Character: Ennis Delmar played by Heath Ledger
Plant Archetype: Yerba Santa
“Brokeback Mountain” is based on the short story of the same name by Annie Proulx. A moving and tragic love story involving two ranch hands, Brokeback begins in 1963 and covers a 20 year period. Ennis Delmar (on left in photo) and Jack Twist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) are the two young men who fall in love while tending sheep one summer in remote Wyoming mountains. They part at the end of the summer and five years later resume their love affair, although by this time both are married and have children. Jack lives in Texas selling farm machinery for his domineering father in law and is financially comfortable while Ennis continues to survive on very little as a ranch hand. Over a 20 year period they meet regularly on camping trips in the mountains and keep the true nature of their relationship a secret. Although she does not reveal this, Ennis’s wife knows of their affair and eventually she divorces Ennis who thereafter sees his children only once a month. Occasionally Jack attempts to convince Ennis to establish a life together but Ennis is terrified at the thought, fearing they will be in danger if their sexual orientation were known. Jack, lonely for Ennis’s company, starts going to Mexico to frequent male prostitutes. Eventually after their last fraught and conflictual parting, Jack is killed in Texas by homophobes, but his wife tells Ennis that Jack died accidentally. Ennis withdraws to live in a lonely trailer outside of town.
Ennis Delmar’s Archetype is Yerba Santa, the Holy Herb, guardian of the inner soul sanctum. Ennis is a character whose speech, emotions, body language and actions vividly personify the archetype of Yerba Santa. Key words for the Yerba Santa type in imbalance, taken from FES repertory, include: constricted feelings, internalised grief and emotions, deeply repressed emotions, broken heartedness, internalised sadness due to past trauma, wasting away, unclaimed grief, sadness and grief held in the chest and lungs, tendency to melancholia and introversion.
Kaminski and Katz1 report an affinity between Yerba Santa and water. Whereas water is the element of emotion (energy in motion) which by nature flows through, around, over and under without restriction, Yerba Santa “conserves its water from the inside in order to meet the intense fire of its environment.”2 Thus the Yerba Santa type retains their emotions (in particular grief, melancholy, depression, despair) to a degree that can, in extremis, result in physical illness/congestion (lungs/chest/heart chakra), stunted relationships and inhibited self expression because they are unable to release and share deeply felt pain and sadness. Consequently, these emotions colour their entire life experience. “These emotions are stored in the deeper cavities of the body, particularly in the heart/ lung/respiratory region. The free flowing, or "breathing out" of soul expression is often impeded.”3 I speculate that, like the plant, Yerba Santa types may feel they must keep their emotions inside and protected because they feel threatened by the outside environment.
Ennis the character: From the first sight of Ennis in the movie, he appears as a withdrawn, uncommunicative and deeply melancholic personality. His whole gesture speaks of “interiority”. His speech is not just the laconic drawl of the cowboy who passes long periods in silence and isolation; it is profoundly taciturn, halting and restricted. Through tight lips Ennis mumbles and virtually swallows his words, often sounding as though he has a stone in his mouth. His mouth is normally taught, pursed and he rarely smiles throughout the entire film. When he tries to express deeply felt emotions he gives the appearance of choking on the effort to get them out, as though their mere expression is overwhelmingly painful to him. Ennis’ body language is inhibited and self-conscious. He is often leaning on things in a reticent posture, looking down unable to make eye contact, hat covering his face, his chest protected. In the later part of the film as he grows more withdrawn, he is increasingly portrayed as hiding under his hat, head down, withdrawn and unavailable. His facial expression is held in, undemonstrative except in rare moments of great beauty when he smiles, jokes or softens his gaze. Ennis is strongly addicted to tobacco and smokes in much of the film. Even Ennis’s name is evocative of the profound inwardness of the person as it is pronounced in the back of the throat and one scarcely opens one’s mouth when pronouncing it (indeed many of Annie Proulx’s characters have names whose sound reflects the gesture of the person).
As Jack and he get to know one another in the mountains he starts to relax a bit and on one occasion tells Jack a little about his past. Jack laughs: “That’s more words than you spoke in the past two weeks!” and Ennis replies: “Hell that’s the most I spoke in a year!” In his first sexual encounter with Jack he behaves roughly, unable to show tenderness. Later when they first kiss he fearfully holds back, not looking at Jack as though the closeness is too much for him to bear. At their partings he is reserved allowing no verbal expression of grief. Over and over, when faced with painful situations, he is unable to articulate grief, sadness or loss while his body language portrays them vividly. His persona is imbued with melancholy; he is often portrayed hunched over a beer smoking moodily.
While Ennis is predominantly held in, his feelings can erupt with violence. However, rather than being a self expression they are reactive, a defence against his inner pain that he cannot name. For example, prior to their first parting in 1963 Ennis sits silently and moodily by the empty campsite. Jack attempts playfully to lasso him and the ensuing tussle ends in a fist fight as Ennis cannot stand the pain of parting nor accept any consolation from Jack. Later in town Ennis says only “Guess I’ll see you around” and Jack drives away in his truck. Ennis goes into an alleyway, crouching over, literally cramping in pain and pounds the wall, his sobs barely escaping. He appears to be literally driving the feelings back inside, punishing himself for them. When he sees Jack again for the first time after five years, he slams him against a wall, kissing him violently, loosing all restraint and fear of exposure. The intensity is conveyed so powerfully on film that the actor who plays Jack reported he almost had his nose broken in the process! After his wife has divorced him and remarried she confronts him with his relationship with Jack (referring to Jack as a “Nessy” implying that she sees Jack as the “real” homosexual). Ennis grabs her arm and threatens her with a raised fist telling her never to speak about Jack. He storms out of her house and steps in front of a truck that stops just in time. The driver calls him an “asshole”; Ennis is so triggered by this sexual evocation that he pulls the man out of his truck and a fight ensues with Ennis the looser. He cannot bear to face his own desire.
