Mountain plaid shirts hanging from wire hanger, the only thing about -- and from them -- permitted to be that close. His silence and his tears spoke more to me than anything else. And by God, I cried, too -- damn Brokeback Mountain.

Lundegaard writes:
When I finally saw Brokeback I found it nearly perfect. It's more than a love story; it's really about loneliness, which is a more universal emotion anyway. Some of us haven't been in love; some of us don't believe in love. Everyone's been lonely.

It's ambiguous enough to argue about endlessly. Heath Ledger's Ennis del Mar feels like the man in the film -- in the one sex scene, he gives rather than receives -- and he's taciturn and bottled-up in the way of men. He talks with his fists, and sometimes he talks too much, but he's gentle with women and never has a harsh word for his daughters. One could argue he's what we want the American man to be. As Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times, "I don't know a single straight woman who hasn't been involved with a man as emotionally thwarted as Ennis, the man who can't tell you how he feels because he may not honestly know." Exactly....

But Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist actually outmans Ennis. Jack won't be circumscribed by society. He stands up to his father-in-law, he stands up to his father, he stands up. He tries to live his dreams. Forget everyone else. Forget Ennis, too. If Ennis won't have the ranch with Jack, Jack will just have it with someone else.

Ennis isn't strong like that. He's so scared of who he is he begins to disappear within himself. An early shot shows him leaning against the boss-man's trailer, head down, cowboy hat covering his face. It's cowboy cool a la James Dean. Throughout the film Ennis keeps that cowboy hat covering his face but with each frame it becomes more tragic -- a man too scared to be seen. Don't look at my face because you might see who I am. He gives himself a smaller and smaller spot on which to live his increasingly shrunken life. The movie begins with youth and wide-open vistas and ends in middle-age in a tiny trailer. The one scene that broke my heart is wholly ordinary: Ennis, alone in a cafeteria booth, head down, picking at a piece of pie. He's alone, and will remain alone, no matter how many waitresses try to drag his ass onto the dance floor.

This is why the movie is striking a chord with the non-gay community. Ennis resonates because he reminds us of some part of us. Life has such possibilities, and from lack of courage or weariness or outright fear we allow it to shrink us into this small, sad space doing this small, sad thing. Don't look at my face because you might see who I am. The film does what it's supposed to do. It's specific but it's universal.
But forget all reviews, all the Oscar nominations, and all that has been said about this movie, if you plan to see it soon. You might expect too much from it to be able to appreciate its deliberate quiet and its slow reach for its epic of love and ultimate tragedy. Because this is, most of all, a movie about meditation, about silences. And once you let yourself be pulled in by its story, Brokeback Mountain will remain a landmark in your mind's geography: how one small and quiet cowboy film could render you meditative, and silent, and envying how people can love with such passion, and how people can grapple heroically, and with tragic consequences, with loneliness and despair.

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