Author Topic: The Laundry Room  (Read 60310 times)

Offline Front-Ranger

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The Laundry Room
« on: July 01, 2006, 11:13:05 am »
I love the theme of the laundry because it brings together two motifs to intertwine in the story and the movie of Brokeback Mountain--the garments that stand in for absent characters, and the water that carries both the story and the lives told about in the story in its flow.

In the story, the first reference to the laundry is during the embarkation of the sheep, Ennis and Jack, and all the trappings to go up the mountain, "flowed up the trail like dirty water." This was also nicely pictured in the movie. Next, in the movie, when Ennis is away from camp, Jack is cleaning Ennis's shirt in the stream, beating on it with a stick. But in a larger metaphorical way, being on the mountain and subjected to its natural forces puts Ennis and Jack "through the wringer" so to speak. For instance, a hailstorm sends Ennis and Jack to the shelter of the tent, and the sheep get mixed up with another herd, their paint brands worn and faint, and Ennis has a hard time sorting it out. Yes, that's happened to me on wash day too!!

Another example is when a storm is coming and Ennis and Jack have to bring the sheep down off the mountain. The mountain "boils with demonic energy," "the wind combed the grass," and Ennis felt he was "in a slow-motion, but headlong, irreversible fall." He is disoriented by the events and by the mountain itself. At the end of the trail, the foreman Joe Aguirre notices that everything is mixed up. "Ranch stiffs never did much of a job," he remarks.

Down from the mountain, the boys separate, but their clothing signals how much they identify with each other and pine for each other. Ennis's wife Alma is like a modern-day Ophelia, always scrubbing her husband's old shirts on a washboard but never able to wash away the memory of Brokeback that made him distant and distracted. Hint to Alma, line drying shirts in the bitter euphoric air with the hot sun striking down is apt to bring back memories of another time and place.

Ennis and Alma move to an apartment above a laundromat, and this is where the reunion occurs. The laundry is the place of transformation, a cauldron that acts as a crucible for long-buried passions to come to the surface. When Ennis is introducing Jack to Alma, he is overwhelmed by the smell of Jack, "the intensely familiar odor of cigarettes, musky sweat, and a faint sweetness like grass, and with it the rushing cold of the mountain." Away from the laundry, now, the smells continue at the Motel Siesta, until they refresh by skinny dipping in the stream the next day.

A change that occurs with the laundromat is the electrification of Ennis's thoughts, just as the washing machines that appear in the story are now electric. These references are plentiful during the reunion scene--"his shaking hand grazed Ennis's hand, electrical current snapped between them," "a hot jolt scalded Ennis."

This is the place where Ennis so tenderly says to Jack, "I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about you." In case we weren't sure whether the laundry theme was significant, we now know.

As the years go by, Ennis stays "as lean as a clothespole" and his never-changing wardrobe is noted, while Jack's transformation into a Texas dude is also pointed out. Their trips to the high country are a series of discussions of waterways and drainages. When Jack scoops up some icy stream water to drink, Ennis cautions that he might get a fever. At their last meeting, the years of things unsaid and now unsayable rise like vast clouds of steam. Suddenly a clothes hanger appears as a metaphor, being used to unlock a car door and then straightened back for its original use. This clothes hanger will appear again, and once again will unlock the truth.

As Ennis is climbing the stairs to Jack's room, he remembers the gruesome story that Jack told of his dad pissing on him when he was a child of about three or four, and how he was forced to mop up the mess, take off all his clothes, and wash them in the bathtub. It was also Jack's first revelation that he was different from his dad and other men. But when Jack washed Ennis's shirt in the stream when Ennis was away, it moved him so deeply that he took Ennis's shirt away and created a shrine out of the two shirts in his closet. In the story, Ennis discovers Jack's shirt, hung on a nail, then Ennis's blood on the shirt, and finally, Ennis's "plaid shirt, lost, he'd thought, long ago in some damn laundry..."

