Just this week I finally watched Brokeback Mountain. I had been quite skeptical that a Annie Proulx short story adapted for Hollywood by Larry McMurtry (and Diana Ossana, of course) could be worth the hype. Don’t get me wrong. I like McMurtry within a certain context. He’s a gifted writer, and so prolific it makes my head hurt. But, I don’t like to assume the Hollywood hype machine is ever a guarantee for quality film making. Especially considering what happened with the adaptation of Proulx’s The Shipping News. But maybe that’s just me.
I digress. Whether you’ve seen …Mountain or not, I’m certain you must be at least peripherally aware of the bruhaha surrounding it in 2005 and beyond. It seems almost everyone who could justify having an opinion about a movie threw their two cents into the pot. Referred to as “the Gay Cowboy Movie,” the debates covered homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, homophobia, animal cruelty, sexual predation, the prejudices of Academy voters, etcetera etcetera etcetera. For me, all that just slowed my rush to the theatre. The husband and I feel the same way about new restaurants. Wait ’til the hubbub dies down and then experience it without peripheral distractions.
So Tuesday I plugged it in to the ol’ Netflix Instant Play queue (sometimes even I love technology), and watched it all unfold. And I was not prepared to be so moved. It wasn’t just the love story that touched me to the simple core of my heart. It was the aching truth that we humans so often do full-time in real life what Ennis and Jack and Alma and Lureen did in this story. We let things get away from us. We let things go unsaid. We make what we think are the approved and appropriate responses to relationships–personal and/or professional–and we do our best to be respectful and steady. Even when there may be something needling away inside whispering there could be more in our life. More in our heart or our spirit. We let days pass like leaves falling from a tree in a steady wind. We may not ignore that needling whisper, but we don’t exactly let it out to breathe either. Change and chance are scaryharduncomfortable. Perhaps we’re trying to protect the whisper? Perhaps we’re hoping it will finally asphyxiate and leave us alone? I’m sure it’s a bit different for each of us, depending on the who/what/where.
So I watched that movie and just wanted to puke my guts out. Because here these people are who just really are trying to be good, responsible adults. But torn between what they want and the words they just can’t say. All that energy spent holding things inside. All that time spent treading water because striking out for another shore might not be the expected or reliable thing to do. All that energy….
I am no stranger to losing loved ones. Death runs in the family, so they say, and I’m familiar with the lonesome holes that grow inside from things left unsaid. My father is a most obvious example. Six and 1/2 weeks from now will be the 15-year anniversary of his death and still, not a day goes by I don’t think of some thing I wish I could tell him or ask him about. But, what can you do? It’s like Jack Twist says in the movie, it’s “…a goddamned bitch of an unsatisfying situation.”
As I’ve gotten older, and absolutely in the last year since the husband’s accident and my decision to quit my responsible/reliable full-time job to devote my time to writing, I’ve tried to be brave. The decision to give up a “real job” to write is one way. And I’ve tried to be honest with people, too–hopefully in appropriate settings–about things I feel for them. Certainly, in The Farmer’s Story we see the danger of letting things go on unsaid, and the whole notion haunted me while I finished writing my novel. The possibility of more lonely holes opening up…I just don’t want to risk it. And Brokeback Mountain is a perfect display of why. Because Ms. Proulx and Mr. Lee and Mr. Ledger, in a story entirely different from my own, hit that scene in the trailer right on the head. It’s scaryharduncomfortable to let whispers out to breathe. But if we don’t, I think they can turn on us and eat us from the inside out. And before we know it the chance is gone.
The trick is/will be to keep being brave. To keep being honest. To keep the hubbub blocked out and all the peripheral distractions peripheral. Before it’s too late and we lose another person or another opportunity we may not get again.
Never mind the Hollywood movie. Adaptations are never as powerful as the real story as it happens. You just have to ignore the hype and listen to the whisper.