Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

Brokeback Mountain: short story and 2005 movie

After lone_wandering invited me to see Brokeback Mountain, I finally read the original short story.  (Damn, the GoogleCache of the New Yorker doesn't work anymore.  Found this, though.  Yay.  'Cause seeing the movie made me wanna reread the short story.)

[Edit: Pulling that link for someone else Jan. 25, 2006, I get a 404 message. Re-searching, I get a copy of the New Yorker version here.]

So, I read the short story before having seen the movie, and I tried to avoid reading too much about the movie since I knew I was going to see it.  (As opposed to Narnia, where I had no intention of seeing the movie but read with interest people's discussions of the movie.)

Reading the short story I definitely got a sense of the loneliness etc. of being up on Brokeback.  Ennis and Jack actually getting together I didn't buy so much, though after that I could get myself into "established relationship" headspace and be all into the passion of their being together and the pain of their being apart.

I wasn't a particular fan of the short story, though.  Like, I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it.

One thing I had seen assorted people mentioning was that they are not in fact "gay cowboys" but sheep herders, and I definitely noticed that in the short story.  Though traces pointed out that Jack Twist does rodeo, so that sorta counts.  One thing I noticed in the movie was that often Ennis calls Jack "cowboy."

offbalance mentioned that there are lots of kinda boring sections in the movie.  Because the original short story was told so sparsely, I really wasn't sure how they were gonna translate that into a movie -- especially because the movie is 2hr 14min.  Watching the movie, though, I didn't find much of it empty boring save the early stuff which kind of has to be.

Ennis and Jack hanging out outside the trailer I actually thought was a flashback at first.  Life on the mountain would have driven me out of my gourd, but that scene outside the trailer very nearly did.  I thought about the recurrent fandom complaint that female fanfic writers feminize male characters by making them talk about their feelings, and how this is so opposite that, with the characters talking so little that it feels almost out of character when they do talk about their feelings.

I'm not sure where people are getting "gorgeous filming" from.  Maybe I just don't find Wyoming as pretty as they all do.

Okay, I'm rereading the short story as I do this write-up.

During the day Ennis looked across a great gulf and sometimes saw Jack, a small dot moving across a high meadow as an insect moves across a tablecloth; Jack, in his dark camp, saw Ennis as night fire, a red spark on the huge black mass of mountain.
Sadly, the poetry of that did not translate into the movie.  We see how each sees the other when they apart at night, and it does serve to accentuate the loneliness of the situation, and the red spark of fire on the dark mass of mountain was beautiful, but as I recall it was a very brief shot.

"Well, I'm goin a warsh everthing I can reach," he said, pulling off his boots and jeans (no drawers, no socks, Jack noticed), slopping the green washcloth around until the fire spat.
I liked how this was translated into the movie, with nude Heath Ledger kinda fuzzy in the background and Jack totally looking at him out of the corner of his eye.
They had a high-time supper by the fire, a can of beans each, fried potatoes and a quart of whiskey on shares, sat with their backs against a log, boot soles and copper jeans rivets hot, swapping the bottle while the lavender sky emptied of color and the chill air drained down, drinking, smoking cigarettes, getting up every now and then to piss, firelight throwing a sparkle in the arched stream, tossing sticks on the fire to keep the talk going, talking horses and rodeo, roughstock events, wrecks and injuries sustained, the submarine Thresher lost two months earlier with all hands and how it must have been in the last doomed minutes, dogs each had owned and known, the draft, Jack's home ranch where his father and mother held on, Ennis's family place folded years ago after his folks died, the older brother in Signal and a married sister in Casper. Jack said his father had been a pretty well known bullrider years back but kept his secrets to himself, never gave Jack a word of advice, never came once to see Jack ride, though he had put him on the woolies when he was a little kid. Ennis said the kind of riding that interested him lasted longer than eight seconds and had some point to it. Money's a good point, said Jack, and Ennis had to agree. They were respectful of each other's opinions, each glad to have a companion where none had been expected. Ennis, riding against the wind back to the sheep in the treacherous, drunken light, thought he'd never had such a good time, felt he could paw the white out of the moon.
This reminds me of the "more words than I spoke in a year" scene and makes me think, "If you're gonna flesh out the story to make a movie, why not flesh this stuff out?"  I also realized on rereading that one reason I had forgotten so many of the details of the short story is that Proulx mostly told rather than showed, so there were just lists of conversation topics, family histories, etc. rather than actually hearing conversation between the characters.  This isn't necessarily a failing on the part of Proulx, but since I have a bad habit of reading too fast it's bad for me.

