Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cowboy, Take Me Away

Brokeback Mountain
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Kate Mara, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris
Released: December 9, 2005
Viewed in theaters: January 10, 2006

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Crash (UGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!))
Best Director - Ang Lee (won)
Best Actor - Heath Ledger (lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote)
Best Supporting Actor - Jake Gyllenhaal (lost to George Clooney for Syriana)
Best Supporting Actress - Michelle Williams (lost to Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (won)
Best Cinematography (lost to Memoirs of a Geisha
Best Original Score - Gustavo Santaolalla (won)

If you've read my review of Crash and watched the last video I posted in this entry, then you know how much I absolutely hate that effing Crash won the Best Picture Oscar over Brokeback Mountain at the 2006 Oscars. And a lot of people feel the same way as me. I want to quote an excerpt from a tome I have called "85 Years of the Oscars" by Robert Osbourne when discussing the 2006 Oscar ceremony:
It was one of the biggest surprise endings in many years.
 The film the press regarded as most likely to score a triumph in the top spot 
[at the 78th Oscar ceremony] was the one that had been
universally praised since its debut, then voted best by the
Producers Guild, BAFTA, and numerous other 
prize-giving organizations. It was
Brokeback Mountain, a poignant tale
by director Ang Lee about the angst-filled
romantic relationship of two cowboys.
But Jack Nicolson's reaction when he opened the envelope
to announce the winner said it all: Crash

Everyone knows that Brokeback Mountain is by far the more superior film. The fact that Crash won the Best Picture Oscar over it, let alone that it was even nominated, is embarrassing! Unfortunately, a lot of Academy voters are older white men who don't always agree with the gay lifestyle and a lot of voters probably didn't even want to give Brokeback a chance. Which is really sad. Believe me, when this film came out, there were a few people I came across who were all, "Eww! That's gross! They're making out!" Of course, I live in Nebraska :::rolls eyes::: Uh, first of all, who doesn't want to see Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal make out? I'd pay money to see that..and I did! But seriously, it's sad (and kind of pathetic) how afraid of this movie some people were of it. Do they really think they'll turn gay or something if they watch two guys kissing each other? I adore this movie so, so much and it makes me sad that people refuse to see it because of the subject matter. It has been ten years since its been released and hopefully people who didn't want to see it back then have changed their minds and given it a chance.

Spoilers ahoy and if you haven't seen this movie yet, you are missing out!

Can we just take a second and applaud Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal for their brilliant portrayals of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist? I feel like a lot of heterosexual actors would not have taken on these roles as they would probably be uncomfortable with having to kiss or portray onscreen sex with another man, so I think it was pretty brave (and smart, in the end) for Ledger and Gyllenhaal to take the roles of the gay cowboys. Let's not forget they were only in their early 20s when they made this movie. It was a big risk and if done wrongly, this movie could have turned out horribly, but luckily they had Ang Lee at the helm. Thank God he won Best Director. Fun fact: he is the first non-white person to win the Oscar for Best Director. I can't imagine Brokeback Mountain with any other director or actors (though it would have been pretty amusing if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had signed on!) 

The movie spans nearly 20 years, starting in 1963 when Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) meet that summer on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming after being hired by a man named Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd hundreds of sheep through the mountains. We see them talking about their families, sitting around the campfire and eating beans, and bitching about their boss. And then after a drunken rainy night, Jack tells Ennis, who is sleeping outside in the cold and rain, to get in the tent and we all know what happens next! As my mom would say, Oh, my! At first Ennis is not having any of Jack's advances, but he is the one to, ahem, take control of the situation. The next morning is a bit awkward and they spend the entire day apart from each other until the end of the day when Ennis returns to camp and tells Jack that this was a one-time thing they did and he isn't queer and Jack replies that "It's nobody's business but ours" and that he's not queer either. They continue their strong friendship and sexual relationship on Brokeback until Aguirre suspects something going on between the two of them when he spies on them with his binoculars and sees them frolicking together with their shirts off and cuts their summer short.

