Sunday, January 15, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

I was finally able to get tickets (online) to see "Brokeback Mountain" at Studio on the Square this weekend, and the film lived up to my high expectations. After weeks of reading reviews from critics and viewers, I was finally able to see it myself. Even though I have been listening to the audio book of the excellent short story the screenplay is based on, and knew the story and ending, I was still moved by this powerful movie.

There are different views and interpretations of this complex movie, even within the gay community. The anti-gay Christian Right interprets it is an example of the threat homosexuality poses for "traditional" heterosexual marriages and families. Some gay people are not too comfortable with the main characters either, since they are married and probably "bisexual", they do not relate to them as "gay" characters. "Gay Liberationists" can view the movie as an example of how "the closet", imposed by traditional family and religious values, restricts the sexual and romantic freedoms of the characters and forces them into unhappy relationships. Regardless of these different views, there is no denying that the movie is a tragedy. But some of the greatest movies (and literature) are tragedies! The lack of a happy, clean ending is no reason to dislike the movie.

I've heard some criticism from gay men who do not like the movie because the Ennis and Jack are bisexuals, and bisexuals who try to "straddle the fence," make gay people look bad because of their behavior, etc. I would remind them that there are a lot of people between the 0 and 6 on the "Kinsey scale". The characters in Brokeback Mountain may not be gay! I don't know. Society forces people into the "gay" v. "straight" categories NOT nature! Human sexuality is more complicated than black/white gay/straight! Human sexuality is COMPLICATED!

I loved the movie because of its complexity. Unlike such "blockbuster" movies as King Kong (which I enjoyed because I love science fiction and escapist fantasy movies), Brokeback Mountian is grounded in reality, in real lives, in real characters, in real life situations. While modern urban gay people may not relate to the situation of Jack and Ennis in Brokeback Mountian, their stituation and life choices have been more common in history and American culture than the "sexual freedom" following the post-Stonewall gay movement. Brokeback Mountain begins in 1963, before Stonewall, before the "gay movement," before "gay bars" or "gay culture" was established in the United States. Little social space existed then for open same-sex relationships and for the few who tried it, there were great costs, as Ennis's recollection of the hate-crime murder of a gay man back in his youth.

Some have painted Jack as a "sexual predator." No, I see him as a dreamer. Jack clearly falls in love with Ennis, and has a dream, a belief, that they could be happy together, have a open relationship, live on a ranch together, etc. Ennis know better. He has seen society's violent reaction to such an open display of contempt for "traditional" family values. Ennis accepts the limits society has placed on him: he has no education, he is poor, he is married and has children to support, he has obligations to his family he cannot walk away from. He is trapped. That is the tragedy of this love story, like so many others (Romeo and Juliet). Yes, this is a tragic love story, it is not a "gay cowboy" movie.

No, Jack and Ennis are not "heroes." They are not perfect. In fact, there are things about them we cannot accept and do not like at all. I didn't like the way Ennis treated his wife. I felt sorry for her. But as he admits, "its not her fault." The sexism in the movie jumped out at me. It was the early 1960-70s, and women even then were treated as second class citizens by men.

Like the "real world," there are social forces at work in Brokeback Mountain. Sociologists focus on these forces which shape the choices we can make in society: religion, family, economics, sexism, heterosexism, and social class. Can humans free themselves from these social forces? It is a struggle we all engage in, and Ennis and Jack have to work within them as well. Getting free is a struggle, a hard and difficult task for the best of us.

As for the film, the cinematography is wonderful, the director did a brilliant job, all the acting is great, especially Heath Ledger who took my breath, not just because he is very HOT, but his acting is phenomenal. He gets into the skin of his character and creates an impression that wil stay with you, like other great acting roles which win Oscars, he is a sure bet. The movie should win Best Movie, Best Director and Best Actor at the Oscars, which gives me a reason to watch this year's Oscar show.

2 comments:

Thyron said...

America is more open-minded than it seems -- look at the success of that awful Brokeback Mountain movie -- it is a sad state in gay (white) America that people are lauding this movie. I didn't realize how deeply gay America's desire to assimilate until this movie came out. I cannot wait until gay (white males particularly) learn that equality only comes when a film simply “about being gay” can draw an audience beyond its core demographic.

There is no chemistry between the characters, the writing is poor, and, even worse, the plot is out of date and detrimental to gay rights. The sex scene are unerotic -- even after 20 years of screwing each other secretly, there was never a tender moment between Jack and Ennis. I can understand the roughhousing during their initial tryst, but they should have had at least one tender moment between them.

It also didn't help that Lee chose eye candy to play the leads. If people read the book (as I have), they would know that both characters were homely looking men. I would have been more impressed if they got average looking men like William H. Macy, James Gandolfini, Michael Rooker, or Terry Kinney to play the lovestruck cowboys. Instead they chose metrosexuals. However, methinks that the gay fanboys wouldn't been swooning over the movie if average Joes played the leads.

In reality, this movie should have been controversial twenty or thirty years ago; it should be little more than a blip on the proverbial radar.
The gay community deserves better -- look at how much has been accomplished in the last few decades ? This movie does nothing to change the status quo -- all it does is titilate and entertain. I give it two thumbs down!

Jim Maynard said...

Well, I have to disagree with Thryon's negative view of the movie. In fact, I don't consider the characters to even be "gay."

I think it is "revolutionary" to show sexual/romantic attraction between two NON-GAY men... Same-sex love or sexual attraction is not limited to a small fixed percentage (10 %) of the population, and what the movie demonstrates is the opposition between society's oppression of same-sex relationships and the natural sexual attraction that can and does exist between even non-gay men.

So the film is not really about "gay white men" at all.