Monday, June 26, 2006

"Brokeback Mountain" is a Great Movie About Two Men

Ang Lee has made a superb, spare Western. The two stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, did a fine job – Ledger, in particular, deserves every award they give for his Ennis Del Mar. The rest of the cast was excellent, and excellently chosen. The filming – sets, locations, cinematography – are what Lee does best.

There has, of course, been some controversy about a "gay cowboy" movie. Part of the motivation for the movie was, no doubt, to take the iconic man's man figure of the cowboy and queer it, including a Matthew Shepard-like twist. Beyond the high concept, though, is still a story of two realistic men, who go beyond the rough sociological categories that we all need to use most of the time.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago on Michelle Wolkomir's interesting book Be Not Deceived: The Sacred and Sexual Struggles of Gay and Ex-Gay Christian Men. Wolkomir reported that the key factor for most of the ex-gay men in the study was that they loved their wives and wanted to keep the vows they had made to their wives and to God. The gay Christians, on the other hand, had decided that their sexual orientation made their marriages impossible, and therefore were working on reconciling a homosexual identity with conservative Christianity.

Applying this helpful distinction to the two well-realized men in "Brokeback Mountain," I reached this conclusion: Jack was gay; Ennis was not. Jack was always attracted to men, and never stopped seeking men, Ennis among them. Ennis, on the other hand, did love his wife and daughters, and wanted to be with them. He also loved Jack. Not men in general, just Jack. He did not reconcile his two loves, and there really was no way he could. This is what makes the film a tragedy.

But "Brokeback Mountain" is not simply a movie about "gay cowboys." It is a tragedy about two men, one of whom is gay.


bombsoverbaghdad said...

I've never seen the movie. Though I've been sympathetic to gay causes in the past, I'm getting unnerved by some things going on, particularly in the media. Gayness seems to be ubiquitous, and I don't think that's good for families.

Gruntled said...

"Ubiquitous" may be a bit of a stretch - the Chicago study estimates that only about 3% of the population is homosexual.

Anonymous said...

I have to challenge the notion that gayness is bad for families.

Most gay people have no other desire than to live in a normal family relationship - 2 parents and perhaps children. It's just that the parents are the same gender.

Studies have shown that this does nothing to hurt the children, nor does it make it more likely that they will be gay.

Stereotypes about gay people have caused most of the "bad for families" ideas. The average gay person is not diseased, is monogamous (as much as any straight person) and is otherwise socially acceptable.

Once upon a time, we said all kinds of bad things about "negroes". Those stereotypes are dead and buried for the most part, as they should be.

Time to get out the shovel again.

Anonymous said...

I had never really thought of the film that way, even though I have read tons about the film and analysis of it's characters and the sort. It is true, I believe, what you said about Ennis.

The big talk among my friends and I is the discussion Jack has, about wanting Ennis to come live with him and be with him, and how essentially, in the end, Ennis DID give up everything for Jack, and Jack never realized or noticed that.

Anonymous said...

Per Mark's Comment:

My friends looked up at me from their couch, seated next to one another as we watched tv. They each were working on their laptops, and their two dogs were curled up at their feet.

"This," one of them said to me, indicating the four of them, "This is the gay agenda."

bombsoverbaghdad said...

That most gay people are monogomous and want to live in families is absolutely untrue. I have gay friends, and they tell me this.

My problem is with the effect that promoting gayness has on man-woman families. Men seem to be coming under the influence of a media that says that men aren't exploring their gay sides enough. I don't have a problem with "gay families." I live next door to a gay couple that is considering adopting, and that's fine with me, as I am actually assisting them. Please don't paint me as a bigot. What I do have a problem with is driving around and seeing depictions of gay men kissing on billboards, gay TV everywhere, gay maniquins in stores, etc. (I live in California).

I rejet in total the comparison between blacks and gays. I consider that highly offensive.

Anonymous said...