What is behind the melancholy, the internalised sadness and extreme fear of his own sexuality? We are given two insights into his past in the form of two traumatic events. As a young teenager his parents were killed in a car crash and he was cared for by older siblings until they both married. He remarked: “There was no more room for me, that’s how I ended up here (doing casual ranch labour).” The persona of Ennis is imbued with a deep sense of isolation and loneliness: he is still the orphaned child in mourning.
When Ennis was a child (less than 10 years old) his father took him and his brother to see the dead, sexually mutilated body of a local man lying in a gully. This man had lived with another man on their own ranch and he had been killed by other ranchers in a most horrible way. His father wanted his sons to see what happens to those who transgress the sexual norm. Ennis said, “Hell, for all I know he (his father) done the job…two guys living together—no way.” It is important of course to bear in mind that this story begins 6 years before Stonewall ushered in the beginning of a period of affirmation and an open lesbian and gay movement, and that a macho cowboy setting is likely to be very inimical to gay love. Nonetheless Jack is willing to dream and try to create a life together while Ennis chooses to live his most important relationship entirely in the shadows and deprive himself of any chance for a truly fulfilling intimacy. The feelings associated with this childhood trauma are locked inside and weigh him down. The last time they see each other, he accuses Jack of making him gay, saying “Why don’t you let me be, it’s cause of you Jack that I’m this way.” He starts to sob and swears at Jack who tries to comfort him. He cannot own his own desire but projects it onto Jack: for him desire and pain are held together inside.
After Ennis learns of Jack’s death he visits Jack’s parents (see photo above) and finally allows a small measure of pain to be expressed. In Jack’s cupboard Ennis finds one of his own shirts hanging together on a hanger with one of Jacks (Jack had clearly placed them there) and lovingly takes them into his arms. He then withdraws from society, moving to live in a trailer outside of town. His loneliness seems total, his grief never ending. In the last scene he touches the two shirts hanging on his closet door beside a postcard of Brokeback Mountain, his eyes well up and he chokes “Jack Twist, I swear…”
Clearly Ennis personifies the archetype of Yerba Santa: an introverted and melancholic figure, his feelings are constricted, his grief and emotions deeply repressed and he has internalised sadness over past unprocessed traumas.4 His broken heartedness is palpable in particular in the last third of the film. His bodily expression protects his chest area which is vulnerable and shut down. He does not seem to breathe very deeply and is very addicted to tobacco. In the film, we are shown the negative repercussions of a Yerba Santa imbalance on the lives of others close to Ennis: Jack, his wife and daughter. His wife was deeply wounded by his infidelity and withdrawal. His daughter is shown as quiet and undemanding: asking and expecting little of her father seeming to sense that Ennis was too wrapped up in his interior pain to be able to give much to his children.
The gifts and positive qualities of Yerba Santa could enable Ennis to reclaim his life. Yerba Santa would help him to give deep and true expression to his grief, broken-heartedness and melancholy so that these emotions could flow out of his being rather than remain stuck within. Ennis would discover he does not need to carry around his pain like a stone within his body cavity. He would see that his inner sanctum could be a holy place where emotions are honoured and also expressed and released. Ennis could access the emotions and states of being that are rare visitors in his life: joy, empathy, compassion, tenderness, open-heartedness and the sharing of himself with others. His posture would become more erect, his chest area open and his breathing deeper and free-er. His fear of emotions could transform into an ability to encounter their tender vulnerability. Ennis might always be a melancholic sort of character but he could live it consciously and it would no longer determine the course of his life.
1 Yerba Santa Eriodictyon californicum by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz , FES website.
4 FES Repertory on Yerba Santa: “Often, the individual contacts profound unclaimed grief, such as the loss of a beloved friend or parent early in life.”
Images from movie "Brokeback Mountain" courtesy of www.brokebackmountain.com.
Read more about Yerba Santa here.
Wendy Ayotte is an FES-certified practitioner living in Montreal, Canada. Her professional life has largely centered on advocacy, research and human rights work with children, refugees and victims of domestic violence, but she has always had a strong interest in alternative therapies and what makes humans “tick.” During a 15 year period living in Britain, she studied psychology at the University of London, and Shiatsu and Chinese Medicine at the European School of Shiatsu. After returning to Montreal, she studied Bach flower remedies at a local herbalist school. Since 1994, she has practiced meditation and currently facilitates a meditation evening at a local Buddhist centre. In her practice she combines flower essence therapy with other modalities such as guided meditation/visualisation, the Sedona method and Tarot. She hopes eventually to expand her practice to work with populations such as refugees who do not have ready access to flower essence therapy. Write to Wendy
P.O. Box 459, Nevada City, CA 95959
800-736-9222 (US & Canada)
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