In the movie, the clothes hanger on which both the shirts are hung presses into Ennis's face like a question mark, as he embraces them and breathes deeply, hoping for a scent of Jack.

At the end of the story, Ennis is washing horseblankets, then goes to a gift shop to buy a post card of Brokeback Mountain. At the end of the movie, he is left with Alma, Jr.'s sweater, which he folds carefully and stows in the closet with the two shirts. The clothing dutifully stands in for absent people, silently speaking out for them, even to the point where Ennis is speaking to the shirt, saying "Jack, I swear." The tears, and the water, and wringing have had a powerful effect on Ennis and have worn him down to his essence, like the powerful effect that water has on an impassive mountain.





« Last Edit: January 07, 2009, 05:17:23 pm by Front-Ranger »
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Offline stevenedel

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2006, 11:44:10 am »
Thanks, Front-Ranger, for a very perceptive and thought-provoking post!
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Offline jpwagoneer1964

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2006, 11:50:40 am »
Good post
 One factual error in the book and movie is the mixing of the sheep. If a herd is mixed they simpley need to be led away by their respective herdsman. The sheep know there herdsman and will remain intact.
Thank you Heath and Jake for showing us Ennis and Jack,  teaching us how much they loved one another.

Offline Penthesilea

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2006, 04:23:57 pm »
The tears, and the water, and wringing have had a powerful effect on Ennis and have worn him down to his essence, like the powerful effect that water has on an impassive mountain.

Wonderful said, Lee. Your whole posting is thoughtful and full of good examples regarding clothes/laundry/water. But I especially love the above quoted sentence.

Quote
I love the theme of the laundry because it brings together two motifs to intertwine in the story and the movie of Brokeback Mountain--the garments that stand in for absent characters, and the water that carries both the story and the lives told about in the story in its flow.

I knew/felt it/have read somewhere that the theme of laundry is important to the movie. But this equation never occurred to me until you pointed it out:
clothes + water = laundry

Even at my first viewing it attracted my attention that Ennis and Alma live above a laundromat. At first I didn't know why this is so obviously shown, only recognized it. Then I read on TOB that it is to demonstrate their poverty: Alma doing the laundry with her hands, though they live above a laundromat. And this is sure a valid point. But there is more to the whole laundry theme. And you pointed it out very well.

Doing laundny for another person is also an intimate thing to do and a part of being domestic together. It is Jack who does it for Ennis, before Alma does. As it is Jack who first lived together with Ennis, came close to him, made him open up himself (not only first, but more than Alma was able to in 12 years of marriage), and finally Jack was first to have sex with Ennis before Alma had (o.k. the last one is debatable because we have no evidence for it).

Ennis is never shown doing laundry, although he must have done it before their job switch on Brokeback and later in the movie when he lived alone. Why?

Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2006, 04:33:45 pm »
I like that thought, pent, about laundry being an intimate thing to do for another person. Actually, I think that at the end when Ennis carefully folds Jr's sweater and puts it away, and then snaps Jack's shirt, that that is the first time we see him "doing the laundry" for the absent beloveds.
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Offline Midnight24

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #5 on: July 01, 2006, 05:02:10 pm »
I like that thought, pent, about laundry being an intimate thing to do for another person. Actually, I think that at the end when Ennis carefully folds Jr's sweater and puts it away, and then snaps Jack's shirt, that that is the first time we see him "doing the laundry" for the absent beloveds.

I'd like to think of it that way, too. It shows intimancy between Ennis and Jack even though Jack isn't there any more. It's hard for me to explain it, but it's hard for me to put it into words.
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Offline serious crayons

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2006, 02:02:22 am »
Great post, Lee! I watched the movie with a friend last night -- she's seen it a few times, mostly at my insistence, but is not a huge fan by our standards -- and then this morning she was musing on the meaning of the laundry. I think there's really a lot going on with it.

The big difference I've always noticed is that Jack does the laundry outdoors, in nature, whereas Alma does the laundry the way she does the dishes -- inside, with civilized "society" water. But earlier on, we see her as a hopeful young bride, hanging laundry outside in the yard, relatively in nature but also somewhat domestic. Is that because she is hoping at that point that their relationship will be "a force of nature"?