"What's the Pentecost?  I was raised Methodist."  My little Protestant heart squeed.

The transition to sex was just as abrupt in the movie as it is in the short story.  I liked the whole "I'm falling over drunk, I'll go up to the sheep, okay I'll stay down here for the night."  I'd actually forgotten that's how they end up being in the tent together in the story.
"Jesus Christ, quit hammerin and get over here. Bedroll's big enough," said Jack in an irritable sleep-clogged voice. It was big enough, warm enough, and in a little while they deepened their intimacy considerably. Ennis ran full-throttle on all roads whether fence mending or money spending, and he wanted none of it when Jack seized his left hand and brought it to his erect cock. Ennis jerked his hand away as though he'd touched fire, got to his knees, unbuckled his belt, shoved his pants down, hauled Jack onto all fours and, with the help of the clear slick and a little spit, entered him, nothing he'd done before but no instruction manual needed. They went at it in silence except for a few sharp intakes of breath and Jack's choked "gun's goin off," then out, down, and asleep.
I didn't see any spit in the movie.  I remember wincing because of that.  (See how I have totally read so many "How to write m/m porn" essays.)  No lube when he he fucks his wife either.
Alma asked Ennis to use rubbers because she dreaded another pregnancy. He said no to that, said he would be happy to leave her alone if she didn't want any more of his kids. Under her breath she said, "I'd have em if you'd support em." And under that, thought, anyway, what you like to do don't make too many babies.
I remembered her unspoken line more than her spoken line, but seeing him flip her over and her kinda wincing the movie makes clear how he has sex with her.

Ennis "wanted none of it when Jack seized his left hand and brought it to his erect cock."  Oh is that what Jack is supposed to be doing that moment in the movie where they're curled up and Jack brings Ennis' hand onto his own stomach?  That makes the "oh, let's have sex" somewhat less random than I had read it as in the movie.
The first snow came early, on August thirteenth, piling up a foot, but was followed by a quick melt. The next week Joe Aguirre sent word to bring them down -- another, bigger storm was moving in from the Pacific -- and they packed in the game and moved off the mountain with the sheep, stones rolling at their heels, purple cloud crowding in from the west and the metal smell of coming snow pressing them on. The mountain boiled with demonic energy, glazed with flickering broken-cloud light, the wind combed the grass and drew from the damaged krummholz and slit rock a bestial drone. As they descended the slope Ennis felt he was in a slow-motion, but headlong, irreversible fall.
In the movie, one of them bitches about how the snow had melted quickly and Aguirre's just tryin' to cheat them out of a month's pay.  It makes me sad that we lose the "As they descended the slope Ennis felt he was in a slow-motion, but headlong, irreversible fall." line in the movie.  Though they do retain the Ennis vomiting scene, sans the later explication of exactly why he so reacts.

I skimmed the AP interview with Annie Proulx (Newsday, The Advocate, etc.) before I saw the movie, and she says, "Jake Gyllenhall's Jack Twist ... wasn't the Jack Twist that I had in mind when I wrote this story. The Jack that I saw was jumpier, homely."  I actually misremembered this as being about Ennis, which felt plausible to me.  Jack's the one who initiates the relationship and is constantly pushing, whereas Ennis is the one who has known firsthand since childhood what society does to men who love men.

Jonah and I talked a bunch afterward about how attached Ennis is to his family and how he's so much more tied more than Jack is.  Jack is the one who actually grew up with parents whereas Ennis was mostly raised by his brother and sister.  Is he so attached to family because he wants to make things right (whereas Jack wants to escape? his rodeo father wouldn't share his secrets, so he's clearly had a tense relationship with his parents)?  When Alma wants to move in to the city, she mentions friends for the girls, urges Ennis that he wouldn't want them to be lonely like him, right?  [Sidenote: The first time we see Alma with the babies, I felt like, "Y'all have shit lives and yet you wanna bring a child into that?  I'm confused."]

