Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Dir. Ang Lee
Writ. Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, from E. Annie Prouxl's novel
w/ Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid

From the opening shot in the greatness of "Big Sky" country, this reeked of poetic grace and Lee's helpless, preternatural love affair with the camera lens. [1] To watch a Lee movie that is exceptional is to behold a finely tuned product of self-effacing wonder, which can be more than just mildly seductive to anyone susceptible to the charm of well-presented fiction. In his latest sonnet to the silver screen, the director coalesces the lone ranger mythos with taboo. The dynamics of such an untenable fusion cast exhilarating shadows and forebodes the seeming doomed aspects of the relationship between two men who meet on a sheep wrangling job on a stretch of mountain touched only by God. [2]

Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist each have a bit of Wister's Virginian in them, the sort of man who can do just fine by himself and often prefers to do just that for reasons known only to himself. Their senses of themselves and of each other is in many ways as pristine as the land they work together, wild and untamed and subject only to the laws of nature. There's a candor and an eagerness in these scenes as they enjoy themselves, beholden to none. That it's a love story that works should be amazing enough, but Lee manages to develop more than just atmosphere. There are bears to be reckoned with, a far away and out of sight wolf, and a leery hiring man somewhere at the base of the mountain. [3] The dangers of being a cowboy living out of the saddle are heightened, and the romance of the setting takes it course. At no time in this drama does the frailty of human nature go unaccounted for, so neither does it lose any joy in its moments of splendor.
Whatever it is about the lonesome demeanor that is universally appealing Lee managed to capture as well. With most directors, actors, and scripts, the relationships between Jack and Ennis and the girls they marry would have been stilted, with no chemistry or believability behind their motives. But Jack Twist is a neighbor nearly anyone can claim to know, working for his wealthy father-in-law and acting almost as a subordinate to, rather than an equal to, his wife, and Ennis fights for his rank as head of the household also. With very little backstory, these two are painted as boys who grew up understanding the nature of relationships as something immutable and routine. That they marry for lackluster bipartisanship and fail even at that underscores the simple theme of the movie. [4] Nothing in their lives goes untouched by their need for each other. Their wives and children simply reap the whirlwind.
On a personal note, I should point out that I'm a tough critic. [5] I haven't absolutely adored everything that Lee has ever done. When he lacks, he lacks. The Ice Storm is a stunning example of a movie that had so many components working for it that when the script failed to deliver any tangible emotional payoff and insted fell flat and sterile, it hurt. On the other hand, the first time I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was rapturous. I made a point of seeing it alone and thank God, too. The fighting sequences were nothing short of exhilarating, the mature love story desirable, and the less mature love story at very least likeable. With Brokeback, all I could do was enjoy and muse as to what on earth this guy's going to do next; and while, for the most part, I couldn't care less about who wins what Oscar, he deserves both Best Picture and Best Director. If he doesn't get at least one of those, the joke's on Hollywood.
Compare this any time with Lasse Hallström's interpretation of a different Prouxl manuscript, The Shipping News. While both productions are the efforts of "all-world auteurs", one of them stands out pretty clearly as an example of craft and a virtuoso style. Even with genius of light Oliver Stapleton by his side, Hallström couldn't reach this level.

[1] Technically south of big sky, but close enough to conjure up similar images and feelings.
[2] And, if you feel the need to differentiate, an awful lot of precipitation.
[3] Whom I didn't even realize was Randy Quaid.
[4] Best delivered on the poster reading Love is a Force of Nature.
[5] Which must seem a little hypocritical, since I haven't even finished my first screenplay and have "settled" for short stories in an effort to live up to this number's original intentions.

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Anonymous Gene said...

monobilt@bellsouth.net Only the loss of Jack could bring forth the tragic realization for Ennis at the end. But the real tragedy is that if Ennis could have forseen the future, he probably would have behaved the same. Would like to have seen 20 min less domestic and 20 min more Brokeback.

April 27, 2006 11:27 PM  
Blogger johanna said...

what do you mean? you would have liked to have seen more of the mountain scenery and less of the contextual conflict?

i agree with your study of the relationship, but i think my point of view's a bit different.

some people don't realize what love is until it's too late...I'd like to think that's what's going on here; so, as for Ennis behaving the same, i think it unlikely.

April 28, 2006 11:54 AM  

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