Monday, February 20, 2006

A tale of true manhood and true love

I decided to go watch Brokeback Mountain in a theater after I read in the papers that the MTRCB had approved it without cuts. After all, I prefer my Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger on the big screen (the better to see you with, my dears). However, the drawback of watching a film like Brokeback in a Philippine movie theater is that you have to put up with the boorish ignorance and narrow-mindedness of the other members of the audience. Giggly gasps of "oh my God!" and guffaws of "pucha, pare!" were audible throughout every time Jake and Heath had a kissing scene. It killed the mood, and at the same time made me think, it is precisely this kind of reaction that the film is trying to quash, but Filipino horizons are just not ready to be broadened. Ang Lee, this is not your target audience (then again, at the Golden Globes when Jake and Heath went onstage to introduce the movie, the audience also tittered at the sight of the 2 actors standing awkwardly beside each other-- way to show maturity, people!).

On the movie itself: if only for the endless philosophical post-viewing discussions it provokes, I absolutely loved it (I love any movie that sets the cogs and wheels of my brain in motion). Everyone knows what the plot is: 2 cowboys fall in love with each other, but are constrained by social norms to keep their love a secret from the world. So they each get married to women, but carry on their forbidden relationship on the side. At its core, Brokeback Mountain is a tragic love story that just happens to be about 2 men. As it turns out, it is not, as everyone describes it, "a gay movie". The morning after they first have sex, quiet brooder Ennis (Heath) tells free-spirited idealist Jack (Jake), "I ain't no queer." It sounds ridiculous at first, given that they had done the deed so energetically the night before, but throughout the rest of the movie, both live like "normal" men, and demonstrate distinctly male behavior. In fact, the only thing "gay" about the 2 is that they are physically affectionate with each other. This recalls the ancient Greeks' concept of love, love so strong and passionate that it has to be expressed sexually, and it doesn't matter if the 2 individuals are of the opposite sex, or both men, or both women (as some put it, back then, everyone was gay... and it was okay). No one in ancient Greece thought of homosexuality in a malicious way, and even the most macho of men loved other men deeply, and had no qualms about showing it (see Achilles and his best friend/lover Patroclus).

Jo wrote in her blog that "[girls] kissing other girls [is] "soft," while with two guys it's very rough (uh, see Brokeback Mountain for evidence... did they really have to beat each other up, too?)" I remembered this while watching the movie, and that was when I considered the idea that maybe that was the point: the 2 aren't flaming fags who are going to be sweet and gentle about it-- they make love to each other as men, whiskey-swigging, punch-swinging, rough-and-tumble men. And in a way, that makes their love more pure and true, for they can be real men with each other. There is no need for gentlemanly manners or courtly gestures, no need to put up the sensitive, considerate facade most guys use to win women's hearts. When you think about it, a lot of women look for very feminine traits in men. Aren't we after all most comfortable and free to be ourselves around people of the same gender? If society didn't frown on same-sex relationships (and religion didn't mandate "go forth and multiply"), maybe we would all be falling in love with people for who they are, without worrying about what gender they are.

However, as we belong to a generation that has been conditioned by history and culture for centuries, we perceive Ennis and Jack's love affair as decidedly unmanly, when perhaps they were actually being as manly as it gets: they were so masculine that they could only love the masculine.

Jake and Heath turn in performances of a lifetime, and were duly rewarded with Oscar nominations. However, though Heath technically had the bigger role and Jake the supporting one, I was more impressed by Jake in this movie. Heath tended to mumble his lines in an incoherent way, although I was moved by the scene where his usually stone-faced Ennis breaks down and collapses in Jack's arms. Though the more talkative of the 2 characters, Jake's Jack could convey more with a look than Heath's taciturn Ennis could. I went into this movie a bigger Heath fan than a Jake fan, but I emerged a convert (much like the effect Good Will Hunting had on me-- it was goodbye Ben and hel-looo Matt forever after). I was also pleasantly surprised by Michelle Williams' solid acting. I was never a Dawson's Creek follower, so this was the first time I got a glimpse of her dramatic prowess. You could practically hear her world shatter when she accidentally discovers her husband's secret, and her transformation from delicate housewife to bitter spouse is both convincing and heartrending.

