Grief: A Novel

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STANDING IN LINE for Brokeback Mountain the afternoon it opened in Washington at a little theater near Dupont Circle, I saw two kinds of people: silent gay men of a certain age, and clusters of laughing college students. For the former, the movie we were about to see was personal, crucial; for the students, I guess it was—cool. The college students were happily chattering away. The gay men were lined up, in our individual solitude, waiting to weep. As I counted the thinning hairs on the head of the man in front of me, I thought: The sadness of Brokeback begins outside the theater.

There had been so much buzz and praise for this film that I was proudly prepared to be the first kid on my block to hate the picture; and, to be honest, it was not very long after it began that I found myself wishing Fred and Ginger would burst onto the set and tap dance across the screen, like Dom DeLuise at the end of Blazing Saddles. There were even times when I found myself looking at my watch, or thinking the movie should end here. The relentless bleakness, the one-note, unrelieved gloom, made me impatient. Then, the last twenty or 25 minutes, the whole movie rose onto another plane altogether, and when it ended I wondered how most of the audience was able to stand up so quickly, gather their coats and leave. A few of us remained in the dark theater, on our feet, listening to Willie Nelson sing “He was a friend of mine,” watching every single credit unroll until only the corporate logos remained. I was relieved to know it was already dark outside, glad I did not have to walk past a gauntlet of people waiting for the next show. I was so upset I went home and phoned a friend in New York who had seen it the previous week. It was only when he said, “I don’t want to bring you down, but…” that I could tell I was in some sort of semi-hysterical reaction that was probably explained by mid-life crisis or the Christmas blues I had been hoping to escape when I went into the theater—i.e., what one brought to the work of art as well as the work of art itself.

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