Brokeback Mountain Reaction and Masculinity

I had never seen this film before we started it on Wednesday – This film definitely deserves its praise from a cinematic and psychosocial perspective.

Firstly, the performances. I was truly impressed by the leading men (and women) in the film. This type of role takes guts, research, and vulnerability that is incredibly difficult to portray on screen. Heath Ledger (speaking in a voice similar to Tom Berenger in Platoon, the height of masculinity), dances between masculine detachment to loving happiness when he lets his guard down with Gyllenhaal (Jack). The moment that really stuck out to me above all else was when they reunite for the first time after their first time on Brokeback and Michelle Williams (Alma) sees them kissing. The moment really captures the gravity of the situation the two (or 3) are in. Ennis had never really showed that kind of joy and raw sexual energy with his wife (minus the one scene where he flipped her on her stomach to be in the same sexually dominating position he was in with Jack in the tent). Building off that moment, Williams does an extraordinary job throughout the film of showing her pain at seeing her husband is gay – but the way she portrays it is NOT out of disapproval for his sexual preference, but out of her feeling dejected and lied to… The fact of the matter is, she did love the father of her children and just wanted a normal marriage and life. Jumping back to the male leads, the pent up aggression, frustration, and energy they expose in the solitude of the wilderness juxtaposes their home lives so bluntly and makes their situation incredibly clear.

One of the questions surrounding these men, is, if they are gay… how do they manage to consummate their heterosexual marriages? Do they have bisexual tendencies or does their wish to stay closeted in a bigoted society enable them to perform sexually in their normal home lives? It’s another layer to a complicated narrative that looks at this micro relationship in solitude while examining the macro relationships in the social context in the stark mid-west towns they call home.

Next, Ang Lee, who took home the best directing statue for his film, does an excellent job of capturing the starkness, bluntness, and loneliness of middle America. It reminded me of Malick’s Badlands or Payne’s Nebraska. The shots color structure, visual spacing, and phallic¬†nature ¬†allow the naturalness of the male relationship to unfold more realistically. Furthermore, the costuming is masculine but neither man is overly fit, leading to characters disguised as classic men, though hiding their true feelings beneath the clothes. Fitting (no pun intended) that the final shot in Jack’s shirt, covering Ennis’s shirt in the closet as the starkness of the country waits outside the window with a storm looming in the distance.

There’s also a TV show on Showtime called Shameless where two of the main characters in the ensemble are teenagers who are gay and in love. The show treats their relationship as having one of the characters be open about their homosexuality while the other is a gun touting south-side Chicago hoodlum who would rather use violence to cover up his homosexuality than admit it to the world (or his father) and face the backlash. By the most recent season, however, the hoodlum character has come out and has declared his love for the other. Now, the show treats their homosexuality the same way it treats it heterosexual relationships on the show, which is an incredibly impressive feat.

People have been talking about ebert’s review of the film. Here is an excerpt that I completely agree with:

“But it’s not because of Jack. It’s because Ennis and Jack love each other and can find no way to deal with that. “Brokeback Mountain” has been described as “a gay cowboy movie,” which is a cruel simplification. It is the story of a time and place where two men are forced to deny the only great passion either one will ever feel. Their tragedy is universal. It could be about two women, or lovers from different religious or ethnic groups — any “forbidden” love.”

That’s why the film works. It’s because this is a love story. A love story that travels through time, societal change, and family life that could happen to any one, gay, straight, or bi. It doesn’t matter. These are two people who loved each other, but society said it was wrong. Maybe that’s the best way to simplify.

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