Daniel Mendelsohn’s essay on Brokeback Mountain in the New York Review of Books is one of the most thoughtful, incisive pieces of writing I have read on Brokeback up to this point. Mendelsohn really gets to the heart of the movie’s gay themes at the same time analyzing the scene elements in a fresh, articulate way. Here’s a bit of it, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. It has some spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you may not want to read it. I think it’s quite brilliant.
“In the scene that follows, another misplaced piece of clothing leads to a similar scene of tragic realization. Now middle-aged and living alone in a battered, sparsely furnished trailer (a setting with which Proulx’s story begins, the tale itself unfolding as a long flashback), Ennis receives a visit from his grown daughter, who announces that she’s engaged to be married.
“Does he love you?” the blighted father protectively demands, as if realizing too late that this is all that matters. After the girl leaves, Ennis realizes she’s left her sweater behind, and when he opens his little closet door to store it there, we see that he’s hung the two shirts from their first summer, one still wearing the other, on the inside of the closet door, below a tattered postcard of Brokeback Mountain.
Just as we see this, the camera pulls back to allow us a slightly wider view, which reveals a little window next to the closet, a rectangular frame that affords a glimpse of a field of yellow flowers and the mountains and sky. The juxtaposition of the two spaces—the cramped and airless closet, the window with its unlimited vistas beyond—efficiently but wrenchingly suggests the man’s tragedy: the life he has lived, the life that might have been. His eyes filling with tears, Ennis looks at his closet and says, “Jack, I swear…”; but he never completes his sentence, as he never completed his life.”
An Affair to Remember [ny review of books]