Author Topic: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?  (Read 19076 times)

Offline Frank H

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In her kind welcome to myself to this forum, Katherine (to whom I send belated birthday greetings), mentioned that "Wuthering Heights" is also her favourite novel, and suggested that a thread be started on the similarities between this novel and the movie "Brokeback Mountain".

It so happens that on the IMDb forum, which I infrequently visit, a thread was started titled "BBM – a one of a kind film?". This is based on the reply I posted:

BBM is not the only movie that has moved me to tears, but it is the one which has affected me the most, so that weeks after first seeing it, I still think about it most days. No other movie has had that effect.

The only other comparable experience for me was when I first read "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte, many years ago. That so affected me that I couldn't read another novel for many months after.

There are many similarities between the film BBM and the novel "Wuthering Heights" (incidentally all of the attempts to make a movie of Emily Bronte's novel have failed miserably to capture its essence). In looking at some of the comments on Wuthering Heights by critics, I am struck as to how, in so many cases, similar comments could be made about BBM.

Here is one such:
"Bronte may lead us to question whether there is any one natural and social order, the same for all men and women. The conflicting individual heavens and hells confront one another at every turn: incompatible ways of life, coupled in grotesque ways which sometimes lead to violence and hysteria, sometimes to lifeless neutrality and sometimes to new and fuller forms of life. Yet the novel is instinct with a sense of life's intensity and resilience, even defiance, in the face of misery and death. It makes no exclusive moral judgements, except, perhaps, one of hostility towards all complacent assumptions and artificial schemes of salvation. It leaves us with a host of unanswered questions and embodies no consistent philosophy of life. But the perfection of form is such that every event seems inevitable, and its subjective heavens and hells are raised to a level of universality." (Frank Goodridge).

Replace "Bronte" with BBM, and "novel" with "film", and I think that could apply pretty well to this remarkable movie.

Another scholar (W.A.Craik) remarks about Emily Bronte's remarkable novel: "The novel is curiously sterile; it has no imitators of stature, and has had no influence on the novel after itself. One re-reads Wuthering Heights and responds and wonders, but one not only feels that Emily Bronte could not have written another novel, one does not even desire it - any more than one desires another King Lear".

Again, you could replace the novel Wuthering Heights with the film BBM, and "Emily Bronte" with the group of people together responsible for BBM, and I suspect that that will hold true for BBM. Other films will probably be made taking up one or more of the themes explored in BBM - but I suspect that none will ever approach its particular mysterious power. It will thus remain "one of a kind" - in the movie category, in the same way as "Wuthering Heights" has remained "one of a kind" as a novel.

The Craik comment on "Wuthering Heights" does break down in one respect vis-a-vis BBM. It is quite clear from various forums that there are many people desiring, longing for, more stories and movies to try to re-visit BBM. While understanding this, I do feel that such desires are doomed to be disappointed. Brokeback Mountain is, like Wuthering Heights, a mysterious and elusive place - the sort of place which if we try to seek, we won't find - a place which wonderfully and miraculously has to come to us.

Frank

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2006, 05:16:18 pm »
Wonderful post, Frank, and a promising idea for a thread. I really like what you wrote here: "Brokeback Mountain is, like Wuthering Heights, a mysterious and elusive place - the sort of place which if we try to seek, we won't find - a place which wonderfully and miraculously has to come to us." That's one similarity between both works--both are named after places which resonate with a mysterious, even numinous power. These places help shape the stories of Ennis and Jack, and Heathcliff and Cathy, respectively, but go on to function almost as characters in their own right, but in ways that are mysterious and difficult to articulate.

Another parallel, which you yourself have cited in a previous post, is that both works trace love stories that are ensconced within a particular place and time, but intimate a level of experience that transcends space and time. One senses that Ennis and Jack are soulmates, likewise for Heathcliff and Cathy, and there is a strong indication (particularly in Bronte) that theirs is a love that will endure in Eternity.

Yet another similarity is that both stories depict passionate, tragic affairs which end in death and grief for the protagonists, but (and here I invoke the film Brokeback Mountain, as opposed to the Proulx story) in which the torch of happiness and hope is passed onto the younger generation, suggesting that the unresolved issues of the elders will find fulfillment within the lives of the children.  Hareton and young Catherine will likely know the connubial bliss that eluded Heathcliff and Cathy, just as Alma Junior will have the experience of living openly with the man who loves her, a joy denied and unknown to her father.