And then there's the joke, one of my favorites on the Cowboy Etiquette thread. Ennis parks in the back parking lot, right under the "Laundromat entrance around front" sign. Yet Ennis' own favorite entrance is not in the front! It's funny, but is it JUST funny? Subconsciously, I guess, he's not interested in the front-entrance laundromat life.

Doing laundny for another person is also an intimate thing to do and a part of being domestic together. It is Jack who does it for Ennis, before Alma does. ... Ennis is never shown doing laundry, although he must have done it before their job switch on Brokeback and later in the movie when he lived alone. Why?

Hi Penth! Nice to see you! Ennis undoubtedly does do laundry, but I think it's probably just not important enough to show. Instead, we see Jack and Alma washing Ennis' shirts because they're competing, implicitly, as Ennis' partner. (We do see Ennis doing other nice things for Jack, but if we saw him do Jack's laundry it might confuse the issue.)

Offline Penthesilea

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2006, 03:08:10 am »
Instead, we see Jack and Alma washing Ennis' shirts because they're competing, implicitly, as Ennis' partner. (We do see Ennis doing other nice things for Jack, but if we saw him do Jack's laundry it might confuse the issue.)

Yeah, the competition between Jack and Alma, you're right. I itemisized some of it, bit I didn't see the wood for the trees. And it might have diluted the effect if we had seen Ennis doing the laundry.

I've said it before (and many others have too), but I have to repeat it:
Is there anything in this movie that is not reasoned, well thought out and deliberate? I guess there is, there are even flaws in the movie. But I've never seen a movie where so many seemingly circumstancial, random details are not random, but deliberate and meaningful.


I like that thought, pent, about laundry being an intimate thing to do for another person. Actually, I think that at the end when Ennis carefully folds Jr's sweater and puts it away, and then snaps Jack's shirt, that that is the first time we see him "doing the laundry" for the absent beloveds.
A lovely way to think about it. I love the way Ennis folds the sweater, so careful, gentle and tender (same for the shirts). Reminds me of Amanda's thought, posted on another thread, that Ennis tends to linger his fingers on things and how he caresses the first postcard.  Ohhh, he is such a sweet guy. I just love everything Ennis.

Offline serious crayons

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #8 on: July 04, 2006, 03:19:41 am »
Ohhh, he is such a sweet guy. I just love everything Ennis.

I'm with you there! (As you well know.  ::)) I could go on and on with examples, myself. Oh wait -- I think maybe I've done that already.

Penth, your mention of flaws compared to the extreme care given to so many minute details is interesting. I hope it's not too OT, but that baffles me. And I don't just mean details like the microphone cord on little Alma Jr. or the magical peanuts and chopping-block log -- flaws that, as somebody pointed out, may have been prohibitively expensive to fix by the time they were discovered. But there are even flaws that seemingly resulted from poor planning -- date glitches, particularly -- which is strange, given how beautifully so many other things are planned.

Offline Sheriff Roland

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Re: The laundry
« Reply #9 on: July 04, 2006, 03:50:09 pm »
Here's a little quote from the book:

"...You want some a this hot water? There's plenty."
"It's all yours."
"Well, I'm goin a warsh everthing I can reach," he said, pulling off his boots and jeans (no drawers, no socks, Jack noticed), slopping the green washcloth around until the fire spat.


Seems to me that Ennis isn't just talking about body parts when he says he's "goin a warsh everything (he) can reach". So he did take care of laundry too.

Otherwise, I LOVE this thread. I love that 6 months after seeing the movie, I'm still being shown connections that warm my heart. And like a couple a people have claimed in recent posts, I too LOVE everything Ennis! It says so right there under my avatar! And that too was the name of the first thread of importance that I posted at IMDb (which can be found in the archives here at BetterMost), and the initial reason for the eventual creation of "I Love the Lighter Side" forum, also here at BetterMost.
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