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Scene Analysis Paper:
Brokeback Mountain – Reunion Scene

By Kerri Zuiker

In director Ang Lee’s 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, two cowboys meet one summer for a sheep herding job on Brokeback Mountain, and fall in love. Because of the time period – their initial encounter is set in 1963 – they have to keep their relationship a secret, and spend the next twenty years trying to balance having wives and families with continuing their relationship. The tagline of the film, “Love is a force of nature”, suggests that these two men are drawn together by something powerful and natural. The physical location of Brokeback Mountain is also an integral part of their relationship, as it is only on that mountain that they can truly be free and express their love for one another without society closing in on them.

In the scene of their first reunion since working together on Brokeback, Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar have not seen each other for four years. During this time, they’ve both gotten married and had children. One day, Jack sends a postcard to Ennis, telling him he’ll be in the area. Ennis writes back accepting the invitation to meet up again, and the next scene shows Ennis waiting anxiously at the window of his apartment for hours for Jack to arrive.

The scene starts off with a close-up of Ennis waiting anxiously at the window, smoking a cigarette and flicking the top of his lighter open and shut as he stares out. There is some non-diegetic music in the very beginning of this scene, being a sound bridge over from the previous scene, and it consists of a single guitar, playing single chords slowly.

The next shot is an eyeline match of Ennis’s view of the parking lot and street outside his apartment. This shot helps to establish the setting. We see the drab parking lot, a cloudy gray sky, and pale buildings. There is very little green in the immediate area, except for a few trees on the far side of the lot and the mountains far off in the distance. This is in stark contrast to the beautiful landscapes of Brokeback Mountain. Also in contrast to the stunning colors of the mountain is the setting of the apartment. The walls are all yellow and brown, pale in comparison to the greens and blues of Brokeback. The furniture is close together and cramped, in contrast with the wide open spaces of the mountain. The lighting is also very dark, with most of the lighting in the apartment being what sunlight comes in from the window. Even later in the evening, when there are lights on in the house, the apartment still seems very drab and dull-looking, nowhere near the brilliance of the sunlight that was present on the mountain.

After Ennis and his wife Alma have a short chat and Ennis shoots down her idea of taking Jack out for dinner, he goes back to the window, opening another beer bottle and lighting another cigarette to wait for Jack. There is a shot that parallels the first in the scene, a close-up of Ennis sitting at the same place near the window. He repeats the motions of lighting up another cigarette and smoking it as he stares out the window. This shows his anxiety about Jack’s arrival, and that his mind is on nothing else besides seeing Jack again.

The next shot cuts to Ennis sitting on the couch, with Alma and one of their daughters sitting at the kitchen table in the background. Ennis’s posture reflects the fact that he’s almost given up on Jack showing up. He’s slouching on the couch, his forehead resting on one hand, and his eyes closed. Around him are six beer bottles, which clues the audience in to about how long he’s been waiting for Jack. Ennis only moves when he hears the sound of a truck offscreen pulling into the parking lot. He looks up, then stands up and goes over to the window, where we see him smile for the first time in the scene. There is another eyeline match that shows a long shot of Jack getting out of his truck in the parking lot.

Ennis rushes out of the apartment to greet Jack, and for the first time in the scene we see Ennis happy and smiling, instead of muttering and with a somber look on his face. This shows the audience that even after four years, the two characters still have affection for each other, and that for Ennis, his relationship with Jack might be more satisfying than his relationship with Alma. He runs down the stairs and they embrace each other fiercely. During this interaction, they are shot mostly in close-ups, always showing the two of them and never just one person. The non-diegetic music also comes in again as they rush towards each other, the same slow, twanging guitar music that was at the beginning of the scene. This helps to accent the importance of their relationship, and clues the audience in on the fact that the two characters still have a great deal of affection for each other. However, the guitar music in this scene is more subtle, slow, and melancholy compared to the music that played during scenes on Brokeback Mountain. This reflects the fact that even though their relationship is still there, it can’t be as natural and free as it was up on the mountain because now they have to worry about society seeing them together. At first the hug could be just a friendly one between two friends who haven’t seen each other in years. Then Ennis glances quickly out at the street, reflecting his nervousness about being caught, and pushes Jack back into an alcove by the stairway so that they’re shielded from view. Ennis and Jack then kiss, and are shot completely in close-ups, reflecting the intimacy of the scene. The two characters, when they’re in intimate situations such as this, are very rough with each other, almost like two animals fighting with each other. This is in contrast to the gentleness that Ennis or Jack might show to their wives, and it reflects the primal force of their relationship.