I think that sexuality is actually on a continuum, so I would argue that Ennis possibly is bisexual in his physical attraction as well as his emotional attraction. Perhaps it was his fear of the culture that influenced his decision to stay with his wife as much as his love for her. I do think monagomy is preferable and affairs like between Jack and Ennis are not helpful. But I am aware of several long-term gay relationships as well as long-term heterosexual relationships. Some of them have been faithful to their partners or spouse while others have not. I do not see it as a function of orientation but more of how people cope with conflict. Due to the nature of my work, I will remain anonymous. What does that say about our culture?

Gannet Girl said...

A lot of people have commented that Ennis isn't really gay. I don't know, but I think he is. To me the real tragedy highlighted in that movie is two men who love each other but cannot be who they are -- and how that inability (not their being gay, but their inability to live openly as gay men who love each other) destroys everyone they care about (although Ennis's daughter seems fine in the end). I think it's one of the most powerful movies I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Of course, it's just a movie, so any speculation about Jack and Ennis's sexual orientation is just that, speculation, but it is interesting to think about.

First of all, I think the fact that you seem to rule out or ignore bisexuality is interesting. (and probably pretty offensive to bisexual people, I'd guess.)

Second, your catagories of what constitutes gay and straight are defined soley by behavior: Jack is gay because he has sex with men and Ennis is not gay because he stayed married (um...even though he had a 20 year relationship with another man?!).

Of course, because it's a movie, we don't know really what's going on, other than what is said and what the characters do. However, you're basically saying that Ennis was straight because he was "monogamous" with Jack while cheating on his wife, and Jack was gay because he cheated on his wife with Ennis and other men. You're simply conflating the complex issues of sexual orientation, sexual behavior and monogamy and trying to draw conclusions about sexual orientation based on the other two.

The fact that so many people know that they are gay before they ever experience any sexual behavior demonstrates many of your assumptions to be faulty.

A previous commenter writes, "That most gay people are monogomous and want to live in families is absolutely untrue. I have gay friends, and they tell me this. "

Sorry, but your friends are hardly a scientific representation of all gay people. It is inappropriate and offensive to stereotype all gay people on the basis of one person's friends. The plural of "anecdote" is not "data."

Anonymous said...

I have not seen the movie but am reminded of the discussion of this film that occurred on RealTime w/ Bill Maher...they were making the distinction between "camping trip" gay (which I assume would be the role Ennis would fulfill) and "full on" gay (presumable Jack)...the wild card question is, 'what is gay?"...that's also an issue discussed in the media-there was even a prominent gay character on The Sopranos this year and the mob guys discussed how prison sex gets a pass and is not considered gay...

Gruntled said...

Yes, Ennis and Jack are fictional characters, but I think they were unusually well drawn. This gives us more to go on than just their words and a rough description of their behavior -- more, in other words, than I can convey in words.

I don't rule out bisexuality, I just don't think it is the right account of Ennis' motivation.

Anonymous said...

In response to bombsoverbaghdad's comment on June 26. You state that this proliferation of gayness is having some effect on man-woman relationships and that it is encouraging men to explore their gayness. Do you think seeing two men kissing on a billboard will turn a man gay? Are you worried about a cumulative effect?

I've been gay my whole life and felt extreme societal pressures to fit into a "heterosexual world". I have also been exposed to countless examples of heterosexual affection in the media. Nothing has changed my natural innate attractions.

Gruntled said...

What do you think of bombs' other point, that most gay people are not monogamous and don't want to live in (monogamous) families?

Anonymous said...

I work at a university and I'm amazed at the sexual activity of my residents. I don't think that gay people are more or less apt to promiscuity. I do think that in a society which does not validate gay relationships, it is not surprising that those relationships would be more transitory. I speculate that many of those individuals who say they do not want a relationship might have bitten a sour grape. Many people have jobs, families, churches, laws, etc which prevent them from being "out" and having a civil union or marriage. They would never admit to wanting something which they cannot have.