Also: whether he's more attracted to men than Ennis is or whether he's just craving Ennis, Jack has/seeks assorted gay encounters -- buying the rodeo clown a drink, going to Mexico, the talkative blonde's husband propositions him and I'm like "See, Jack, everyone reads you as gay."  Whereas Ennis is mostly just a loner and the one non-Alma relationship he has is with the waitress ("Girls don't fall in love with fun."  What ever did you fall in love with, though, woman?  One of my problems was that I found nothing in Ennis to be particularly attracted to, though certainly he's sympathetic.)
He didn't try to see his girls for a long time, figuring they would look him up when they got the sense and years to move out from Alma.
I remember being startled at how much older they were when he has them for that weekend than they had looked when we had last seen them, but Jack says he drove up when he got Ennis' message about the divorce, so I figure it's probably gotta be early in the post-divorce.  Ennis says he only gets them one weekend a month, and he missed last weekend.  He sounds genuine in his desire to maintain some sort of connection with his girls -- though okay he has his elder daughter and his waitress girlfriend the same weekend and just leaves them to get to know each other and is clearly not a people person.
Down in Texas Jack's father-in-law died and Lureen, who inherited the farm equipment business, showed a skill for management and hard deals. Jack found himself with a vague managerial title, traveling to stock and agricultural machinery shows. He had some money now and found ways to spend it on his buying trips. A little Texas accent flavored his sentences, "cow" twisted into "kyow" and "wife" coming out as "waf." He'd had his front teeth filed down and capped, said he'd felt no pain, and to finish the job grew a heavy mustache.
The pornstache made me sad, but it did do a damn good job of showing Jack as being older, and at least I can't blame Ang Lee for having invented it.

I really liked Lureen when we first met her, she's got spunk and all, but around the time she goes blonde she turns into her father.  Which to some degree I can understand since he did raise her.  Oh, snap, that scene at Thanksgiving with the tv, though.  Love Lureen biting back a smile as Jack lays the smack down on her father.
Twenty minutes on they surprised a black bear on the bank above them rolling a log over for grubs and Jack's horse shied and reared, Jack saying "Wo! Wo!" and Ennis's bay dancing and snorting but holding. Jack reached for the .30-.06 but there was no need; the startled bear galloped into the trees with the lumpish gait that made it seem it was falling apart.
Interesting that this 1983 event gets reimagined in the movie as happening during that summer at Brokeback with Ennis coming back with the groceries, showing the viewer just how shitty it was up there.  ("No more beans."  "I thought you didn't eat soup."  "Sick of beans." "Too early in the summer to be sick of beans.")
Ennis said he'd been putting the blocks to a woman who worked part-time at the Wolf Ears bar in Signal where he was working now for Stoutamire's cow and calf outfit, but it wasn't going anywhere and she had some problems he didn't want. Jack said he'd had a thing going with the wife of a rancher down the road in Childress and for the last few months he'd slank around expecting to get shot by Lureen or the husband, one. Ennis laughed a little and said he probably deserved it. Jack said he was doing all right but he missed Ennis bad enough sometimes to make him whip babies.
See, in the short story, what happens when they're not together gets bare passing mention.  Though fleshing out their family lives so much does point out how pressuring people into lives that aren't right for them ruins more people than just them -- though I don't think the people who need to understand that are gonna see this movie or would take away that message with them if they did see it.
The horses nickered in the darkness beyond the fire's circle of light. Ennis put his arm around Jack, pulled him close, said he saw his girls about once a month, Alma Jr. a shy seventeen-year-old with his beanpole length, Francine a little live wire. Jack slid his cold hand between Ennis's legs, said he was worried about his boy who was, no doubt about it, dyslexic or something, couldn't get anything right, fifteen years old and couldn't hardly read, he could see it though goddamn Lureen wouldn't admit to it and pretended the kid was o.k., refused to get any bitchin kind a help about it. He didn't know what the fuck the answer was. Lureen had the money and called the shots.
Oh yeah, Jack asking Lureen to call Bobby's teacher.  "I complain too much, she's tired of me, your turn."

And hey look, we do have that once-a-month Ennis and the girls thing in the original after all.  (Sidenote: Movie!Jr. got real pretty.)
"Jack, I got a work. Them earlier days I used a quit the jobs. You got a wife with money, a good job. You forget how it is bein broke all the time. You ever hear a child support? I been payin out for years and got more to go. Let me tell you, I can't quit this one. And I can't get the time off. It was tough gettin this time -- some a them late heifers is still calvin. You don't leave then. You don't. Stoutamire is a hell-raiser and he raised hell about me takin the week. I don't blame him. He probly ain't got a night's sleep since I left. The trade-off was August. You got a better idea?"

