Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #74

The actor:Jake Gyllenhaal
The character:Jack Twist
The film:Brokeback Mountain
The quote:“I wish I knew how to quit you.”

So the problem with “I wish I knew how to quit you” is twofold. I say “problem” like I wasn’t going to guarantee it a spot on this list. Even if it’s not as high as some other quotes to come which I consider just as essential, this one is still a necessity if you’re recording the great lines of the past twenty-odd years.

The first part of the problem, the one that I don’t think people will remember if they haven’t seen the movie in a while, is that “I wish I knew how to quit you” is just one line in a scene that is absolutely full to the brim of great lines which all feel just as important. Is this one really more meaningful than “This is a goddam bitch of an unsatisfactory situation?” This line gains so much power because it comes right at the end of the longest uncontrolled explosion of the entire film. To Jack’s mind, Ennis cannot have it both ways. He cannot demand that Jack maintain his celibacy with men while simultaneously denying him the possibility of a life lived together, albeit a life lived with some secrecy. What they have, years later, is “Brokeback Mountain. Everything’s built on that.” Even the part of this scene where the focus turns from Jack to Ennis, after Jack has expressed this desire to leave Ennis and all the complications and restrictions he places on him, is awful to witness. Ennis does not get away from a comfortable life that he can return to after a few days. Ennis quits jobs, reduces himself to a hired hand with no semblance of continuity or career, all to see Jack again. “I just can’t stand this anymore, Jack,” he says, weeping. Within the context of the scene, I’m not one hundred percent certain that “I wish I knew how to quit you” is the best thing. It is merely the most pointed.

The second part of the problem is that the line, I think even to the present day, has never been extricated from the way that people poke fun at it. Some of that has to do with the “gay cowboy” moniker that Brokeback Mountain got almost instantly, around the same time that plenty of people were making a punchline of Massachusetts for allowing same-sex marriages. Does anyone believe that this movie failed to win Best Picture for any other reason than people not wanting to vote for the movie with “gay cowboys?” I sort of wonder if, in our similarly unenlightened time, part of the reason this quote has never entirely escaped the doghouse of unintentional humor is because of the accent Gyllenhaal has in this movie, of making “you” sound a little too much like “yew.” “I wish I knew how to quit you” is a victim of the dialect, because that country idiolect Gyllenhaal wears in this movie is, for all the acting and coaching, a signifier of bluntness. “I wish I knew how to quit you” is a terribly bold and naked emotional statement. We recoil at things which are that vulnerable because we are terrified of our own vulnerabilities.

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