Gay? Not Even Mildly Content
Is there a real place called Brokeback Mountain? Or did Annie Proulx make it up? (Rhetorical — don’t deluge me with emails about the geography of the Western states.) I wonder, cuz the name so perfectly evokes misery and pain and loneliness and all those other tragically romantic heartbreaky emotions that twist your gut into a knot in the best love stories. (And this is one of the best, like, ever.) Not flat-
And I wonder too whether now, Brokeback Mountain won’t be real now… not a physical place but a cultural space, a tangible moment in time in which some folks’ eyes were opened to the pointlessness and unkindness of their bigotry. I don’t like to say stuff like “This movie could change the world!” cuz as much as I appreciate the power of movies, I just don’t think any one of them could be that powerful… but if it changes the minds and thaws the hearts of just a few people, that’s a start, maybe.
Brokeback Mountain might be able to do that because there’s nothing in the least political about it — it’s not about anything more than two people in love. The two people both happen to be men, but they’re not guys who’ve “made a lifestyle choice” or are trying to “make a statement” about anything, and perhaps the fact that these guys couldn’t be more guyish might convince those who need convincing that that’s true for everyone who’s not heterosexual. “You know I ain’t queer,” Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar says with something like chagrin to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist after they discover their mutual attraction to each other. “Me neither,” says Jack. And though this has annoyed some who rightly see that while gayness itself may not be political, the fight for acceptance certainly is, it’s nevertheless true that Ennis and Jack aren’t “queer” in the sense that is about lifestyle (or, more often, stereotypes): they are ruggedly, Marlboro Man masculine, aggressive and inarticulate, men who fit perfectly into their 1960s Mountain West ranching and hunting and fishing “lifestyle”… except that they’re gay and know full well that to let that be known in their world is, quite literally, a death sentence. If nothing else, Brokeback‘s challenge to traditional images of masculinity — and that they do not always signify what we think they signify — is quite a blow by itself.
In one sense, the tortured path Ennis and Jack travel together could be a gay one only incidentally, as they age from hot young lovers to a couple of (sorta) comfortable old farts — the simple, familiar terrain of a romantic relationship is instantly recognizable, and Ledger (Casanova, The Brothers Grimm) and Gyllenhaal (Jarhead, The Day After Tomorrow) beautifully navigate all the little moments of tenderness and anger, frustration and joy that a longtime couple experiences. (Their one sex scene is so unforgettably scorching and so looms over the whole film that you might forget that they do have just the one, but their attraction for each other remains palpable, and serves as a searing reminder that romantic love, gay or straight, is about sex; sure, it’s about other things, too, but sexually attraction is pretty much the basis, and straight “romances” often seem to forget that, are either about some kind of seemingly sexless love or some kind of seemingly loveless sex but only rarely manage to convincingly combine the two.)
But of course, their lives together — which is limited; mostly, they’re apart — are tortured because they’re gay, because of all the subtle narrow-
None of that is said — there’s very little overt in Brokeback Mountain. Director Ang Lee’s (Hulk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) beautiful sad empty mountain vistas say some, but mostly, it’s Ennis — Ledger is extraordinary here, so still and constant and beaten — who carries not just a heavy burden of secrecy but also of a genuine, fear-