Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Whitakers vs. The Del-Mar-Twists

Reader Request
I received an e-mail last week from a reader named Jackson asking me a troubling question. He and his friend, I was quickly informed, both love Far From Heaven AND Brokeback Mountain (ohhh how I love my readers) and they want me to decide which is better. Solve that toss-up dilemma!

They were each Gold Medalists in their respective years in my personal awards (2002 & 2005). Normally I'm very averse to matchups between separate years. It's hard enough to make qualitative choices in one given year betwen 100 or so films (and yes, I am a bit behind in my screenings this year --shut up) let alone comparing entries from previous years. This is why I'm so slow to ever do "best of all time lists" --I love too much. I love too many.

Still, I took this reader challenge and watched this Focus Feature double. They share a same basic tragedy: multiple miseries springing from the denial of love. They share other obvious traits, too. Both received triple Oscar nominations for their brilliant performances --huh, what's that? Heaven only received one? Stupid Academy!

And then there's the little matter of gay. Heaven and Brokeback have memorable twin sequences wherein a wife goes nearly catatonic at the surprise sight of her "all man" husband macking on, well, another man. And speaking of homosexuality --it's a major element...though it is rarely articulated. They (that is characters in both films) refer to it as "this thing." Heaven, though, adds a rather brilliant touch in that the men aren't the only closet cases. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is also hiding her true feelings for the man she loves (Raymond, her black gardener played by Dennis Haysbert) --so though the film isn't as audience accessible as the later iconic hit, it also reaches out with a wide intelligent embrace. This, the fear of love and society's ignorant backlash, is not just a gay concern.

I knew all of this already dear readers. But I was still surprised by the experience of watching them back to back. They make for fascinating twins. Fraternal, mind you, despite all of their identicals. Consider:

Period Piece. Heaven takes place in 1957-1958 or thereabouts. Brokeback begins just six years later but the similarities end there. These are entirely different worlds. The first is a spin on cinematic renderings of the era, the second using realism. Both have tremendous production values but Heaven's intrigue me more. Just how does this hyperstylized world so obviously speak directly to the 'now' whilst also paying tribute and critiquing the 'then'? It's an impressive balancing act.

Heavy Drinking. Within the first six minutes of both films the gays are drinking. The boys sure do like their booze. Further inebriated episodes follow for both Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) in Heaven and Jack and Ennis in Brokeback. But in this bender matchup I'll take Brokeback since Frank's drinking tends to lead to public humiliations while Jack and Ennis's lead to roughhousing and, um, roughsex. If you include the girls in the mix, though, Heaven closes the bar. Heath acts the hell out of a hangover, but who can compete with that daquiri soaked girltalk scene?

The Great Wide Open. Heaven features stunningly designed yet highly claustrophic interiors with saturated colors and foreboding shadows. Brokeback's interiors are understandably drab. But notice how true love always takes place outdoors. Jack and Ennis are only happy in nature. Cathy and Raymond discover their love there, too. True love, you see, is completely natural. No matter what Mona Lauder thinks of it! In this pairing I am camping with the Brokeback boys. For obvious reasons.

Marry Me A Little. Heaven has just the one confusing marriage and painful divorce. Brokeback ups the ante with two doomed brides and grooms. I'm closer to Heaven here, which has a wittier take on its central marriage.

Hung Up On You. Both films have a heartbreaking telephone call just prior to their conclusion. Heaven's features a weary Cathy scheduling her divorce paperwork with Frank and carries a sharp sting. But this contest goes to Brokeback which is more like a gutpunch. It's one of those very complex scenes in which two characters (Anne Hathaway's and Heath Ledgers) total strangers say all sorts of things and hear all sorts of things without anything much ever being said. Awesome.

Clothes. A most endearing twin trait of these two grand movies is that they both place an enormous amount of emotional baggage onto an item(s) of clothing. Obviously Cathy Whitaker's favorite scarf, retrieved by her beloved gardener and then worn while watching him depart forever is the more beautiful piece to have in your wardrobe but emotionally those two old shirts hanging together, one inside the other for twenty years, wipe me out. Brokeback sure does know how to work the tearducts.

