Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Warning: This post contains serious spoilers for both the film and the story. Enjoy some nice pictures from the Dover Sampler while those affected leave the post.

I find cinemas -- with the possible exception of the National Film Theatre -- to be intensely depressing, so I have to have a much stronger than usual interest in a film before I will venture into one. Fortunately, I was willing to do so for Brokeback Mountain. I read Annie Proulx's story a few months ago (thanks to Language Hat, though sadly his link no longer works), and consider it to be one of the best short stories I've read from the past few decades. I wondered whether the film could do it justice.

For the most part, I think it does. The film necessarily had to portray events that were only reported in dialogue in the story, and invent new ones for periods that the story passed over in silence, but this was done in a way that preserved the melancholy and reflective tone of Proulx's story. I was especially curious about how the movie would handle the ambiguity surrounding Jack's death; the problem was solved rather elegantly with a brief flashback that could have been either imagination or reality.

The one part of the movie that didn't work for me was the sub-plot about Ennis's elder daughter. It was an invention of the screenwriters -- in the story, Ennis doesn't see his daughters again after the Thanksgiving confrontation with his ex-wife -- and I got the impression that they'd added it to mitigate Proulx's utterly bleak ending with very faint ray of hope. In the film's closing scene, Ennis's daughter visits to invite him to her wedding; after first saying he will be too busy with work, he changes his mind and agrees to come. After his daughter leaves, he puts her sweater in his closet, looks at the two shirts and postcard he has hung inside the door and says with tears in his eyes, 'Jack, I swear --' He doesn't finish the sentence, but it seems he's vowing not to pass up any more chances for human closeness in his life.

Ennis delivers the same line in Proulx's story, but the setting and the effect are very different. When he hangs the shirts and postcard, he is utterly alone. He begins to cry, perhaps for the first time since Jack's death. And then he says, 'Jack, I swear --' and stops, because he realises there's nothing he can swear any more. In the film, the line is moving; in the story, it's devastating.

Well, Hollywood can never resist a happy ending, and this is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent film. Not only was it worth entering a cinema, it was worth the bus journey to Watford (and believe me, that's saying a lot).


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