"I did once." The tone was bitter and accusatory.
The movie took out the line "I been payin out for years and got more to go."  But still it's clear.  (And Ennis agreeing to skiv work to go to his daughter's wedding at the end?  Just a few scenes before is this scene, so part of me was like, "He wasn't willing to make this sacrifice for his Big Gay Love, but now he's willing to make that sacrifice to go legitimize heterosexuality.  Oh, The celluloid Closet."  Even though that can't possibly have been the filmmakers' intention.)  I also don't recall the lines about Ennis' sympathy for his employer from the movie, which is interesting.  But anyway, it's an example of how at cross-purposes they are, that Jack can afford to escape his rich distant wife while Ennis can't afford to skiv work.  And thinking about it now, I think that's part of why Brokeback is so emblematic of their relationship --because when they're there they're just themselves and there isn't anything impinging on them keeping them apart or emphasizing their differences; they can just be together without complications.  (Though of course, even there the real world looms heavy as they're not supposed to spend the night together; one of them is supposed to stay up with the sheep.)
"Try this one," said Jack, "and I'll say it just one time. Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life. You wouldn't do it, Ennis, so what we got now is Brokeback Mountain. Everthing built on that. It's all we got, boy, fuckin all, so I hope you know that if you don't never know the rest. Count the damn few times we been together in twenty years. Measure the fuckin short leash you keep me on, then ask me about Mexico and then tell me you'll kill me for needin it and not hardly never gettin it. You got no fuckin idea how bad it gets. I'm not you. I can't make it on a couple a high-altitude fucks once or twice a year. You're too much for me, Ennis, you son of a whoreson bitch. I wish I knew how to quit you."
This lends credence to the theory that Jack really isn't gay but has just been craving Ennis-replacements (since he's a bottom, so he can't just fuck his wife and make pretend).
What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.


Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held. And maybe, he thought, they'd never got much farther than that. Let be, let be.
They do the flashback in the movie as well, but I at least didn't really get the sens of why.  And given how much we've seen Jack apparently craving sex, "the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger." is a really interesting contrast.  And ouch, Ennis not wanting to look him in the face.  Showing that even on Brokeback they were almost at cross-purposes.
Ennis didn't know about the accident for months until his postcard to Jack saying that November still looked like the first chance came back stamped DECEASED. He called Jack's number in Childress, something he had done only once before when Alma divorced him and Jack had misunderstood the reason for the call, had driven twelve hundred miles north for nothing.
The tire iron bits of the short story were some of what stuck with me most from the short story, so since the movie didn't do interior monologue I was interested to see how they would do it.  Ennis's mental recreation of what he imagined happened was a very effective way of doing it, and since I wasn't expecting it I was severely taken aback.  I think if I were a gay man watching that scene I would have been scared; hell, I had a momentary fearful flash of, "What if I were at a club and blew off a guy and danced with a girl and he beat me up?"
The little Texas voice came slip-sliding down the wire. "We put a stone up. He use to say he wanted to be cremated, ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain. I didn't know where that was. So he was cremated, like he wanted, and like I say, half his ashes was interred here, and the rest I sent up to his folks. I thought Brokeback Mountain was around where he grew up. But knowing Jack, it might be some pretend place where the bluebirds sing and there's a whiskey spring."
I like that in the movie they add an earlier scene with Ennis decrying Jack's pipe dream ideas and mentions a whiskey spring, so Lureen's comment about a "whiskey spring" adds to the sad nostalgia trip.
"Well, he said it was his place. I thought he meant to get drunk. Drink whiskey up there. He drank a lot."
Poor, Jack! :(
No doubt about it, she was polite but the little voice was cold as snow.
This was conveyed very well in the movie.
"Thank you, ma'am, I'll take a cup a coffee but I can't eat no cake just now."
I didn't really get this line until I saw the movie.  Reading it I just went right over it, but in the movie it comes on the heels of him pushing his fork around in that pie after splitting with the waitress and I thought, "He's too depressed to actually enjoy food."
An ancient magazine photograph of some dark-haired movie star was taped to the wall beside the bed, the skin tone gone magenta.
I'd forgotten about this line and I wish I'd remembered it so that I could look for it.  His room was so Spartan that I suspect it wasn't there.  ("I kept his room like it was when he was a boy and I think he appreciated that.")  What stuck out in the movie was Ennis picking up the little carving of the cowboy-hatted guy on a horse, which mentally flashes the viewer back to an early throwaway scene of Jack carving a horse out of a piece of wood.
The closet was a shallow cavity with a wooden rod braced across, a faded cretonne curtain on a string closing it off from the rest of the room. In the closet hung two pairs of jeans crease-ironed and folded neatly over wire hangers, on the floor a pair of worn packer boots he thought he remembered. At the north end of the closet a tiny jog in the wall made a slight hiding place and here, stiff with long suspension from a nail, hung a shirt. He lifted it off the nail. Jack's old shirt from Brokeback days. The dried blood on the sleeve was his own blood, a gushing nosebleed on the last afternoon on the mountain when Jack, in their contortionistic grappling and wrestling, had slammed Ennis's nose hard with his knee. He had staunched the blood which was everywhere, all over both of them, with his shirtsleeve, but the staunching hadn't held because Ennis had suddenly swung from the deck and laid the ministering angel out in the wild columbine, wings folded.