After three viewings, Brokeback packs a bigger emotional wallop. It has always been, obviously, the more accessible. But Heaven, after five viewings, still holds me completely in a cineastic-fantastic trance. I never ever want to fast forward. It doesn't make me choke up as much (at least not anymore on the fifth or sixth viewing) but I find its complex mix of tones to be so hugely ambitious and mostly successful that it ekes out the overall victory. Plus it has Patty Clarkson so... points for that.

Still and all --Far From Heaven AND Brokeback Mountain are superbly sung battle cries for true love lost to fear and ignorance. So is this contest even fair? It's practically a duet. It's like asking me if I prefer air or water. The film fanatic in me needs both movies to survive.


Which do you prefer, readers?
And can you guess how depressed I was after I watched them back to back?

previous reader requests: Dolly Parton in the Movies (for Dusty) Best Child Actors (for John T) Classics I Haven't Seen (for Glenn) Favorite Animals (for Cal) Cher (for David) and The Sound of Music (for Becky)

tags: Brokeback Mountain, Far From Heaven, movies, homosexuality, queer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Heath Ledger


Anonymous said...

i love you. you are such a fucking cinephile man. it turns me on.

Glenn Dunks said...

That was such a great entry!

Does this mean Brokeback is right up there in your personal canon? I remember seeing Far From Heaven very high.

I would definitely choose Brokeback, but I still absolutely love Far From Heaven

douglas said...

I'd go for Brokeback ehehhehe I love Far From Heaven but not that much sorry ehehhe

redfgwtr said...

This is a very interesting debate! On my own personal film awards, neither film won best picture, but Brokeback did finish #2 (behind King Kong) and 2002 was a crowded year in which Far From Heaven finished #9 (Talk To Her won).

With that said, Brokeback is the better film. The direction, cinematography and screenplay were all phenomonal. Heath Ledger deserved the Oscar for his performance, and Brokeback overall is a perfect film up until the end where it boarders slightly along the lines of melodrama. Still, Julianne Moore gives the best performance in either film.

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

"Far From Heaven" all the way!
I simply don't like the other one. Even if I think Michelle Williams was perfect.

J.J. said...

Far from Heaven. It fires on all cylinders, whereas Brokeback puts all its oomph into one. Plus, Heaven has the most exultant, breathtaking final shot...I remember despairing as Cathy left the train station, but then in that last moment, the camera cranes up to reveal that yes, indeed, her spirit is *blossoming*. My heart leaps just thinking about it.

Brokeback has its merits, for sure, but what does it leave us with? A funeral for two men -- one dead, the other better off dead. The heart withers.

Anonymous said...

Brokeback, hands down.

Glenn Dunks said...

Performance wise, Ledger was #1 last year and Juli was #2 in 2003 behind Diane Lane.

Anonymous said...

Brokeback Mountain, which remind me the same mid-west loneliness and desperation that we see in a lot of 60's movies, from The Misfits to Hud, and some modern ones, like Paris Texas or The Bridges of Madison County. They're all about the Western agony. Brokeback is less a love story than an portrait of a terrible landscape.

Far From Heaven is a good revision of a classic director, but ir doesn't tear me apart.

- cal roth

Anonymous said...

My vote is for Brokeback, but it's a tough choice b/c I LOVED Far from Heaven too. Why are there not more movies like these in the world?!! I did find a good film sharing site recently, have you guys seen it? They let you watch the movies for free, pretty cool. Lots of good GLBT movies on there too.

par3182 said...

i appreciated far from heaven in all its sirk-ian glory but i never found it terribly moving.

brokeback mountain, on the other hand, breaks my heart just thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

Far from heaven is a five star movie for me, whereas Brokeback gets four stars.
Julianne, cinematography, music and all the art department, for me there is not even a question which one is better of these two.
Only Jake gets credit from me for his acting in BM and of course cinematography was quite top notch also. Ok the ending wasn't bad either. But still, FFH wins on all these spots plus more...

Anonymous said...

Brokeback for me too. I have that #1 for 2005. But I had Heaven at #4 in 2002. And 2005 was a stronger year.


qta said...

i got to go with FFH just barely over BBM. Tough call.... and what a great analysis!

Anonymous said...

"And can you guess how depressed I was after I watched them back to back?"

I'm so sorry I put you through this :-)...

Anonymous said...

