I recently decided to re-watch Brokeback Mountain, and I was quite surprised that I was able to notice things I had previously missed. The characters felt different to me compared to when I first watched the film back in 2006.
I remember when I was sixteen years old and hurriedly played the DVD wanting to watch the 2 hour film before my parents got home. I didn’t know the film existed until I watched the Oscars that year. The thought of watching a multi-Oscar-nominated film about two cowboys falling in love was something I was looking forward to. However, I wasn’t ready for the story to wrench my heart out the way it did. It took me a whole week to stop feeling sad and humming the soundtrack every other second. The final scene where Ennis buttoned up Jack’s shirt and straightened the postcard haunted my dreams.
On my very first viewing, Ennis and Jack were the perfect characters to me. They were the gay versions of Romeo and Juliet and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t run off and live a happy life. I was actually mad at Ennis’s wife Alma for divorcing him and leaving him alone. It wasn’t as if Jack’s wife left him!
However, re-watching the film after eight years, and growing up in a country where LGBT rights are non-existent, I found a whole new angle to the film. Ennis and Jack weren’t the perfect characters I previously thought them to be, and surprisingly I discovered a new found respect for the female characters in the film, especially for the wives.
Ennis Del Mar
Played amazingly by the late Heath Ledger, Ennis Del Mar is the character you want to comfort the moment he comes on screen. After his parent’s death, his siblings brought him up the best they could. He can’t really understand his feelings for Jack, and actually told him he wasn’t queer. He loves Jack, but a childhood traumatic event, where his father made him look at the body of a supposed homosexual beaten to death, has a lasting impression on his psyche. The experience stops him from accepting Jack’s offers to permanently live with him throughout their 20 year relationship.
Considering the story is set in 1963, his reluctance to come to terms with his sexuality is understandable. Ennis isn’t the kind of character who openly expresses his feelings, even to Jack. The only moment where he expressed his true feelings was during their last meeting in 1983 when Jack said he wished he could quit him after an argument. The words stung Ennis and he fell to his knees crying.
I won’t call Ennis a coward, but I would definitely call him ‘reluctant’. I couldn’t understand why he won’t leave with Jack. There wasn’t any mention of the Gay Liberation Movement or the LBGT Rights movements in the film. These civil right movements were actually happening during that time. I think the author of the short-story the film is based on deliberately left that part out. I think she wanted to focus on the characters rather than what was happening outside the areas they lived in.
At first, I used to think Ennis wasn’t leaving because of his wife and kids, but even after the divorce he didn’t leave. He didn’t even
give Jack a glimmer of hope that he would leave after his daughters turned eighteen when he would stop giving child-support. I’m not questioning his love for Jack, but he didn’t make things easier for Jack either.
Ennis’s whole personality is of someone who has a very fixed idea about what his life should be but he’s happy with the bare minimum. He is used to working but he isn’t focused on achieving success. He didn’t even try harder to provide for his family because his wife realized early on she had to pitch in if they wanted to pay the bills. To him, Jack was an escape; he could meet him once or twice a year, but he had to return back to his rigid idea of what it means to live an acceptable life in Wyoming.
As far as his sexuality is concerned, there are differing opinions. Some critics label him gay while others call him bisexual. I think Ennis is gay. He married Alma, had kids, and even tried to get another girl because that was considered ‘normal’ in society. Ennis is a perfect example of closeted gays living in countries where LGBT rights don’t exist. Coming out as gay can mean a death sentence for some, depending on the area they live in. I think if Ennis grew up in a society where being gay was acceptable, he would’ve lived his life as gay man.
For Ennis, Jack was the only other guy he fell in love with, and that was enough for him. He didn’t even try doing it with another man. Believe it or not, there are closeted gay guys who are happy doing the deed with the same man they fall in love for the rest of their lives. Ennis was already reluctant to open up to people, and after divorcing Alma, and the conflicted feelings he harbored for Jack, he completely shut himself from love.
He kind of reminded me of Dumbledore who, according to J.K Rowling, led a bookish life after his sister’s death and Grindelwald’s leaving. The same holds true for Ennis. Jack’s death was the last blow to any ability he had for finding someone to love again. This led to him being happy with the memories he had of Jack.
However, I saw a bit of development in his character when his 19 year daughter came to invite him to her wedding. After showing some reluctance at first, he accepted the invitation and felt happy about his daughter finding someone who loved her back.
I always felt sad about Ennis having to live without Jack, but after reading the short-story the film is based on, there was still some happiness in his life. He had his daughters in his life, and after his eldest daughter’s marriage, I like to think that Ennis would’ve been a part of his grandchildren’s lives as well.
So, to me, Ennis is a character who didn’t seize the opportunity when he could have. I understand he had a childhood fear of being killed if someone found out he was gay, but he didn’t try to make it work with Alma, even when Jack hadn’t contacted him yet. He didn’t try to restart his life with his new girlfriend either. He chose to live such a life, a life without Jack, content in his own little world, remembering the moments he spent with the one and only man he loved.
I will be back with a character analysis about Jack Twist, and how he kind of moved on from Ennis as the years passed.
I highly recommend reading the short-story written by Annie Proulx. it’s easily available on the World Wide Web. It will surely give you a better understanding of the characters.
Let me know about your thoughts about Ennis Del Mar from Brokeback Mountain!
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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