-- spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers --
-- and scathing scathing scathing scathing commentary --
-- and scathing scathing scathing scathing commentary --
So here's the story: Friday night, eltea and I rented two movies. (She'll probably be writing her own review soon enough, should you need a second opinion.) The first was The Notebook; the second was Brokeback Mountain. We'd been wanting to see both, the first because it is hyped as the biggest Girl Movie in the history of Girl Movies (with the possible exception of Titanic) and, relatedly, because it is purportedly irresistible in its capacity to cause much melodramatic Girl Weeping. So we thought, What the hey? Let's see what happens.
Long story short, it was a terrible movie.
There are a variety of reasons why it was a terrible movie. First, and smallest, the trailer told the entire story, which took even the suspense out of it -- not that there was much, given that it was also extremely predictable. Second, although there were, I think, two or three zingers that made me laugh, the scripting was very poor. Most importantly, the characters were awful.
As I discovered reading Wuthering Heights last year, if I don't sympathize with or, preferably, really like any of the characters in a book or a movie or what have you, I really don't like said book or movie. It can be as beautiful as you want (The Notebook wasn't, of course, but that wouldn't have helped it), and I will hate the characters and derive no enjoyment from the work as a whole. Allie and Noah were deeply selfish, insufferably jealous, and really just stupid, and that made them boring on top of everything else. They really just weren't nice people, they never considered anyone's feelings but their own, and their obsession with each other -- and with themselves -- was creepy verging on psychotic. It's not a love story; it's a lust story. Yee haw.
I tried very hard to like Noah, because I really do like Ryan Gosling, but it didn't happen. And Allie, darlin', I've got a question for you. If you're so piqued at him for not writing to you, why the HELL didn't you try sending a letter, huh? Also, have you, you know, never read a romance? The wicked mother figure always hides the letters. Get a brain next time. And shop for a heart while you're at the store.
And bring me back some candy.
The only part of that movie that was sad was the way that reason gave way to insipidity with crushing consistency. The mother, who has a very reasonable point about Allie and Noah's relationship being built on nothing but summer giddiness and sex, later breaks down in tears admitting that she was once in the same position. She abandons a perfectly logical position and encourages her daughter to cheat on her fiancé. Is anyone else seeing something very wrong with this picture? And then she goes and pulls three and a half hundred letters out of the trunk of her car, since OBVIOUSLY she would have been hoarding them like they're the Treasure of Siera Madre. That's what I'd do to dissuade my daughter from making the most idiotic decision of her life.
But the worst was earlier.
"Senile dementia isn't reversible," the young doctor says kindly. "It's degenerative."
"Science goes only so far," an aged Noah replies blithely. "And then comes God."
Yes, yes, that's wonderful. I get that love conquers all. I get that you're God-fearing folks. I get that most of America sides with you on that one. I get that you're telling a love story.
But that absolutely does not justify shoving your beliefs in my face and then proving to me why I'm wrong.
I'm sorry, Romantics of the world, of which I am usually one -- love isn't stronger than reality. And don't you tell me that God beats science. Why don't you take a look at some premature babies and some conjoined twins and some tuberculosis patients, and why don't you tell me then that God's more important than science? Does God cure pneumonia? Does God stitch up wounds and disinfect? Does God manufacture chemicals and save innumerable people every day?
That's science, bitches. Yeah, thanks. Keep your agenda to yourself next time.
Which brings me to Brokeback Mountain, which should, by all rights, have been the most agenda-pushing movie in the recorded history of agenda-pushing movies.
And it did, obviously, speak in support of homosexual love -- but that's the whole point. Love.
I could bore you with the details of the breathtaking scenery and of a script so brilliant that you stopped hearing the accents and started hearing people. I don't think it's entirely necessary, but let it suffice to say that I copied half the quotes from the IMDb page into a document to save them. And that as soon as I go home, I'm going to go to Borders and pay as much money as they want for a copy of that DVD.
No, what interests me more, at least at the moment, is the comparison. There were precise moments that were startlingly analogous, and it's them that I'm going to focus upon.
