Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brokeback Mountain: The Short Story

The film "Brokeback Mountain" which is garnering all this critical attention, Golden Globe nominations and many other awards which are soon to follow is based on a short story written by Annie Proulx ("The Shipping News") and is from her collection "Close Range". I was able to read this story yesterday because The New Yorker has the story up on their website, so I copied it over to a Word File to read at my leisure. This isn't a very long story, only 18 pages in Word and 10,000 words. I'll be interested to see how Ang Lee filled out the story to make a 2 hour movie out of 18 pages of not exceptionally developed characters.

The basic story has Jack and Ennis as two young cowboys, not even 20 years old, getting a job working at a ranch out west. Ennis knows that he's going to be marrying his girlfriend Alma someday. Their job is to spend all their time out on the range and to sleep out with the sheep to make sure that coyotes and wolves do not thin the herd at all. They are supposed to be working separately but they spend a little bit of time with each other and one cold night after drinking too much out on the range they warm each other up rather closely. This is how it begins, with alcohol and perhaps loneliness. After that Jack and Ennis go at each other as often as they can and not always secretively. But when the season at the ranch is over, they both go their separate ways and each end up married to women. Several years later they meet up again and pick up the passion where they left off and we see the strain this starts to put onto their lives and relationships.

While it seemed like Annie Proulx rushed the beginning of this physical attraction, she does a very good job with building in only 18 pages covering years how their passion has impacted them and affect how they treat each other and how the fear of being found out is a big deal.

I was surprised, but this is a good story, a western love story that just happens to be between two men. The gender issue is what raises adds the edge to the story because this is the unspoken, the thing that makes people uncomfortable. How this spare story will translate to the screen remains to be seen, though the critics are happy.

To give an answer to the South Park joke, I can't speak for the movie, but while there are gay cowboys, there is no pudding in the short story.

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