The scene then cuts to a low-angle shot of Alma opening the front door of the apartment to come out and greet Jack. There is an eyeline match long shot of Ennis and Jack standing in the stairwell kissing, and then there is a cut back to a close-up of Alma as we see her reaction. She closes the door, and the camera cuts back to inside the apartment, where Alma closes the door and the camera tracks back as she walks into the kitchen. This slowly steady movement of the camera as Alma walks into the kitchen reflects the dazed expression on her face, like she can’t comprehend what she’s just seen. Along with this shot, the music plays one slow note, like time is slowing down as Alma makes her way into the kitchen, trying to keep her composure.

The scene then cuts back to Ennis and Jack as they break apart, and having just been unknowingly discovered by Alma, they are now framed in a medium close-up, reflecting the fact that their relationship has suddenly become less secret. They are then shot in close-ups again, but they no longer kiss, as Ennis tries to get Jack to stop touching him, then walking away as he prepares to go back up to the apartment and act like nothing happened. The non-diegetic music also continues through this scene, but now the slow guitar is undercut with that single foreboding note, showing the audience that the relationship between Jack and Ennis has just become a little more complicated. The music fades out, and Ennis and Jack walk into the apartment as Alma puts things in her purse, trying to act normal. Ennis stops in the doorway, almost blocking the way as he leans against the doorframe, as Alma stands at the other end of the kitchen and Jack lingers in the foyer behind Ennis. The first shot is the only one when Alma, Jack, and Ennis are all shot together. Through the rest of the scene, the camera cuts back and forth between Alma standing by off herself in the larger space of the kitchen, and Ennis and Jack standing together in the cramped foyer. This again shows the intensity of Jack and Ennis’s relationship, and creates a subtle tension in the scene because the audience knows what Alma’s just witnessed, and she shows this by standing away from the two men, never going forward to greet Jack.

In this scene, Jack is wearing a rich red button-down shirt and a brown vest. Alma is wearing a pinkish-red dress with a pale brown sweater over it. The colors are almost the same, but the colors of Jack’s clothes are rich and vibrant, while Alma’s are pale and washed-out. This reflects the intensity of Ennis’s feelings towards Jack compared to his more subdued personality when he’s with Alma.

After a brief introduction between the characters, shot mostly in medium close-ups, Jack and Ennis walk out together. Ennis leaves without really saying goodbye to his wife, just tells her that he might not get back until tomorrow, and he never steps forward to kiss her goodbye or show her any kind of affection. Similarly, Ennis and Alma are never shown together in one shot, and the last shot is a long shot of Alma standing by herself in the kitchen doorway.

This scene is a key one in terms of the plot of the film. It sets up the fact that Jack and Ennis’s relationship is going to continue past just that one summer on Brokeback Mountain. It also establishes the fact that now Alma knows that her husband is in love with another man, which will put tension on their marriage and eventually lead them to divorce, though she doesn’t tell him she knows until much later in the film. It also gives us an insight into Ennis’s personality, showing the difference in his interactions with Jack and Alma, and through his nervousness about being caught, helps to maintain that thread throughout the film, which creates tension in the narrative. The theme of “love as a force of nature” is both displayed and inhibited in this scene, as Jack and Ennis struggle with not being able to resist each other, and trying to keep their relationship from being discovered at the same time. Though each man tries to lead a “normal” life, neither can resist the attraction between the two of them.

Kerri Zuiker – November, 2007.