Long time no see, TNF. Attendance call – show of hands, who’s still reading?
I had a craving for Brokeback Revisited. It was on Bravo tonight; it was the first time I’d seen it since watching it in theaters shortly after it was released. I remember going with a group of ebullient girls and shuffling out with my heart somewhere in my feet.
I remember the buzz leading up to it too – what stands out in my mind are all the girls who caught wind of two pretty boys kissing and said, “So that’s what guys love about lesbians!” And Jake Gyllenhaal saying “It’s just kissing another person.” And the praise for the courage of both stars, young heartthrobs, for taking on such “daring” roles. And tonight I was reminded again of all the promise Heath Ledger had, without having to line up for The Dark Knight to join in post-mortem fascination.
I can’t remember if I read the original story before or after seeing the movie; but what I do remember was the impression that the movie was far more compassionate toward the wives. It struck me again, tonight – even when the emotional tension was shattered by the regular and jarringly loud ads for Million Dollar Listing and Shear Genius. Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal) are neither of them perfect husbands – if they’d been more caring or wise, in the modern sense, they would have never gotten married at all – but in the end, as much as I feel pity and grief for Jack, his quashed dreams and his violent and undeserved end, it’s Ennis’ struggle I feel more poignantly. Where Jack runs - or tries to run - Ennis stays despite overwhelming pain.
When Ennis is divorced from his wife, Jack assumes they’ll run off together and work a ranch, like he’d always wanted. But Ennis – whose daughter is waiting in his truck during their exchange – reminds Jack that while he’s no longer married, he still has a life and responsibilities in Wyoming (of course, in his own particular idiom of speech, which sounds kind of like Jack’s car as it growls away). He’s broke, but Jack could support him – instead he stays for his daughters. It may have been a mistake to create that family in the first place, without love for his wife or the possibility of love, but he won’t stamp that wrong onto his daughters’ lives as well, and he genuinely adores them in his silent way.
And his daughter stays by him. In the last scene, she visits him to tell him about her engagement and invite him to the wedding. And he does what he couldn’t do for Jack so many times later in their long and agonizing affair – he quits his job to make the time to drive down and be there. She leaves, forgetting her sweater, and he folds it lovingly, putting it away in the closet where he keeps Jack’s old shirt, and he murmurs, “Jack, I swear.”
Jack, I swear. I actually teared up; despite the commercial breaks, the grainy TV, the truncated credits. Brokeback Mountain isn’t about being gay. It’s about love. Many kinds.