In The Notebook, there's a scene in which, after fighting (again) with Noah, Allie sits in her car and sobs her eyes out. I rolled mine. In Brokeback Mountain, there's a scene in which Jack drives fourteen hours from Texas to Wyoming to see Ennis, only to be told that it's Ennis's weekend to have custody of his daughters. As Jack starts back home, he wipes at his eyes and then pulls himself together. I almost died.
When we see Old Noah at the old folks' home, the kids and grandkids come to visit. They say, "We need you at home, Dad. You're not doing any good here. She doesn't even know who you are." He says, "We need each other. I'm staying here."
Now, perhaps at face value, that sounds like deep, all-encompassing, star-cross'd, death-defying love. But you know what I think it is? Egotism. Selfishness. I'm no parent, but the kids come first. That's the whole point of parenthood, of parenting, of being an adult.
Which makes the scene I mentioned above with Ennis and his daughters even more powerful.
Also, let's examine the age-old, highly-overused, rarely-well-done trope of "love-fighting." You know the scene -- the two characters are shouting at each other, and then, as anger gives way to passion, they throw themselves at one another and commence making out with abandon.
Passion is not the same thing as love, ladies and gents. It's just not.
In The Notebook, we were told that the characters fought, and that "they had one thing in common -- they were crazy about each other." In Brokeback Mountain, there are genuine issues at hand. There are problems. There are things to fight about, and fights happen. But part of the glory of it is that none of it is shoved in your face -- neither the reasons for the fighting, or the fact that Jack and Ennis are more deeply and drastically in love than characters (and real people) like Noah and Allie could even understand. When they're first leaving the mountain, when Ennis stews for a while and then when he and Jack subsequently get into an immense fistfight, no one tells you the reason why he's so helplessly upset. No one has to. Because you've been there, and the character and the moment appeal to that part of you. No one has to tell you that Ennis and Jack are crazy about each other. You can see it build, and you can see the effect that they have on each other. You see Ennis start to open up, slowly and tentatively, see him smirk and crack jokes and let someone in, and you see the extraordinary light in Jack's eyes. No one has to outline that for you. Nobody has to spell it out. It's there. It's there, and it's real, and it's not forced to exist for the sake of the movie. It's a love story in the medium of a movie, not a movie about a (purported) love story.
Which is, really, never clearer than in the sex scenes. In The Notebook, they're drawn out, unnecessary, and utterly meaningless. In Brokeback Mountain, they're subtle and raw and absolutely flooring.
The impediment to the (so-called) lovers in The Notebook, the obstacle that prevents them from living happily ever after, is their class difference. You know, maybe once upon a time in Europe, that was a real issue. Maybe one upon a time, in the Arthurian legends and in Dickens and oh, hell, maybe even in Wuthering Heights, hate it as I do, that was a viable problem. And maybe in the era in which The Notebook is supposedly set, that might have been an issue. But in the year 2004 in America, that doesn't resonate with me. The inherent conflict of the story, as with the rest of the story, the characters, and the script, just feels contrived. Fixed. Arranged specifically for the purpose of its being there. So that there's something. That isn't romantic to me. It's bad storytelling.
Enter Brokeback Mountain.
It really just comes down to the same thing every time: The Notebook is, at the core of things, fake, painted to look cute; and Brokeback Mountain is remorselessly, relentlessly real and absolutely beautiful. Characters, words, script, conflict -- everything. It's all there. And it's all raw and vulnerable and true. Brokeback Mountain has a heart, and when it breaks, so does yours. We got a little teary during The Notebook -- when Allie betrayed a man who had been nothing but kind and supportive to her. Lon was the most understanding, rational, considerate character in that movie, and she dropped him in a second. Then she came back, and he was still willing to keep her. I kept waiting for him to give her some reason to hurt him. He didn't, and she hurt him anyway.
At the end of Brokeback Mountain, we sobbed aloud. For a long time. And eviscerated the Kleenex box. It's because this movie is about life. It tells you things. That's what art's supposed to do. That's what genuine art is -- real. That's why Mrs. Dalloway knocked my socks off; it said things about life and about love and about people, and it said them in a way that makes so much sense it's bewildering, and you wish you'd thought of it. Brokeback Mountain does that. It knows you. It understands you, because you are a person, and because it is about people, and love, and life.
And that's why it's so, so, so worth it.