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Learning from an audience

Posted at 11:38 AM on January 2, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Happy New Year, one and all.

Going to see a movie seemed like a good way to start the New Year, so the Kerr parental units, as the teenagers so charmingly call us, went to see "Brokeback Mountain" on New Year's Day. Intriguingly, there was a huge line at the theater, snaking outside in the chill late afternoon, reaching back towards the parking lot. This was due to the fact that both "Brokeback" and "Capote" were screening just about the same time, and clearly people were breaking the fun/stress/monotony of the holiday weekend by hitting the movies. (There was also just one person selling tickets.) No-one seemed to mind, and given that both movies have been out for a while now, it seems at least an anecdotal indication that these two films are clear Oscar contenders.

"Brokeback Mountain" is a sweeping, beautiful, and sad film, exploring the never-ending human tragedy of forbidden love. Director Ang Lee uses the cold grandeur of the Wyoming landscape to focus the isolation of Ennis and Jack, the star-crossed cowboy lovers of Annie Proulx's story.

There is a moment of horrific revelation involving three characters in the film, which anyone who has seen "Brokeback" will remember. Several people in the theater laughed aloud when it happened. Apparently this often happens during this particular scene, adding to the discomfort of watching what is playing out on the screen. One friend said it made him quite angry to hear the giggles, and he was amazed at what he saw as crass behavior.

On reflection though, hearing how other people are reacting may well add to the power of "Brokeback." The laughter is strange and clearly offends some people, yet it's worth asking what might be causing it. Unfeeling jerkiness on the part of some audience members could be a reason, but more likely it's an emotional release; a way of dealing with the tragic realization that the bottom just fell out of someone's world. The laughter is easy to misinterpret, which adds to the tension of the experience.

Such moments are relatively rare, particularly in these days where more and more people are seeing movies at home rather than in the theater. As a result they are worth savoring, despite any discomfort.

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