Brokeback Mountain: The slow-motion, but headlong, irreversible fall

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This short story of Annie Proulx exists only as a distant and hazy memory. I don’t remember the details exactly because it has been a while since I read it last. Like all other lonely people, I have a Valentine’s Day tradition. Every year, I re-read two short stories- ‘Remember the Roses’ by Avery Taylor and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ by Annie Proulx. Every person has their own favorite love stories and this is one of mine.

I was asked once, on the International Book Day, to give a speech on any of the books that had influenced me the most. The very obvious answers were- Coraline by Neil Gaiman and Brokeback Mountain. I knew my audience would be comprised of some very old and orthodox men whom I did not particularly like so I immediately chose Brokeback Mountain because I thought that speaking about a same-sex love story would be an act of rebellion, I wanted to prove a point. But I was wrong.

Brokeback Mountain was never written to prove a point and neither is it a ‘gay cowboy love story’ like everyone claims. Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist can be both considered as bisexual people, but not homosexual. Second of all, this is not a story for the implementation of gay rights, neither does it try to evoke any sympathy in the minds of people. It is a very objective and matter-of-fact in nature. The idea of the story came to Annie Proulx while she was sitting at a bar. She noticed a middle aged man who was only looking at some men playing pool and this led her to consider the life of a typical western ranch hand who might be in love with a man instead of a woman.

I cannot write about Brokeback Mountain, the short story, and ignore Ang Lee’s wonderful film adaptation of it. The film re-directed me to the story quite naturally and after reading the story the first thought that came to my mind was the extreme bravery of a woman who had managed to write a same sex short story in the year 1997. Of course, I knew almost nothing about the history of homosexuality or bisexuality in literary or celluloid fiction till then. The film only has a handful of lines that are spoken aloud but each line and each scene is almost a new story in itself. Ang Lee almost makes no changes to the story format. The two changes that he made, though, elevated the story to a whole new level.

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The first scene that was added was the tent scene where Jack and Ennis finally acknowledge the fact that they need each other’s physical companionship and they make love for the second time. While, the first tent scene is often criticized for being too unreal, Annie Proulx may be excused for not knowing much about the practicalities of gay sex. Ang Lee, on the other hand, should have researched a bit more about this before portraying the scene exactly as it had been in the book. While their first time is almost brutal in nature, the second scene, introduced by Ang Lee, was important in making the nature of their relationship more transparent.

The second change that happened in the movie is far more complicated and almost completely changed the way we looked at the story. While it is almost clear that Jack was killed in a hate crime for being gay in the short story, the cause of his death in the movie is uncertain. We find ourselves asking many questions like “Did Lureen(Jack’s wife) know about his relationship with Ennis when she was conversing with him on the phone after Jack’s death?” Ang Lee makes it impossible for anyone to answer that question and most of all, through shadowing the cause of Jack’s death, he highlights the actual point of the story.

No, this is not a story about hate crimes or the abuse against the homosexual population, which is why speaking about it only as an act of rebellion, would have been wrong. People say that it is brave to be a homosexual in a world where people like are prosecuted, targeted, bullied and abused for their sexuality. They say it is brave to love. The real question is- why should we think that we are being brave and that we are putting up a fight every time we want to hold the hand of someone we love? Why should we fight just in order to prove that it’s okay to be us? Because quite obviously, it’s okay to be us! But no one says that. They say it’s something heroic, something rebellious. Ennis del Mar was not rebellious. He did not say ‘I love you’ to Jack even once in the whole book, he did not acknowledge the fact that he loved him. He broke no rule, then why did Jack have to die?

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The ending of Brokeback Mountain is so sad that in a million fanfictions where Jack has been killed in a million different torturous ways, there has been no sadder ending. This is because there is nothing sadder than dying alone on the side on a road without anyone to hold your hand. There is nothing sadder than losing a man whom you have been trying to hold on to for twenty years without any reason. Most of all, there is nothing sadder than not being able to embrace the one you love while facing him because you are afraid of acknowledging that you are indeed, holding someone the society says you should not hold or love.

Brokeback Mountain simply ends without any consolation or a promise of a better future. Annie Proulx does not find it necessary to giver her readers a closure. Which is why Brokeback Mountain is one of the most realistic tales that I have ever read. Ennis del Mar is very real and it is almost unbearable when we have to make peace with ourselves and say- nothing good will every happen to him again. Jack is gone. But Ennis does not have a mental breakdown, he does not have a heroic end. He just has to go on living in a world knowing that he has nothing to look forward to.

ennis

“As they descended the slope Ennis felt he was in a slow-motion, but headlong, irreversible fall.”

Annie Proulx expresses everything about this story in this line alone. Her sentences are short and simple but by some superhuman power she can envelop a billion myriad emotions which are impossible to describe even to ourselves in a single line.