Thursday, February 09, 2006

The quiet tragedy of a missed chance

Roxey and I went to see Brokeback Mountain last weekend, and as you may recall from my Golden Globes quips, I was not particularly excited. I was really worried that it would be melodramatic and manipulative - the two inexcusable devices of moviemaking. I am pleased to report it was neither.

Just like all the critics said, beautifully acted, directed, shot, written. It's got the whole package and I feel confident saying it'll probably take home best pic this year. And not undeservedly so. Did I like it more that Good Night, and Good Luck? No. Crash? Yes, probably. And I haven't seen Munich or Capote yet, so I can't comment on those, though I'm hoping to cram them in. I do have to agree that 2005 was a great year for movies. Even the popular fodder of 40 Year Old Virgin (Anhabelle and I don't really have any original jokes with each other anymore, it's pretty much all stolen from Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd) was good fluff.

Anyway, back to the lesson at hand. I won't go into a recital of the film, and I know a few of my four readers have not seen the pic yet, so I won't ruin it. But by now you know that Ennis (Heath Ledger, who despite annoying the crap out of me as a human being, is actually an apt actor) and Jack (Jakey Gyllenhal, still cute as a button) are cowboys in the midwest, circa 1960s. They meet, get it on, fall in love. And then the real world complicates everything. The film is never pandering, never beats you over the head with its "message," and is never ever manipulative. I say this because, while, yes, Roxey was a weepy basket case, I only teared up a teense. There were multiple opportunities for Ang Lee to go over the top, pop on the soaring music and make me cry. But he eased back from that. The story was tragic the way everyday life is tragic. And we all muddle through.

The part that hit me the most was a moment where, sitting on the banks of a lake by the mountain, Jack pitches an idea of running off together, which Ennis, always practical, shoots down for legitimate reasons. I knew at that moment, there would never be fulfillment for either of them. As the movie progresses, you see moments where both characters realize that they missed their chance to be together, to be happy. And it is deeply sad, without being maudlin.

Ang Lee likes the theme of missed chances, of deeply loving and never having. It's why he can so beautifully relate to Marianne and Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, and more importantly, why he made me ball my eyes out in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, even though the beautiful Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat express very little of their emotions verbally. He does that again in Brokeback, and shame on me for thinking such an auteur would be manipulative.

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