Monday, 4 April 2011

Brokeback Mountain: Personal Impact

By Nathan Donarum

In high school, I always loved movies; yet, I always looked at them passively. Only rarely did I become involved in the events or with the characters I saw on screen. In fact, prior to Brokeback Mountain I can't think of a single instance when I felt a profound emotional reaction to a film. I remember getting a little choked up while watching the end of Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia, but that's as close as it ever got to my becoming emotionally invested in situations taking place in a movie.

I watched Brokeback Mountain with my father on opening weekend back in late 2005 — though we had actually gone to see Capote instead. When we tried to buy tickets, we realized there was only one showing of Capote four or five hours later. Brokeback Mountain, however, was playing in just an hour; so, we bought two tickets and went to Borders to wait.

Since at the store they had a display with E. Annie Proulx's short story, my father and I each grabbed a copy and read it while we waited to see the movie, which had been getting phenomenal reviews. Curiously, I remember feeling underwhelmed by the short story. I thought to myself, "I don't even know if I'm excited to see this movie anymore." But since we had already bought the tickets, there wasn't really any turning back.

Jack and Ennis
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain"

After the hour passed, we went in. As I sat there watching Brokeback Mountain unfold, something changed within me. I don't know what caused it exactly, but I remember that I started crying when Gustavo Santaolalla's "The Wings" began playing while Jack and Ennis are at the campfire. I had never, ever cried because of a movie. And frankly, I did not understand how or why anyone would. Still, as I sat there in the theater, I could not contain my tears.

Eventually, I stopped crying, but the tears began streaming down once again when Ennis collects Jack's shirt and hugs it, fighting to hold on to the man he loved. I shed more tears at the end of the film, when Ennis opens his closet door, looks at the shirt, and the credits slowly start to roll.

I don't know why, but ever since that first time I saw Brokeback Mountain, my entire movie-watching experience has been radically different. After that, I have revisited movies I had seen before; suddenly, I was looking at them in a new light; at times, I was able to connect with them where before I had been emotionally and/or intellectually detached.

In addition, whether or not I'm watching a movie for the first time, I have been able to find layers to characters and settings that would have been out of my reach before. In essence, Brokeback Mountain made me realize how much I truly love the art of film. It also inspired me to start writing about it.

I mustered the courage to start posting my film commentaries online only in 2008 or whereabouts, but I had never considered writing about movies prior to Brokeback Mountain. In a profound way, that same-sex love story set in the American West made me realize there were tangible differences between bad cinema, good cinema, and great cinema. Needless to say, I'm fully aware that my Brokeback Mountain experience was exceptional, for having such a visceral response to any film is something quite unique.

Even though I cannot fully explain my personal reaction to the film, I must credit the filmmakers for it. Had Brokeback Mountain not been crafted the way it was, I find it impossible to believe that I would have been so deeply affected by it. After all, I had felt quite unenthusiastic after reading E. Annie Proulx's short story.

I have watched Brokeback Mountain many times since that first viewing. My experience has been different each time, but the film's power has never been lost. As we grow, our experiences change; our hope is that they will change not for the worse, but for the better. Thanks to Brokeback Mountain, I can happily say that mine have been forever changed for the better.

Source: Meditations on BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: Multilayered Love Story