The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack's sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he'd thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack's own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.
The movie adds in a scene right before they have to go down off Brokeback in which they fight and Ennis' nose gets bloody and he changes out of the bloodied white shirt into a cream plaid shirt and when they're leaving the trailer says, "I can't believe I left my shirt up there," so when we got to this scene I assumed the bloodied shirt was from that scene and was bugged by the discontinuity of the color of the shirt.  (The short story's only mention of a last-day fight scene is the throwaway line, "He looked away from Jack's jaw, bruised blue from the hard punch Ennis had thrown him on the last day."  Though both retain Ennis' line from their first reunion: "Four years. I about give up on you. I figured you was sore about that punch.")

The short story ends:
"Jack, I swear -- " he said, though Jack had never asked him to swear anything and was himself not the swearing kind.

Around that time Jack began to appear in his dreams, Jack as he had first seen him, curly-headed and smiling and bucktoothed, talking about getting up off his pockets and into the control zone, but the can of beans with the spoon handle jutting out and balanced on the log was there as well, in a cartoon shape and lurid colors that gave the dreams a flavor of comic obscenity. The spoon handle was the kind that could be used as a tire iron. And he would wake sometimes in grief, sometimes with the old sense of joy and release; the pillow sometimes wet, sometimes the sheets.

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it you've got to stand it.
The italicized two paragraph opener (which I don't remember from the New Yorker cache) has a throwaway mention of Ennis' married daughter, which gets elaborated upon in the movie.  Discussing afterward, Jonah and I talked about how they had both been so divorced from anything else in their lives, so it was a good and healthy thing that Ennis was making an effort to be a part of his daughter's life.  However, I prefer the short story's ending with Ennis dreaming about Jack.  ('Specicially because in neither short story nor movie do I know what the bleep Ennis is swearing to Jack at the end.)

General comments:

Heath Ledger mumbles a lot, which frustrated me.  I think Jake Gyllenhaal mumbled post-coitally once, but with Heath Ledger it was like every other time he spoke.

Jake Gyllenhaal is so pretty.  He was kinda freaky in Donnie Darko, but here... wow.

Wow, R ratings let you get away with a lot more nudity than they used to.

Ennis and Jack repeatedly call each other "friend," which is interesting.

Salon mentions:
The film is as frank in its portrayal of sex between men as in its use of old-fashioned romance movie conventions. Its stars are unabashedly glamorous. The big-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal is a far cry from Proulx's small, bucktoothed Jack Twist, just as the blond, square-jawed Heath Ledger is nothing like her Ennis Del Mar, "scruffy and a little cave-chested."
Rereading the short story, I felt like the actors should have swapped roles.
At first glance Jack seemed fair enough with his curly hair and quick laugh, but for a small man he carried some weight in the haunch and his smile disclosed buckteeth, not pronounced enough to let him eat popcorn out of the neck of a jug, but noticeable. He was infatuated with the rodeo life and fastened his belt with a minor bull-riding buckle, but his boots were worn to the quick, holed beyond repair and he was crazy to be somewhere, anywhere else than Lightning Flat. Ennis, high-arched nose and narrow face, was scruffy and a little cave-chested, balanced a small torso on long, caliper legs, possessed a muscular and supple body made for the horse and for fighting.
However, Jake Gyllenhaal was amazing, in love with Ennis from first sight, and able to convey that to me with his face alone.

Edit: I meant to mention that it really comes through in the movie how violent Jack and Ennis' relationship is. Fighting is a prelude to making out. There is of course the intensity that comes from long periods of deprivation, but there's also the violence itself, which I suspect is a combination of the prototypical masculinity of the characters and the discomfort they have with what they're doing.

I'd rather not think about the fact that I spent $10.25 on that experience, but I am glad that I saw it so that I can join the discussion.  (Especially ‘cause, la, I was underwhelmed and can thus be my curmudgeonly self.)
Tags: adaptations, movies: watched

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  • Shakespeare and our political moment

    The ASP season for next year came out last Wednesday. At Actors’ Shakespeare Project, it is our practice as artists to listen: to listen to our…

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