Absolutely "Far From Heaven". Julianne rules and the direction is gorgeous. Todd Haynes is not Ang Lee. Fortunately.

Arun said...

Uh...Fucking awesome piece Nat. Great great read

My vote goes to Far From Heaven. I love Brokeback, but the former is higher up on my list (if only by a hair). Very tough call.

Anonymous said...

I love Brokeback Mountain, but from frame to frame, Far from Heaven is the more fascinating film. Besides, I think that Heaven's themes are even more expansive. Both are magnificent films, though.

Anonymous said...

frame by frame, I meant.

Anonymous said...

Far From Heaven, no doubt. Brokeback does pack a significant emotional wallop, and I think Ang Lee deserves as much credit as Proulx and the actors in making the film as good as it is, but Todd Haynes is really on another plane of cinematic existence.

And not to knock Prieto or Santaolalla, whose work I enjoy very much (both here and in other films), but Lachman and Bernstein contribute real work for the ages in FFH.

Jason Adams said...

Seriously - great piece, Nate. I know it's hardly a shock to say I'd pick Brokeback, but you do give Heaven a great case. As much as I love to watch Heaven, it's never affected me much on an emotional level. Not that doing so is a requisite for a great film, and Heaven is a great film, but personally the (grand, gorgeous) artifice gets in the way of me loving it in quite the same way I love Brokeback.

Sam said...

This was a great idea. Both movies are marvelous and I love them. I have to give the nod to Brokeback because the emotional impact was like a punch in the gut.

I thought Julianne Moore was luminous and amazing, and Patricia Clarkson chilled me to the bone when she found out the truth about the gardner. She really captured the entire stifling era in that one withering look.

Dennis Haysbert on the train was maybe the hottest guy ever in movies.

My problem with it is I never bought Dennis Quaid as gay. He was playing tortured, surely, but not gay. I would like to have seen some subtle hints but all we got was the very obvious.

In contrast, I thought Heath's extremely tortured soul and Jake's longing and his fey moments made their performances ring true.

Sid said...

Far From Heaven. Love Brokeback too (#2 on my 2005 list behind AHoV) -- but Far From Heaven keeps revealing new layers everytime I watch it.

Anonymous said...

Far From Heaven could have been a "Masterpiece" if a different actress with more believable range would have played Julianna Moore's part.

Anonymous said...

Julianna Moore indeed not so good in this film....OVER RATED INDEED!

StinkyLulu said...

Far From Heaven.

OhMyTrill said...

Great Entry!!!! I want to watch both of them right now! Too bad I
m in the middle of nowhere and don't have a DVD player...poop. I must do the double viewing soon.

Anonymous said...

BBM has more emotional pull. FFH is technically thrilling. It's kind of like apples and oranges. I've watched BBM twice. I may watch it once more one of these days, but not anytime soon. FFH I've watched once and would be interested in watching again. My initial reaction prefers BBM, but, over the long-term, my tendency is towards FFH.


ok anonymous "julianna" hater... level with me: why do you insist on calling her julianna everytime she is discussed here at tfe? --and what is your gripe against her.

perhaps you've only seen evolution ;)

i'm just curious.

Anonymous said...

Far From Heaven. Obviously. It's pretty and stylish. And pretty and stylish always wins.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I just want to give a shout out to Focus Features. GOD BLESS THEM!
Far From Heaven and Brokeback Mountain are masterful works of cinema. Besides each containing career defining performances for their respective leads, offering lush, visual wonder and providing an aerobic workout on the tear ducts, both films seem to share the theme of regret most strongly.

Both films provide emotionally nuanced experiences as they explore the regretful elegy of their characters lives but WHICH DO I FIND A FINER PIECE OF CINEMA?

