Study Guide

Brokeback Mountain The Shirts

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The Shirts

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Cowboys need a few essential supplies. A cowboy hat. A lasso. A pair of tight Wranglers. And a good shirt. Denim or plaid is fine. It should be sturdy enough to stand up to cold mountain weather and thick enough to absorb, like a sheet of Bounty, your lover's blood if you break his nose in a fistfight.

Ennis and Jack are good cowboys, so they come prepared. Ennis, chronically unable to healthily deal with his emotions, gets into a physical fight with Jack before they leave the mountain. Punches are thrown, and a shirt is used to sop the blood. Ennis says on the way down, "I can't believe I left my damn shirt up there." And that's that.

Until the very end of the movie, when Ennis finds the shirt in Jack's closet.

The shirts are the major symbol in the story that Brokeback Mountain is based on— in fact, it clearly explains their significance:

It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he'd thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack's own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. (146)

However, the movie takes it a step further. When Ennis discovers the shirt, his shirt is on the inside. Jack's is on the outside. Jack saved them that way, because he held Ennis inside him. But with Jack dead, the roles have reversed, and Ennis is now longing after a man he can't have. So he flips the shirts, and puts his on the outside.

It's about this time in our viewing of the movie that we're seriously crying.

More than being accessories in the world's gayest Stetson ad, these two shirts are a way for the private Ennis to express his loss. The camera lingers on Ennis breathing in their scent, which must be heartbreakingly faded after twenty years of keeping them in the closet.

Oh yeah. Those shirts are kept, hidden away, in two separate closets. They're closeted. 'Nuff said.

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