Been there, done that–and I’m glad I did

Since I bought the DVD a month or so ago, I knew I would be commenting here, where I have read SO MANY fantastic reviews of Brokeback Mountain. I hope more people will comment since the DVD was released.

I can’t get interested in most of the movies out there, but BBM attracted me right away. I had no idea that it is a virtual template of my life. I was in my early 20s in 1963, the time frame of BBM, and, like Ennis and Jack, I also never heard the word “gay.” But I knew what homosexuality was because I heard about it in church. The prospect of visiting hell was terrifying from an early age on, so imagine my shock while aboard ship one evening in the Navy–I froze, turned numb, couldn’t breathe–and couldn’t stop–when the handsomest, most virile shipmate in our division “put the make” on me. I succumbed instantly. And so began THAT relationship, my first. Like Jack Twist, I would have risked discovery and all the penalties of hell (which I gave up believing not long after) if this guy and I could continue on. Alas, it was not to be. After our tours of duty, we went our separate ways.

When I watched Heath and Jake play Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist in such an incredibly realistic and honest manner, all my memories of past “indiscretions” passed before my mind’s eye. I quickly felt bonded to both Ennis and Jack, because I had played both their parts. Although I shouldn’t have, I also married, had children and now 40 years later, still married, I think Ennis was right in being practical but wrong if he ever thought he would/could fulfill his love for Jack without feeling damned sorry, especially after Jack was killed, gone for good.

I was convinced after the 2nd tent love scene that Ennis really did love Jack early on, which was re-emphasized toward the end of the film with Jack’s flashback to when they were herding sheep on Brokeback. That’s when Ennis said, “You’ll scare the sheep off again if you don’t stop playing that harmonica.” He looked over his shoulder at Jack, smiling tenderly, the same way he did in the flashback. It was a look of intimacy they’d had between them, of a love deeply shared. I was sure later on that Ennis was still in love with Jack, even after marriage and kids, because missing Jack had been eating away at him since the two parted. Even then, considering that era, Ennis would not have thought he was pursuing a “gay romance” but simply trying to fill an empty hole in his heart. The great “reunion” kiss after four years should be seen frame by frame. If THAT is acting–well, this has to be one reason BBM is thought to be a “breakthrough” film if only because Heath and Jake were so convincing. And the kiss really mattered in the story line. I can imagine Ennis thinking, “Sorry, Alma. Don’t mean to hurt you; however Jack is my true love–but we can still have a family and I won’t embarrass you in public.”

Of course Ennis is the ultimate loser between him and Jack, but he knew while Jack did not, his belief that, “Two men living together, no way” would eventually doom their secret affair, but only if Jack put a stop to it. Jack did in their final crucial scene together, and it was Ennis who was devastated by it. Jack’s look was of disappointed despair as he watched Ennis drive away. The following “pie scene” must have been the epilogue to Ennis’ collapse in Jack’s arms. Ennis’ face is stiff and flushed, and his eyes wet, when he looks up at Cassie. He isn’t apologizing to her; she’s an intruder on his life and thoughts. Besides, he is totally miserable, and soon to be more so after Jack is killed, who then makes the discovery of the two shirts in Jack’s closet. In the end, he knows that Jack did love him; I think he was sorry that Jack didn’t understand Ennis’ depth of love for him in return.

These final scenes, so masterfully done by both Heath, Jake and cast, will, I hope, make BBM a timeless classic. This movie reminds me that some things you only live once, mainly when you are young. Now that I am 68, I can look back on a lot and not feel sorry for those sometimes short, and risky, love affairs I had that made me shiver and shake, while also refusing to believe they were homosexual at all. Instead, helplessly, I think, they were an unstoppable force of nature that is impossible to control. What else could be more human? If presented the same opportunity today, I’m sure I would react the same.

For me, Brokeback Mountain is the finest expression of cinema I don’t expect to see again in my lifetime. Many thanks to all who made it.