The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

For the first time in my life, I wished I was gay.  Let me explain: Brokeback Mountain, a tale of two sheepherding cowboys who fall in love, is simply a beautiful film. In every major aspect: directing, photography, acting, writing, music…it succeeds.  If this were a story about a man and a woman who found each other, and through cruel fate could not be together, it would still be a good film…although one I’d be less likely to see.  In that case, we’d seen it all before.  If the man and the woman were black or American-Asian, it would be far more interesting, because of its rareness.  Such filmmakers would be not only taking chances, but would be exhibiting greater creativity and intelligence, because the symbols used to build the experience are not culturally agreed-upon.  Each moment, each image would have to be selected much more carefully.  They would be adventurers in a relatively strange land.

But this…to create a touching story of the heart using images that (for all practical purposes) have never been seen in a mainstream American film, is a breakthrough of staggering proportions. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger)  and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet one summer caring for Randy Quaid’s sheep up on an isolated mountain.  Attraction grows.  And boils over into the physical.  And then the summer ends.  The two men go in opposite directions, crafting similar lives, all the while knowing…or believing…that they can never be together.

And there are lies and betrayals, hurt and hilarity, violence and that very very precious thing called love.  Ultimately, the film is about what happens when you cannot be yourself.  When you must pretend to be something other than what you are, and the soul-killing consequences.

I have simply ached for a film that would tell a simple, honest, erotic love story such as white audiences get a hundred times a year.   People ask me: why is the sexual content so important to you, Steve?  I can make guesses, but that’s all they are.  I do know that that content is incredibly important to white audiences…otherwise they wouldn’t pay to see it again and again. And wouldn’t reject it when the images are of two non-Caucasians.  We can argue about WHY that is, but the statistical evidence is incontrovertible.

If I were gay, I suspect that “Brokeback” would hit me like a nuclear bomb.  That I might not love all aspects of it, but that I would see myself represented more directly, simply, and honestly than Hollywood has ever done before.  In a story that my straight brothers and sisters have seen so often that many of them, even those of excellent will and open heart, will dismiss it as plebian.  I might wish for a different ending, or varying story elements…

But the sad and terrible thing is that for all its flaws, it is a courageous breakthrough.  I understand that it will not be to all tastes.  No, contrary to rumors, there is no buck-naked graphic sex, although what there is will still be too much for much of the straight audience.  But it is still a film from an alternate world, in which love and human variation are viewed through a different lens than that used in this culture, at this point in time.  A good thing?  A bad thing?  It’s not for me to say.

All I will say is that, for a hundred and thirty four minutes, I saw the world through different eyes.  And that, my friends, is Art.

An easy, easy “A.”

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