Thank you so much for initiating this thread. I look forward to the discussion which it hopefully will engender.

Sincerely,
Scott   

Offline Frank H

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2006, 12:56:01 pm »
Scott, many thanks for your post. What you have written resonates very much with feelings and thoughts I have had about the Brokeback Mountain (BBM) film.

You write:
Yet another similarity is that both stories depict passionate, tragic affairs which end in death and grief for the protagonists, but (and here I invoke the film Brokeback Mountain, as opposed to the Proulx story) in which the torch of happiness and hope is passed onto the younger generation, suggesting that the unresolved issues of the elders will find fulfillment within the lives of the children.  Hareton and young Catherine will likely know the connubial bliss that eluded Heathcliff and Cathy, just as Alma Junior will have the experience of living openly with the man who loves her, a joy denied and unknown to her father.

In this one paragraph you touch on two issues which I find especially illuminating. Firstly, how much does the film BBM differ from the original Proulx story, and how important are the differences? Secondly (tied in with the first question to an extent), does the ending of BBM include a dimension of hope, and how important is that? In discussion of these the novel  Wuthering Heights will also be relevant.

I have now seen the film through a number of times. I have as yet only read entirely through the Annie Proulx story once, although I have carefully re-read particular sections.

My impression as it stands is that there is rather more difference between the short story and the film than seems to be admitted by many. This difference involves both details of the story, and the characters involved in the story. And the changes are actually not just minor details, but are ones which spring from an underlying philosophical difference. That this is apparent despite the fact that a lot of the dialogue in the short story translates almost directly to the film, is an indication of just how subtly it has been done. In the extra features on the current DVD, Diana Ossana states that it is still “Annie’s story”, and of course it basically is – but I believe that what the film has done has so transformed it that it has now acquired a very important extra dimension (or dimensions). In brief I feel that the film BBM transcends the short story.

I am still in the process of working out for myself why I feel this, using of course many insights from posters on the various BBM forums. As regards the particular insights derived by comparison with Wuthering Heights (WH), I believe that the closest similarity – by some way – is between the novel WH and the film BBM. The Proulx story BBM actually stands rather at a distance from these. Even further away – not even on the same planet – stand the various attempts to portray WH on screen (all, in my opinion, more or less dismal failures - perhaps inevitably so).

To put it at its simplest, I believe that the film BBM has a strong metaphysical dimension largely (although not completely) lacking in the short story. In metaphysicizing the BBM story, the film thereby aligns itself much more closely with the novel WH. As for the various WH films, they all fail to represent the strong – indeed all-pervasive – metaphysical dimension of the novel. They thereby manage to transform one of the most remarkable works of genius in the English Language into nothing more than standard romantic fiction (is “chick-lit” the current term for such stuff?). There is nothing necessarily wrong with standard romantic fiction – but neither WH nor BBM fall into that category. It rather annoys me to find Emily Bronte so often put into the same category as writers such as Daphne du Maurier. In fact, Charlotte Bronte does fall into that category (in a very superior fashion) – but Emily emphatically does not.

If I post further in this thread, I may go on to consider how I think the movie BBM manages to transcend the original story. The importance of Alma Jr (is it significant that she is the last living person to be seen in the film, apart from Ennis himself?) is certainly one factor. Another is the subtle but significant changes made in the characters of the two main heroes. (Just for starters – I cannot imagine the Ennis of the BBM film ever calling Jack – or anyone apart, perhaps, from his daughters –  “little darlin”)

For now - here is another comment on the WH novel from a distinguished literary critic [from Lord David Cecil : Early Victorian Novelists]:

"Wuthering Heights - the very name is enough to set the imagination vibrating. We hear it perhaps spoken in a London street, for a moment the intricate roar of traffic and chattering people fades into stillness: and instead our mental ear is filled by the rush of streams, the shock and reverberation of thunder, the whistling of the wind over the moors. Nor is the sound fainter to us than it was to its contemporaries. Alone of Victorian novels Wuthering Heights is undimmed, even partially, by the dust of time. Alone it stirs us as freshly today as the day it was written"

That comment was first published in 1934, 87 years after the publication of Wuthering Heights. Another 72 years have passed, and that comment reads as true today.

