Literature 2-6-2006

Letters from a Writer: Admit That You Have a Problem

Jean Sramek comes to terms with an addiction that cannot speak its name. Well, actually it can. She'll tell you.

Jean Sramek

Is it possible to have a crush on a movie? If so, I have a crush on Brokeback Mountain. I couldn’t wait to see it, and now I’ve seen it. How many times? Let’s just say, more than once. Let’s just say, it’s none of your business how many times, but more than three. Let’s just say, I’m at the point where I have started to lie about how many times I’ve seen it. I have a flexible schedule and I love going to movies alone, so as far as I’m concerned I can be a high-functioning, William S. Burroughs-style addict as long as it’s playing in Theater #5 down at Duluth 10 and I have $5.50 in my pocket. What’s worse (and weirder), I have also re-read the E. Annie Proulx short story upon which it is based, at least as many times as I have seen the film.

For the record, I am not the type of person who goes to see movies more than twice. I have my favorites, but most of them are on VHS or DVD. Once in a while a film comes along that is extra-wonderful, at least to me. I see it more than once, eventually buying it for my collection, curling up with it whenever I’m in the mood. Some I see so often that I have memorized them. My taste in films is all over the place; my list of cherished security-blanket films includes The Princess Bride, Raising Arizona, Fearless, L.A. Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Blues Brothers.

But seeing a movie several times on the big screen, in first run? Those people are neurotic. Those people need hobbies (hobbies other than membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism). Those people dress up like characters from Lord of the Rings and—worse—look like Peter Jackson in real life. So far, the clothes I’ve worn to see Brokeback are the same clothes I always wear this time of year, what half the audience is wearing—fleece jacket, snow clogs, turtleneck sweater and jeans. I haven’t gone as far as dressing up in cowboy boots and a bolo tie for my furtive matinees, although I do have this cool tote bag with a picture of a rodeo cowboy on it that a friend bought for me in Montana, and I have lately started to favor the cowboy tote over my much more utilitarian and Minnesota-nice Duluth Pack tote.

Even if I were to start dressing in Western wear and saying things like “I reckon,” it wouldn’t worry me as much as what I have started doing, which is to think about Brokeback Mountain all the time. I replay the scenes in my head while I am working or cooking or skiing. I hear the guitar twangs from the score as background music to my real-life conversations. I have started to think about the characters in the movie as though they are human people. I’m nervous, antsy even, in the hours before I hand over the money to the blasé teenagers at the ticket counter. I feel slightly depressed when I can’t see the movie, a feeling that lifts temporarily as soon as the opening titles play in the darkened theater and I know I can spend the next 2 hours, 14 minutes with Jack and Ennis and their sad, sad lives. I feel hopeful afterwards, but this turns into melancholy again while I am waiting for my next fix.

“Fix.” Yeah, I said it. Fix. And now here comes the parade of chemical dependency metaphors. Do you see Brokeback Mountain alone? Has it started to affect your work and relationships? Do you lie about how much you see Brokeback Mountain? Do you want to see Brokeback Mountain again the next morning? Blah blah blah. So I’m addicted. Fine. Whatever. I’ve read through the 12 steps and it’s all religious God crap, so your interventions and your codependency manuals won’t work on atheist me. The only step I’m willing to do is Admit That I Am Powerless Over Brokeback Mountain. I can’t Give Myself Over To A Higher Power because, as far as I’m concerned, Brokeback Mountain *is* the higher power. It’s the perfect film and I am utterly enchanted with it. While participating in an online discussion about the film, angry with people who were dissing the “gay cowboy movie” without having seen it, I sliced through the usual patient analysis about universal themes and cinematic techniques and the American male archetype and posted BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN IS THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ME, YOU ARE STUPID AND SHOULD BE KILLED, forbidden caps and all.

However, I am already actively doing the fourth of the twelve steps, which is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. I have to, because the greatest film ever made is ruining my life—not because seeing it has turned into a time-consuming hobby, but because I am unable to figure out why I like it so much. As I said, I’m not the multiple-showings type. But I can’t get enough Brokeback. I’m a big fan of Ang Lee, of screenwriter Larry McMurtry, and especially of E. Annie Proulx. What they have done together, this skillful adaptation from fiction to film, is almost too much to bear. Other people cry in the theatre because Jack and Ennis’ love could not speak its name; I cry because I’m never going to write or produce anything even 1/25th as good as Proulx or McMurtry or Lee, and what’s the point of even trying and why don’t I just take poison and kill myself as soon as the credits roll.

But there’s something else going on with me and this movie, and I don’t know what it is. In an interview, Proulx said that Jack and Ennis became so real to her, such vivid characters, that she couldn’t stop thinking about them after she had finished the short story. It took her a long time to shake them out of her mind so she could get on with her work and write other things. Normally I would long for that, but now I fear it, since I’m already kinda sorta experiencing it and I don’t know why. The only thing I know for sure is that the next showing is at 3:35.