Saturday, March 11, 2006

Brokeback Thoughts

Brokeback MountainI finally saw Brokeback Mountain, and although I usually write up reviews of most of the films I see, this movie has been extensively discussed online, so I'll skip that front and just jump to a few quick thoughts.

1) Overall, it was a pretty good film--and a pretty tragic film at that. It isn't the greatest gay-themed film I've ever seen, but it was one of the better Hollywood-produced films I've seen in a while.

2) It was light years better than Crash, in terms of the script, the cinematography, the acting, the truth of its feeling, everything. At one point while watching it, I thought of scholar and poet Sianne Ngai's concept of "objective feeling" in long narratives, and realized that pretty much from start to finish, Brokeback's was consistently and effectively pitched, while Crash's was all over the place.

3) Everyone raves about Heath Ledger's (at right, on left with Jake Gyllenhaal on right, AP) performance, and it was quite strong, but to me the performances of the two actresses who play the wives, Michelle Williams and Ann Hathaway, were equally convincing. Hathaway's ever-lightening hair and dazed gaze struck me as perfect emblems of the cmoplete emotional disengagement her husband's elusive, closeted (inner) life caused. That final scene in which she appears, where she betrays hints of anger, disgust and grief as she relates her husband's death in an deadpan voice that seeks to keep her tamped down tightly beneath the surface, as well as her badly painted fingernails, platinum hair and severe makeup framing her face, contained more emotional truth and honesty--the tragedy of a lifetime of disappointment--than most Hollywood movies these days even try to muster.

4) There was surprisingly little sex in it, and the film depicts more heterosex than homosex.

5) I nearly fell asleep during the early, glacial sheep-herding (shepherding?) scenes, but I think the slow rhythms were and are necessary, not least for the purposes of diegetic verisimilitude.

6) The Alberta scenery was breathtaking, to put it mildly. That province's tourist bureau couldn't have conjured up a more enchantingly successful set of promotional images if they tried.

7) I had no trouble understanding Heath Ledger's Ennis's accent, so I'm still trying to figure what some critics' comments about this were based on, or do they just never interact with people who don't sound like TV newscasters?

8) I actually was waiting for most of the movie to hear the line "I wish I knew how to quit you!" All of the parodies I'd seen had me smiling until the moment Gyllenhaal's character utters it, at which point its saddening implications became clear.

9) It was fascinating to think about the film's narrative in historical terms, and note how it paralleled the history of gay rights and gay liberation, and how they didn't intersect with the tragic worlds these two men lived in.

10) Perhaps the powers that be, in seeing the success of this movie, will try to create more honest films set in the present day, with multiracial and multigendered casts, that deal with LGBT lives. (Wishful thinking?)

Two movies I'm looking forward to catching soon are Dave Chappelle's Block Party and V is for Vendetta. (There was a free showing of the latter at the university this past Thursday, but I said I'd wait to catch it with C. if I could.)


  1. John, Anne Hathaway's performance in brokeback is absolutely astonishing. It's truly unfortunate she never received the high critical praise of some of her colleagues.

  2. i agree with you and frank (hi frank! what's up?) anne hathaway was amazing...i felt her performance the most that combined mix of resentment, anger, disappointment and sheer unhappiness of who her husband was and how he would never be hers was powerful...and she should have been right up there with michelle williams (who imho was fierce as Alma and is quite the underrated and talented actress) during the mad that michelle lost, but happy that rachel weisz won...rachel has consistently given quality performances over her career and im glad she got one...

    Brokeback: wonderful film and i agree with you word for word on your thoughts about the wasnt thebest gay themed film out...but it was heads and shoulders above CRASH (though Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon were among the actors in the film who clearly shined and made it watchable) but i have to give Ang Lee and the director of CRASH credit: they had the balls to make films about subjects folk aren't ready to see and have hopefully started a long needed dialogue out racism and homophobia...maybe....

    and yes john, ineed to get off my ass and get back to writing....been scared of it for a while but i need to get back into it.