There are spoilers for "Brokeback Mountain" in this post. Do not read it if you don't want to be spoiled...
I'm not the only one who was somewhat confused by the end of "Brokeback Mountain," wondering just what it was that was going on in Ennis' head in those last several scenes. Well, upon my fourth viewing of it last week, I think I finally got it. At least, I think so.
My revelation starts with Ennis and Jack arguing about not being able to get together again until November and how much Jack thinks that sucks, but not in a positive or life-affirming way (kudos to anyone who gets the reference). I think at this point Jack realizes that it's never going to be what he wants, no matter how long he waits for Ennis to snap out of his fear of getting found out, and their relationship as it stands just hurts too much for him to let it continue. He's lost his hope and his faith. Ennis can't get passed the trauma of seeing what could happen to gay cowboys when he was a little boy.
Then Jack dies... and that's a crushing blow to Ennis, even without knowing for sure that he was beaten to death. Then when Ennis finds out at Jack's parents' house that it was the ranch foreman, Randall, and not his chatterbox wife, Lashawn, that Jack was having an affair with... Jack had lied to Ennis because he couldn't tell him the truth, that Jack was trying to get on with his life, that Ennis really was too much for him. And then the shirts in the closet. I think Ennis realizes something there or soon after, that Jack was right, that they could have had a sweet life, instead of the one they did have. It might have ended with them both beaten bloody on some nameless road, but at least up to that point, they would have been together and happy, instead of apart, living separate, miserable lives.
This realization causes the last scene of the movie to suddenly make sense in my mind. The first several times I saw it, I was too overwhelmed by the sadness of the ending to make sense of it. We see that Ennis is trying to get on with his life too, as best he can, given the circumstances... Alma Junior is getting married and his first reaction is to think to his job, his fear of loosing it that would keep him from being at her wedding, the same way his fears kept him from Jack for all those years. He stops himself from doing all that again, from causing more pain and regret. It might cost him his job, but if it makes his little girl happy, right then and on her wedding day, he'd be there. And when he swears to Jack, he's swearing - I think - that he's not going to keep letting happiness and connections to other people slip away from him because of being afraid of possible consequences.
Now, this is what I get from the movie... Might not be what anyone else gets or what the writers/director/actors intended, but there you go. That particular scene wasn't even in the short story, so I'm not sure what it was that Annie Proulx intended us to conclude about Ennis. I just can't let a movie that's so pretty end on such a bleak note. I have to believe something good for Ennis came out of all of that.