Will similar comments be written about the film Brokeback Mountain in 2092? In 2164? I would like to think so - and I can think of no film I have ever seen which would deserve them more - for it seems to me to stand as alone among the films of the present era, as Wuthering Heights stood as a novel in its era.

That’s enough for now.

Best Wishes to yourself, and to all lovers of BBM and WH.

Frank
« Last Edit: October 10, 2006, 11:13:19 am by Frank H »

Offline serious crayons

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2006, 06:02:12 pm »
Hi Frank, thanks for the birthday greeting, and thanks for starting this thread. Great posts. Yours too, Scott. Yes, WH is my favorite novel. I've read it countless times, though not lately. (It was seeing the movie -- the Timothy Dalton one, not the Laurence Olivier one -- that first prompted me to read it, but you're right, neither film does justice to the novel. Maybe Ang Lee should direct a version! And while he's at it, Heath would make a great Heathcliff.) I've read many academic critiques of it. I had someone read a passage from it at my wedding.

As you guys have said, what WH and BBM have in common are their depiction of a love that transcends ordinary experience -- a love that, by comparison, makes ordinary experience seem pale and boring and less than fully alive.  Metaphysical is a good way to describe it, Frank. Both use the same strategy to establish the overriding power of that love: by depicting it as a force of nature. Both loves flourish in a specific wild isolated outdoor place, a place that would feel harsh and inhospitable to all other characters but in which the lovers themselves are quite comfortable -- the only place, in fact, that they really feel at home.

Both loves are doomed because they violate the constraints imposed by society. Both stories turn tragic when one partner betrays the relationship in order to follow society's rules. Society, in contrast to the natural outdoor loves, is symbolized in both by dull domesticity. In BBM, the conflict is sexuality and in WH it's class, but in both the character denies his/her real nature in order to honor social conventions -- a mistake that leads to tragedy and loss.

Both loves are depicted as so elemental as to transcend all other issues -- even gender. I don't mean to further the argument, which personally I don't buy, that either Jack or Ennis is an otherwise straight man who "happened" to fall in love with another man. But when people do interpret the movie that way, or when they speak of it as a "universal" love story, I think what they're responding to is the sense that, on one level anyway, their love is so great that matters such as gender sameness seem irrelevant in comparison. Meanwhile, the love between Cathy and Heathcliff is hardly even sexual -- and it's not clear whether its chasteness is the product of the Victorian sensibilities Bronte was dealing with or an indication that their love is so powerful that actual sex is almost beside the point. In the language of BBM, it mainly seems "a shared and sexless hunger." There's even a hint that Cathy and Heathcliff could be half-siblings, but a little thing like the incest taboo is unimportant compared to a love that's "like the eternal rocks beneath."

What else? Well, setting aside what I said about sex above, both loves are depicted as violently passionate; Jack and Ennis' reunion kiss draws blood, and by the time the maid interrupts Heathcliff and Cathy's kiss when she is on her deathbed, Cathy is more or less actually dead. Both, obviously, end with one person dead and the other living on for years, tormented by grief. Both suggest that the dead lover's spirit in some way now does, or should, reside at the place of their initial happiness; Cathy's ghost seems to wander the moors, Jack wants his ashes scattered on Brokeback.

And both, as Scott put it, feature endings

in which the torch of happiness and hope is passed onto the younger generation, suggesting that the unresolved issues of the elders will find fulfillment within the lives of the children.  Hareton and young Catherine will likely know the connubial bliss that eluded Heathcliff and Cathy, just as Alma Junior will have the experience of living openly with the man who loves her, a joy denied and unknown to her father.

And yet, although certainly that torch passing is meant to be seen as a ray of hope, both of those endings are strangely unsatisfying. Hareton and Cathy Jr. are portrayed as reflecting the spirited nature of their elders, albeit in a milder and more socially acceptable form. And Alma Jr. is similar to Ennis in many ways. But, maybe because the film and novel have already gone so far out of their way to show the love between the main couple as bigger and deeper than any other love ever, it's hard to get very excited about Hareton and Cathy Jr. and Kurt and Alma Jr. Maybe that's just me.

WH has a happier ending, paradoxically, because Heathcliff eventually dies, after which we're allowed to imagine the two lovers' ghosts roaming the moors together. Ennis' story ends far less satisfyingly -- he's still mired in grief, haunted by his memories, his fate wrenching and unresolved.