My only complaints about the movie are: 1) the lack of build-up leading to the first time Jack and Ennis made out and 2) how all the characters in the movie noticeably aged save for Ennis.
On the first, the attraction between the 2 sheep herders hadn't been made palpable enough yet, and suddenly they were all over each other. There was no flirting (heck, not even lively banter), no exchange of loaded looks, no apparent chemistry. The audience is left wondering, where did that come from?! After the initial intimate act though, the bond between the 2 grew more evident. On the second, I fault the make-up people for failing to make Heath look older. Jake at least got a receding hairline, a bad moustache and even a paunch that hung over his big cowboy belt buckle, but Heath still looked like he did at the start of the 20-year story. By the end of the movie his 19-year-old daughter could have passed for his girlfriend.

Despite those shortcomings, I make the following fearless forecasts for the Oscars: Brokeback Mountain is going to run away with Best Picture, and Ang Lee is sure to get the Oscar for Best Director. However, Heath did not display enough oomph to win for Best Actor. Jake and Michelle, on the other hand, who turned in more impressive performances in their supporting capacities, just might surprise everyone by stealing the Best Supporting statuettes from their fellow nominees.

But beyond the Oscar hype and the controversial theme, ultimately, Brokeback Mountain is a poignant, truthful film that defines love-- love free of sociocultural boundaries, love without fear of judgment, love that transcends right and wrong. The beauty of that kind of love, the beauty of the idea of that kind of love, is the beauty of this movie.

11 Comments:

At Monday, February 20, 2006, Anonymous frank√© said...

amen all the way, ms lim! :)

 
At Tuesday, February 21, 2006, Anonymous JoJoJoJo said...

The way you quoted me, it sounds like I've had firsthand experience. Haha. I also think the punching can be interpreted as part of Ennis' denial... "I'm not really kissing this man; we're rough housing!" Notice how they squeezed their eyes shut as they kissed. That was raw, honest awkwardness on the part of the actors. Jake said he entered the film biased against homosexuality, but emereged with a whole new viewpoint. (Oh yeah... My roomie went to the same high school as he did, Harvard Westlake. He goes back there to speak sometimes.)

Fil-Ams think that homosexuality is accepted in the Phils, because people can flaunt their transvestite-ism openly. I had to explain that it's acceptable to a certain degree, but for the most part, the media treats LGBT people as cartoons. There are the screaming fags and the butch she-men, and nothing in between.

Who's the new MTRCB head? I can't believe the movie made it past the sensors!

 
At Tuesday, February 21, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

They gave it an R-18 rating so they let it escape unscathed. I heard that at first they were going to cut it to give it a more box-office friendly PG-13 rating, but then the movie distributors (cowboy hats off to them!) resisted and insisted on an uncut R-18. :)

 
At Tuesday, February 21, 2006, Anonymous karen said...

tsktsk. impressive? not. i can only give you a 19/20 on your book review, ms. lim...

minus one for stealing MY jake gyllenhael.

P.S. i make a great movie critic critic huh? keep 'em coming.

 
At Wednesday, February 22, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

You're much too generous. If I were grading myself I'd have given me a 16/20. It's a quasi-reflection, not a pure review, and besides it's wayyy too long. Remember, like I always taught you guys, brevity is the secret to good communication... although verbosity has always been a hard-to-kick writer's flaw of mine. Haha.

You really should learn how to share your men. xp

 
At Wednesday, February 22, 2006, Blogger Peej Bernardo said...

Haven't watched the movie, and for guys, it would be weird to watch it alone or together. Blame it on our society and its appearances.

They say that it's a good movie, though, and I like that line from the trailer, something like, "Why can't I seem to quit you?"

Honestly, though, I think the idea of two guys is still too weird for me.

Yun lang.

peej b.

 
At Wednesday, February 22, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

After seeing the movie, my friend and I remarked on that same thing, that the only straight guys who will go see this movie are the ones whose girlfriends/wives will drag them along-- guys who put up sensitive, considerate, gentlemanly fronts and are actually less manly than the guys doing it with each other onscreen. The irony. :)

 
At Wednesday, February 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think men and women work best.

what an intelligent observation huh?

pat myself on the back heehee!

 
At Thursday, February 23, 2006, Anonymous karen said...

"You really should learn how to share your men. xp"

NO.

Oh yeah, thanks for calling them mine. HAHAHA

 
At Thursday, February 23, 2006, Anonymous Jojojojo said...

I spelled censors as sensors. A testament to my sabawness :(

 
At Friday, February 24, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Happens to the best of us. ;p

 

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