The two say goodbye without any fanfare. There is no hugging or even a handshake. They just have a short conversation about what they'll do for the rest of the summer, then walk off in different directions. We see Jack in his truck looking like he's trying to hold back tears and we see Ennis go in an alleyway and start punching a wall and crying out. It is a very powerful scene.

Ennis marries his fiancee, Alma (Michelle Williams), who he told Jack about and they have two daughters, Alma Junior and Jenny. Meanwhile, Jack moves to Texas where he meets a rodeo queen named Lureen (Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a wealthy man who sells large farming equipment. She is a very forward woman ("What are you waiting for, cowboy? A mating call?") and they marry and have a son.

Ennis and Jack continue their romantic trysts in secret only seeing each other about once a year, which does not make Jack happy, but Ennis tells him he isn't able to get away with work and he is afraid of someone finding out about his secret. Jack wants him to drop everything and leave Alma and his daughters and have them run a farm together, but Ennis tells him there's no way that's going to happen because two guys living together could mean a death sentence for the both of them. He tells Jack a story of two guys who lived together when he was a kid and one of them was brutally killed and how his father took him and his older brother to see the man's mutilated body. He said for all he knew, it could have been his dad who killed this man which is terrifying. Ennis doesn't do a very good job of keeping his secret from his wife, however, when he receives news that Jack will be in town and this will be the first time in four years Ennis will have seen him since that summer on Brokeback Mountain. He tells Alma that Jack is an old fishing buddy (obviously "fishing" is code for something else!) and when he sees Jack, he can hardly contain his excitement and they aggressively kiss...right in front of the door where Alma can see them...which she does! Her expression is one of shock, betrayal, and hurt. Michelle Williams' best scene in the movie is when she confronts Ennis many years later, after they have divorced, that she knew he never went fishing because she tied a note to the end of his fishing pole telling him to bring home some fish and when he came back and she asked if he caught any fish and he said he did. She knew he was lying because he obviously never read the note and discovered the note was still tied to the pole and it had never been used. And of course this is when we get the famous, "Jack Twist? Jack Nasty!" line. 

I've seen this film five times now (I own the DVD) and I read the short story by Annie Proulx (and it really is short, about 30 pages) about five years ago. While most movies adapted from novels have to take out scenes, they added scenes in Brokeback such as the Thanksgiving scene, and the scene with Ennis and his daughter at the end. They also added the characters played by Linda Cardellini and Anna Faris. All the well-known lines from the film (you know the ones!) are taken from the text. As I mentioned earlier, I can't imagine anyone else but Heath and Jake playing Ennis and Jack, though they were probably a little too good-looking as the two main characters are described as being plain old Joes. I mean, yes, they're dowdy in the movie and there's nothing glamorous about them, but I wouldn't mind sitting between them around the campfire, just saying! 

Whenever I watch the movie, I always notice a few things I hadn't noticed previously. For instance, the scene when Ennis and Jack are saying good-bye to each other after spending some, uh, quality time on Brokeback, Ennis says something about losing his shirt up there and Jack just mumbles something. Well, of course, we know Jack took the shirt because Ennis finds it in his closet at the end of the movie. (Another great scene). That had flown over my head until now. I also never noticed that Jack never calls Ennis by his name (except at the beginning when they introduce themselves to each other), just calls him "friend". I had especially noticed that when reading the story. Something new I learned recently is about the phone conversation Ennis and Lureen have towards the end of the movie after Ennis receives a postcard back that he sent to Jack with "DECEASED" stamped on it (what a gut punch!) and he calls Lureen to ask what happened. Lureen tells him that he was pumping a tire and it blew up and knocked him unconscious and he drowned in his own blood. While she's saying this, we see an image of Jack being brutally murdered by three guys, either what really happened or what Ennis imagined to have really happened. On a podcast I listened to (there I go again with the podcasts!), I learned that Anne Hathaway had to do two takes of this scene: one where the tire story is true and one where it isn't and Ang Lee sliced together both of them to make the final cut. Very interesting. And very tragic. My take has always been that Lureen knew about Jack's secret life and was lying to Ennis about his death and she knew the real reason how he died.

