Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Motivation Mountain

Since I want to talk about motivation, I want to talk about “Brokeback Mountain.” And not about my motivation to see it.

Wife, a friend, and I saw “Brokeback Mountain” a few days ago, and after seeing it, wondered what all the fuss was about. OK, it’s a big-budget epic involving two gay characters, a first for Hollywood. But it’s still your basic love story, except with two guys, who can never be together because of the times in which they live. (Think of "Roman Holliday" without Audrey, Rome, Eddie Albert, or comedy). Lots of gorgeous scenery, horses, sheep, drinking, smoking, mumbling, averted stares. Just happens to be two guys.

Sadly, “Brokeback Mountain” moves about as fast as a vehicle in the middle of a ten-car pileup. The movie is all about love unfulfilled, love repressed, love stymied. Nobody is ever happy. This seems to be Ang Lee’s stock in trade. “Sense and Sensibility.” “The Wedding Banquet.” “The Ice Storm.”

Give me one good reason

Even in the totally awesome “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the central tenet is that love does not conquer all. “Brokeback Mountain” is “Crouching Tiger” without any ass-kickin’ fights. I mean, if Chow Yun-Fat could not find it in his bones to jump Michelle Yeoh, he musta been seriously repressed.

There’s almost no sex in “Brokeback Mountain,” which even us straight men could have watched more of, if only to break up the boredom. (At least, a lot more hot man-on-man action* would make angry homophobes patently crawl with disgust -- because they might like it.)

The specific motivations of the two cowpokes stuck up on Brokeback tending sheep, Ennis and Jack, are never given voice. We’re supposed to infer their hidden desire by sideways glances and furtive looks. And the fact that Ennis speaks an entire sentence to Jack.

As they share a tent one night in the mountains, they give in to their nature, and, though they proclaim they ain’t queer, it was a one-shot deal, their proclamation is about as convincing as me telling Wife, “Oh, my forgetting to flush the toilet -- don’t worry, that was a one-shot deal.”

Their subconscious motivation -- they’re gay, they’ve fallen in love, and opportunity presented itself -- is obvious, even if they aren’t aware of it. And that is what I find interesting.

Motivation is the point, and it’s a sore spot of mine when it comes to writing. Because I’m lousy at it, and don’t think enough about it. Unfortunately, knowing a character's motivations is about 95 percent of the battle.

In a fiction workshop, when one is asked the reason why one of your characters slept with his best friend’s girl or blew everyone away with a Kalashnikov or masturbated on the front lawn of his junior high school in front of Principal Skinner, the worst answer you can give, the one that will earn the most scorn of teacher and students and make you look like a Blithering Idiot is, “He did it because he just did.”

Sadly, yours truly was the one uttering those blasphemous words. As a young writer, the idea that characters needed motivation was alien to me. They did what they did because that’s what they did. Jesus Christ! Isn’t it obvious? But such insouciance does not a good writer make. Even if it’s not clear to the reader, the writer needs to know what makes their characters tick, beyond the usual lust for power type of stuff, which we know makes all men tick.

Actors totally have it over writers here. You go into any Acting 101 class, and you hear the same mantra everywhere: what’s the character’s motivation? Why is she doing this? What does she want out of this situation, this person, this life? Why does Ennis want to shag Jack, then keep him at arm’s length?

My motivation for writing this blog, for instance, is to garner all the power, wealth, fame, money, and chix that I can lay my grimy, ink-stained hands upon. (It’s working really well). That’s the only reason I write. That’s the only reason I live.

Don’t tell Wife.

*(I do not use the phrase “hot man-on-man action” as a cheap way to attract people looking for sexual content via search engines. I mean, if there’s hot man-on-man action, there’s hot man-on-man action, and no amount of mentioning hot man-on-man action is going to eliminate hot man-on-man action that’s in hot man-on-man action. I mean, hot man-on-man action.)