Well, lets try to narrow it down with the old award category tactic:

MAKEUP / HAIR: FFH (Moore looked appropriate / ravishing)
SOUND: BM (Nature and the genius use of the wind)
SCORE: BM (Sure FFH’s is more instrumentally complex and varied but BM’s score evokes enough nostalgia and elegiac mood to lacerate the heart.)
COSTUMES: FFH (They still take my breath away)
ART DIRECTION: FFH (No contest- smart and beautiful)
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Broke… Far From … no (oh god) I’m giving this to BM for the fascinating parallels between the visual narrative and emotional terrains of the characters- but this one really comes down to personal taste.
EDITING: Neither film can really be lauded here. BM was trying to reflect repression in the editing, I get that, but I’m going w/ the graceful pacing of FFH.
SCREENPLAY: BM (A flawless, introspective work of perfection)

Jake Gyllenhaal- BM (“Gonna do this again next summer…” Magic)
*Heath Ledger- BM (It is one of the great performances of our time.)
Julianne Moore- FFH (This was like choosing between your children)

*Clarkson- FFH (She pulls the rug out from under us in more ways then one)
Hathaway- BM
Quaid- FFH
Whitaker- FFH
Williams- BM (A quite revelation)

DIRECTING: BM- Ang Lee. (Consider the performances he extracted from the actors if nothing else. Hayes’s used a visionary attack on the hypocrites of the era while also delivering pure piece of cinema, but Lee used minimalism to astonishing effect, extracted career defining performances and delivered a film which resounds with ardent emotion and elegiac beauty.


FFH: a deeply moving, innovative and gorgeously designed homage to 1950’s melodrama that fills every frame with pulsating color and cinematic intrigue. Featuring a revolutionary Moore and fine ensemble cast, FFH offers Cinephiles a unique and fascinating moving going experience.
BM: A phenomenally moving, emotionally draining, love story between two men in the 1960s. Featuring a career best from Lee and Ledger, this beautiful, landmark classic also happens to be one of the most haunting films one could experience.
Remember art is subjective and its hard to say one film’s merits exceeds the other. With these two films its almost impossible to choose. But the “list maker” in me is strong. Both my heart and brain agree that if pressed,


would get my vote. If your willing to climb Brokeback and really appreciate each subtle decision behind the filmmaking its merits are astonishing. It’s a film of rare quality; one that can be appreciated as a masterful piece of cinema and one that genuinely takes a piece out of you.

Anonymous said...

PS- Nathaniel really is god. That article was over the top!

Anonymous said...

- I’m not surprised Nathaniel went w/ Far From Heaven. If theres one thing I’ve noticed, the man doesn’t like to be obvious and does seem to have a pattern. But furthermore, I’ve always seen Nathaniel’s taste veer more uplifting (NOT in the Academy friendly, middlebrow way- but overall tone) when it comes to his top pick. He tends to appreciate more stylish, innovative films over more overtly dark, unsetting and emotionally somber films. Just look at his Top 10 lists:
Bleak, performances driven and emotionally draining dramas usually don’t make it past # 6 on his Top 10 lists. (Ex. The Silence of the Lambs, Leaving Las Vegas, Sweet Hereafter, Gods & Monsters, Boys Don’t Cry, The Hours, In the Bedroom) Plus innovate, stylish films usually topped his list during those previously mentioned films respective years. (The Truman Show, Being John Malkovich, Moulin Rouge, Eternal Sunshine, etc)
In fact only a few of his Top 5 choices over the last decade or so really contradict this notion: Dead Man Walking, 7, Requiem, Thirteen, Vera Drake and Brokeback.
That’s fine by me. To each his own. I gotta say BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It’s close, but Brokeback’s sting is something few films ever achieve.
Far From Heaven was superior in its technical aspects- stylish and no doubt moving. But Brokeback, well not to the same degree, was technically impressive as well. Both films featured magnificent acting- although Dennis Quaid and Hathaway didn’t really do it for me.
I kinda of see a Million Dollar Baby – The Aviator thing going on.
Now both Far From Heaven and Brokeback Mountain are in another galaxy compared to MDB and The Aviator but to further my point about emotion and techs I’d go as far to say of the two…

Brokeback Mountain =
Million Dollar Baby
Far From Heaven =
The Aviator

- That Nathaniel preferred The Aviator is mere testament to my point.


i should probably have mentioned in this article that despite going into it assuming that i preferred far from heaven ... it was a much closer contest than I expected so there's that. you learn new things regularly about yourself.

cinemafervor. interesting... i imagine most people have patterns of some sort but it's always interesting to see who notices yours and to notice your own all the more when others point it out. I do see this in my taste obviously. I think it has to do with wanting the filmmaker to fire on all cylinders --use EVERYTHING for your storytelling. as opposed to just having a good story angle.

although i wouldn't say that requiem disproves the theory ;) being stylish innovative AND depressing/somber.