Offline Rutella

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2006, 05:54:45 pm »
I feel a bit stupid replying to these amazing posts cos you guys have the most fantastic use of language and critical minds. I also haven't read WH so a couple of years (though reading this has made me go and grab it from my bookshelf and start re-reading it tonight for sure) but as soon as I read the first few lines of this thread I thought yes! Becaause what both BBM and WH do for me is make me ache to leave society and to escape outside into the wild. And when I finish reading/watching either it takes me a good half hour or so just to remember where I am. It hurts when I watch Ennis inside a trailer/flat/whatever because it reminds me how I can feel so suffocated unless I have open air above me.

There's a wonderful place in the north of Scotland called Rannoch Moor, which is so isolated and wild that I always want to leap from the car as we drive through and just run and run until there is nothing but me and the wild. I have a thing about moors in general, but especially this one (whether this is because of reading WH at a v young age, so if I was drawn to the novel because of my natural love of moors I don't know). My husband however only really lives on the mountains, and we frequently discuss out potential sweet life, in a crofters cottage in the middle of nowhere, by moors and mountains and rivers, but at the moment we're stuck with Edinburgh, a city where at least I can see mountains from my kitchen window.   

Sorry I've corrupted your amazing thoughts with my random personal nonsense.

Offline Frank H

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2006, 12:37:23 pm »
Hi Rutella

There's a wonderful place in the north of Scotland called Rannoch Moor, which is so isolated and wild that I always want to leap from the car as we drive through and just run and run until there is nothing but me and the wild.

Tell you what. I know where Rannoch Moor is!

I really do. I travelled through part of it in 1965, on my way up to the Orkney Islands. It was my first, and so far only, time in the Scottish highlands. Since than I have visited many countries in Europe, parts of the western USA, and Israel - and I have seen nowhere which surpasses the western Scottish highlands in its haunting beauty. The one major drawback to that area is the profusion of biting insects (I am allergic to many insect bites).

Please don't feel "stupid". You are not talking nonsense. Thanks for your comments, and I am sure you have more good things to contribute.

To Katherine - I really appreciated your post on this thread. I haven't yet had enough time to compose a reply properly discussing the interesting issues your post raised. (I'm a member of quite a number of forums - probably too many - not all about BBM). I hope to get this done soon.

Best wishes to all,

Frank

Offline serious crayons

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2006, 01:07:55 pm »
To Katherine - I really appreciated your post on this thread. I haven't yet had enough time to compose a reply properly discussing the interesting issues your post raised. (I'm a member of quite a number of forums - probably too many - not all about BBM). I hope to get this done soon.

Thanks, Frank. I look forward to seeing your thoughts. Meanwhile, you might be interested to know that all this has inspired me to pick up Wuthering Heights again. (The copy I own has a spine held together by masking tape. And this isn't even my original copy!)

I'm maybe 30 or 40 pages into it. If I find any more BBM parallels, I'll report them here.

Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2017, 08:04:08 pm »
Kathryn, I hope you're planning to watch the PBS show, "To Walk Invisible: the Bronte Sisters," tonight. I'm lighting the fireplace, making a special dinner, and pouring a glass of 12-year-old Scotch for the occasion!
Too much to do. . .I don't have time to get old!

Offline serious crayons

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2017, 09:09:34 pm »
Kathryn, I hope you're planning to watch the PBS show, "To Walk Invisible: the Bronte Sisters," tonight. I'm lighting the fireplace, making a special dinner, and pouring a glass of 12-year-old Scotch for the occasion!

Oh my gosh, I hadn't even heard about it, but luckily I saw this post exactly 2 minutes before it started, so I ran out and hit "record" in the nick of time. I have literally three other shows that run on Sunday night that I watch and/or record ("Big Little Lies," "Girls," and "Feud: Betty and Joan").

"Walk Invisible" runs here from 8 to 11 and I don't want to stay up that late, so I'll save it for later in the week. Besides, I don't have 12-year-old Scotch, wood in the fireplace or even a particularly nice dinner planned. So I could either attempt to make do with uncomfortable accommodations as a tribue to Wuthering Heights and Haworth, or wait until I'm better prepared.

Thanks for telling me, FRiend!






Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: "Brokeback Mountain" and "Wuthering Heights" - both "one of a kind"?
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2017, 11:05:39 pm »
One should never be without a bottle of 12-year-old scotch. Single malt.

And it's "Bette."

 ;D
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.