Friends, this is a re-post from the original S&I, which got locked right after I posted it. I felt like I had gotten my tail caught in the door as I was leaving.
I doubt that many people browsing S&I II will go back to the original S&I, although that may be just a pessimistic guess. But it took me so darned long to get my formatting right that I just hate to see it go to waste. If you've seen it before, my apologies.
(For Paul, garyd and jesse, thanks for your comments.)
Here is the original:
Two years ago, on another forum, a friend posed this question:
> I continually wonder why we have been so touched by this film. It's not
> just the gay element. I wonder if we share some deep psychological quirk
> which caused us to be so affected by this film.
This was my answer to her. It is somewhat personal, but I do believe it is properly S&I, and so I offer it here.
I've mentioned this before, but my grandson is a music education major at Vanderbilt University. A few weeks ago his parents and I visited him in Nashville (about 200 miles from where we live), and attended his choir's concert of sacred music at a Catholic church not far from campus.
The church is beautiful on the outside, but one doesn't suspect what is inside until one is, in fact, inside. It is almost barren of decorations. No statuary (save the crucifixion above the altar), no elaborate altar, no candles, no displays of gold artifacts, no fancy pulpit. The walls are bare stone, unengraved, plain granite. There are small stained glass windows, deeply recessed; one hardly notices them.
Vandy's music department frequently performs there, for one overriding reason: the acoustics are unbelievably good.
The audience that night was unexpectedly large, perhaps 300. We arrived early, and sat in the pews talking quietly. When the conversation lulled, we simply looked around the sanctuary, impressed with its stark simplicity. But inevitably, our eyes wandered to the crucifixion
The cross was elevated far above the heads of the people on the dais, and was itself very large. The figure of Christ was life size, and was clearly visible from everywhere in the sanctuary. There was no question of the message intended by the architects; it was loud and clear.
A couple months ago I posted a small reflection on the scene in the movie that showed Ennis "Walking into Signal" (my title). I felt that that single image carried with it not only the weight of Ennis's life struggles, but in fact, the human condition itself. The individual, responding to the desires of his/her heart, must accommodate him/herself to the artificial and unforgiving structures of society.
And as I sat in the church and looked at Christ, I realized the symbolism was the same.
Why are we touched so deeply by Brokeback Mountain?
I can only speak for myself, but while I (and countless others) identify so readily with Ennis, I don't think it has to do with sexuality, nor childhood disappointments, nor lack of education. While all of these no doubt added to the complexity of Ennis's personality, I think the underlying cause is the basic conflict between individuals’ inherent desire for freedom and society’s requirements for compliance. Not just in Ennis's case, but yours, mine, everybody's. I think that is why BBM touches so many of us.
I'm not a psychologist, but I think that while some folks deal with it more successfully than others, it has a lot to do with how much individuality a person can surrender before rebelling. I think there is a wide variation. I am reminded of Thoreau`s famous description about people "living lives of quiet desperation."~~~fia
Walking into Signal
I think this is one of the greatest scenes in motion picture history. It is from the movie Brokeback Mountain.
One must be familiar with the story to understand the implications, but given such familiarity, it represents the human condition so starkly, so vividly, that for me, it is virtually shattering.
Ennis del Mar walks into the tiny town of Signal, Wyoming, early one morning, seeking a summertime job. We, the audience, know nothing about him, haven’t even seen him up close. But look at the spectacle presented:
a lone man, no other human in sight
a panorama of society’s structures
the intensely blue sky
the bank of blazing-white-topped clouds with very dark bottoms
the wuthering wind
Start with the clouds. Their tops, bathed in brilliant sunlight, are stark against their dark, brooding bottoms. How can simple clouds have such an enormous range of contrast? But the question is moot, because the answer is in plain sight. It happens, Yes, it really does. And the implied question is palpable: Does Ennis also have unimagined depths?
Those clouds are surrounded by such an intense blue, that it would hurt most people’s eyes. Clouds against a blue sky are hardly uncommon, but this blue is uniquely penetrating and concentrated. Is something suggested by the tension between these extreme clouds and the potent blue sky? Does the intense blue have a significance yet to be revealed?
Later in the story we will learn that Ennis’s childhood was hard, his parents killed before he reached high school. We will also learn that his soul was branded when he was but 9 years old. But it was not society that killed his parents, and he is naive about society’s role in his branding. He thinks he has simply had bad breaks, and he is stoic.
Ennis hitched a truck ride to Signal, now walks down the road, threading his way between the buildings, seeking employment. Unrecognized by him, it is society’s structures, physical and cultural, that are informing every step of his life in ways that he doesn’t even understand. The picture we see of Ennis alone, surrounded by society’s influences, speaks volumes. He is an innocent, uncomprehendingly corralled into the design of the system, a sheep in a pen.
Finally, the murmuring wind, like the spirit of life itself, blows across everything, the good and the bad, the day and the night. An individual may realize joy, but it is only short-lived; the same applies to sorrow. So what? Who cares? Perhaps there is a higher order, a nobler purpose to a person’s struggles and hopes, perhaps not. Does the blowing wind know?
Leo Tolstoy wrote about The Three Deaths --- the rich man, the poor man, the tree -- and asked what significance should be assigned to each of them? We recognize ourselves in Tolstoy’s metaphors.
I look at Walking into Signal....and recognize myself.