The relationship between Ennis and Jack is a tricky one and having seen the movies five times and read the story once, this is my own assessment of the two characters: first of all, I don't think of them as being gay or bisexual because I don't think they would label themselves as either one, though technically they would be bisexual since they were both married (and had children) to women. I read somewhere that someone said that Ennis is more toward the straight side of being bisexual while Jack is the opposite and I agree. While Jack was willing to divorce his wife and start a life with Ennis, Ennis did seem to care about Alma and was aware of the consequences if he and Jack shacked up together. He was paranoid that people knew about his secret and even after he was divorced from his wife, he found companionship (for a very short time) in another woman, Cassie (Cardellini). Jack was the only male he had a relationship with, whereas with Jack there's the scene where he attempts to buy a beer for the rodeo clown (before he even met Lureen), the scene where he's in Mexico attempting to fill his void, so to speak, and the scene with Lashawn's (Faris) husband where he hints at them going to his boss's cabin together. Obviously Jack had been with other men. Fun fact: the actor who played that guy is David Harbour whose name I instantly recognized it when I saw it in the credits because I had just watched him in as the police chief in Stranger Things. 

Now, here's the big question: who knew about their relationship? Obviously, Alma did since she saw them making out on her front lawn. And as I mentioned earlier, I think Lureen had a good idea too. Also, Lureen's father made that comment to his son-in-law during the Thanksgiving scene when he states that his grandson should watch football and be a man, as though he's making a jab at Jack. And David Harbour's character must have known or I doubt he would have made an advance on Jack. And I'm pretty sure Jack's parents had an idea, especially his mother, when Ennis went to visit them after their son died. Hmmm, interesting that all the people who I suspect knew about them (Alma notwithstanding) are all a part of Jack's life/storyline. This makes sense though, since he was the one who was more ready to admit to their relationship. I guess he didn't keep the secret as well as Ennis did. 

The aging of the main characters over twenty years' time was done subtly with changes to hair styles (and a little gray) and make up to add wrinkles. Okay, maybe Anne Hathaway's blonde hair wasn't so subtle, but I was willing to believe Heath as Kate Mara's dad, even though she was born four years after him. She plays teen Alma Junior.  

Watching this movie always make me feel so sad. Not just because it has a tragic ending (and even if Jack hadn't died, I don't think those two would have ever had their happy ending), but just seeing Heath Ledger. He was so good in this; his performance is very subtle and quiet. He gets a lot of praise for his performance as the Joker, which he was brilliant as, of course, and won the Oscar for, but I feel like some people forget this performance because it wasn't as epic or the movie wasn't as big as The Dark Knight. But just the fact that he could take on two completely different roles and just own them is a testament about what a great actor he was and it's such a shame we'll never see what else he could have done. I've mentioned numerous times how much I adored Heath Ledger (I was a total fangirl at first (what can I say? I'm a sucker for Australian accents!), but then when Brokeback rolled around, I realized he was actually a pretty good actor and began to actually respect him an an actor). There have been plenty of celebrity deaths I've been very saddened about and got choked up over, but his was the one that got to me the most. I was in a state of shock when I found and I cried every night for two weeks after he died. It is also bittersweet watching him and Michelle Williams together, since they had a daughter named Matilda who turns eleven next month. Eleven! Where did the time go? 

To take this review full circle, let me just add one last thing (and continue my bitching): five, ten, twenty years from now, nobody is going to remember anything about Crash. But whether if people have seen it or not, like what it stands for or not, they'll at least remember Brokeback Mountain. Oh, sure, some might refer to it as the "gay cowboy movie" (and yes, I love the movie, but trust me, I make stupid Brokeback jokes all the time), but I think in the long run this movie will have longevity. Hell, if somebody ever asks me what movie won the Oscar for '05, I'm going to tell them it was Brokeback. And I'll bet you they'll believe me! Okay, from now on, in my mind, Brokeback Mountain is 2005's Best Picture Winner.

There are about 100 songs that remind me of this movie, so I made this clip video and narrowed it down to two songs! And it is no coincidence that both songs feature the word "cowboy"! Speaking of which, how great is the (Oscar winning!) score by Gustavo Santaolalla? It is instantly recognizable. 

I wish I knew how to quit you, Brokeback Mountain! 

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