John T said...

An absolutely stunning article, about two stunning films. I personally would go with the introverted grandeur of Brokeback, but I cannot find fault with those who prefer the pristine Far From Heaven. Can't wait for a potential sequal to this matchup (Eternal Sunshine takes on Return of the King, perhaps?)

Anonymous said...

Far from Heaven easily takes the cake on this one. I love every second of it. That said, I also awarded BBM Best Picture of 2005 so there's no shortage of love ther either. Actually, this is the first time I've realized it - Focus has had a stranglehold on my #1 movie for the last several years:

2002 - Far from Heaven
2003 - Lost in Translation
2004 - Eternal Sunshine
2005 - Brokeback Mountain

Extraordinary, no? I wonder if they'll continue the streak.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Okay, I am new to your blog, but I just wanted to see I loved your post. It's brilliant.

Glenn Dunks said...

I find it hilarious that two anonymous people 10 minutes apart (10.55 and 11.05 and then 6.37 and 6.38) both didn't like Julianne in Heaven and thought she was overrated. Coincidence? Most definitely not.

I'm with the people who said they loved Heaven but didn't get as much out of it emotionally. It moved me, yes, but not as much as Brokeback which felt like it was made for ME (and nobody else y'all)

par3182 said...

how about another sophie's choice essay request?

julianne moore vs, michelle pfieffer

i'd love to read your essay on that (and no fair a tie)

Middento said...

I'm on the Far from Heaven bandwagon. Oddly enough (given what others have posted here), I did find the story moving as all hell.

Yaseen Ali said...

I respect Brokeback a lot and will definitely revisit it from time to time, but it's no contest. Not even close.

I would not hesitatate in calling Haynes's film a masterpiece. In every aspect - acting, direction, writing, art direction, costuming, cinematography - Far From Heaven is ridiculously superior.

Anonymous said...

After seeing Brokeback Mountain four times on a huge screen and Far From Heaven only once on DVD, I'd give this to Brokeback, no contest.

You see, despite its strong technicals, I found FFH almost completely emotionally uninvolving. And that's from a huge Moore and Clarkson fan who has also loved other movies by Todd Haynes!! Go figure.

But after your article Nathaniel, and given that YOU, (such a strong admirer of Brokeback) would even have to think twice abou this, I will seek out FFH and view it again. Thanks for the prompt.

Brokeback Mountain got better with every viewing. Hopefully the same will be the case with FFH.

Anonymous said...

Brokeback Mountain is a highly overrated, dull-as-dishwater adultery drama that coasted on the "novelty" of addressing homosexuality. I think of it as the gay Gentlemen's Agreement, which was praised at the time for addressing anti-Semitism but today comes off as simplistic and heavy-handed. I predict that in years from now, people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. At least, I hope that mainstream films with gay themes will become familiar enough to cause such a reaction.

Far from Heaven, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. Every aspect of the film is brilliant, especially Julianne Moore's performance, which will certainly rank among the greatest in film history. In addition, FFH allowed the gay character to have a happy ending of sorts, whereas BM reinforced the traditional Hollywood morality that dictated that gay characters must die or be otherwise punished.


but again --i will reassert anonymous. you cannot give a gay character a happy ending if they remain in the closet.

BM is perfectly justified in its unhappy ending and that is not a symptom of Hollywood punishment. Merely truth-telling.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You simply cannot allow anyone to criticize your precious Brokeback Mountain, can you?

Craig Hickman said...

I'm way late to this party, but I'm lovin' it all the same.

The original post was way up on a mountain, very close to heaven.


I enjoy eye candy as much as the next person, and I enjoyed Far From Heaven quite a bit, but I need a film to enter me, make me experience what is happening on the screen from the inside out, not the outside in.

Brokeback Mountain -- quietly, beautifully, overwhelmingly -- accomplishes the former.

Anonymous said...

Brokeback Mountain for me. Far From Heaven always felt staged and Ms Moore's performance was not even good.

Moviefan from Johannesburg

Anonymous said...

Brokeback Mountain for me. Far From Heaven always felt staged and Ms Moore's performance was not even good.

Moviefan from Johannesburg