I kind of wish that I hadn't spent the last few months gushing like an addled schoolgirl about Jake Gyllenhaal. Not because he isn't worthy (goddamn is he worthy) but because now, when I have to write about Brokeback Mountain, I fear that that history will undermine what I have to say about the film.
I'm also a little afraid that I'm going to embarrass myself writing about it. But... that may be unavoidable. Because... Brokeback Mountain devastated me. It brought up so many conflicting emotions that, since watching it yesterday afternoon, I haven't really been able to think straight. I went to sleep at ten last night because I couldn't do anything, I was just sitting on my bed drinking bourbon and staring at the wall. But I'm going to work really hard in this review to keep myself in check and try to explain what the effect the film had on me was, and why.
First I need to say that I need to see the film again (...and again, and again). I was sort of shocked at the screening that I was even sitting there watching the film, and after the seemingly endless months of hyping myself up about it, it was difficult to divorce myself from that hype and just watch the film without constantly thinking to myself, "Ohmigod, I'm actually watching it! I'm seeing that scene!" There was a lot of that going on, not to mention the guy next to me had the worst breath you can imagine that surrounded our seats in a dense fog, and I had to urinate really bad the last hour or so of the film, so... altogether, there were a lot of issues I was slogging through in getting myself to just focus.
I also need to see it again because I felt tremendously guilty seeing it without my boyfriend. I , being I, grabbed at the chance to see it as soon as possible, but in retrospect I sort of regret that, because I needed him to be there. I needed his shoulder during the film but most of all, I needed him after it was over. I actually dashed to his office from the screening room once the film ended because I had this insatiable need to see him, but it just wasn't what it should be - he should have been there with me at the film. I couldn't explain it to him, because I couldn't ruin the film for him when we do go see it next month. So... I went home and drank bourbon by myself.
Okay, so those are all the outside thoughts that were, are, at work. Now for the actual film.
What kept striking me while watching the film, and afterwards, was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. That probably sounds cheesy, but I was overwhelmed, I am overwhelmed, by it. That someone took this story seriously, that they took the relationship between the two men seriously, that they respected it. I had no idea how hungry I was for this until I watched this film. That someone would show me and my feelings respect. That instead of having to funnel myself vicariously through Kate + Leo or some other romantic hetero-coupling that finally, for once, there it was on the screen and it was what I knew and I felt. It was (is, by the welling tears I'm getting even typing this)... overwhelming.
The film's point, it's reason for telling this story, is that despite every obstacle, despite their entire world - from the people outside to everything they've ever known, their own inner understanding of who they were and what the world was - that despite all of it there was nothing that they could do, they were helpless to deny their bond. Their love. There was nothing positive to their falling in love except for that love. Everything else, their families, their neighbors, their entire belief system, denied that it could exist, but it did, and when it was alllowed in brief isolated moments to be it was the only real truth they'd ever known.
There are forces in this world that are still trying to twist and pervert that idea, that my love is somehow less than that "between a man and a woman." That it isn't real, that it's some sort of chemical imbalance or because I had a distant father or I hit my head on the ice when I was a kid. Or I'm weak, given to sin, given to vice and evils. This film's entire purpose is to say bullshit to every single one of those claims. It's purpose is to say there was nothing these two men could do, they were desperate themselves to deny this thing, and there just was no denying it. It was as fundamental as the rain and the clouds.
The film also beautifully undermines so many stereotypes and assumptions. Watching Heath Ledger at times I felt as if I were watching one of my uncles or cousins, heavy-booted gruff blue collar guys with grease under their nails and a Budweiser in the their hand. He's the kind of guy who will kick the ass of a Hell's-Angel type when they speak vulgarities in front of his daughters, but otherwise is quiet and keeps to himself, works hard and long hours. Ledger really is astonishing to watch; I had reservations about him but they just vanished watching him - he knew this guy inside and out. The posture, the anger, the way he's recoiled into himself until he can barely speak. And then this guy comes along and makes him laugh and his smile comes as a shock - his face, for the first time, loses all the pain that had been twisting it up, and suddenly you understand.
That guy who comes along, of course, is Jack Twist, played by somebody named Gyllenhaal or something like that. Oh... Jake. After Jarhead, watching him here... set aside every fawning post I've done here about Jake in his swim-trunks, Jake's junk in a Santa hat; Jake Gyllenhaal is an immensely talented actor. He sold the aging process more convincingly to me than Ledger did - the film spans 20 years and towards the end I really felt like I was looking at a 50 year old Jake. There's this scene towards the end where he completely broke my heart. They both did, just shattered it. Jake's work in this scene, his long-boiling anger and resentment at being denied all he's ever wanted... when it is, when it should be, so easy and so simple. It's heart-rending. And Heath's reaction... god.
So yes, the film is a tragedy. Maybe one day we'll get a gay love story of this magnitude and this quality that isn't, but there is no honest way this specific story could be told and not, in the end, be tragic. Hell, the world we live in today is still doing its damndest to twist the very definition of love out of our hands. This film is a slap in every one of their santimonious, ignorant faces.
But what it means to do isn't to hurt them, but to wake them up.
This is such an important film. I am just so incredibly thankful to everyone involved. That they took it seriously and told a beautiful story - which in the end, yes, it is only a story, but one that has needed to be told for so long. That for the first time in my life I felt like they got it, they captured that deepest part of who I am and what I've known. It's an astonishing feeling.
It's an astonishing film.