Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Brokeback Mountain revisited

I found the following quotes to be quite curious:

"I don't think Ennis could be labeled as gay. Without Jack Twist, I don't know that he ever would have come out. I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other." --Heath Ledger.

"I approached the story believing that these were two straight guys who fall in love. These are two straight guys who develop this love, this bond." --Jake Gyllenhaal.

Okay, I saw the movie, and liked it. And I know a thing or two about what gay men are and what gay men do, and these two definitely acted like gay men. Let's break this down a bit.

Although Ledger may feel his character Ennis could not be labeled as gay, apparently Hollywood does, because everyone keeps talking about "Brokeback Mountain, the movie about two gay cowboys". Ledger tries to prove his point about not labeling Ennis as gay by saying that without Jack Twist entering the picture, Ennis would never have come out. Well, even WITH Jack Twist in the picture, Ennis never "came out". Their entire relationship was hidden as best they could. Besides, sheep herders in Wyoming in the 1960s-70s probably didn't "come out" even if they had a steady co-habitation with their male partner. I don't think I've ever heard of two souls of straight men falling in love with each other. Straight men have best friends, but they don't have sex with them. A man who's soul falls in love with another man is called gay.

I'm very surprised that Gyllenhaal sees the story as two straight guys who fall in love. If two men fall in love with each other, doesn't that pretty much make them not straight? Once again, straight men have best friends with whom they connect and in whom they confide, but they don't lie to their wives so they can sneak off and have sex with their friend. The idea that they had this great love and great bond is a wonderful idea. I know because I, too, have a great love and a great bond with my partner. And we're both gay.

Remember too, when Ennis & Jack's "fishing trip" is cancelled because Ennis has his daughters that weekend? Jack gets mad, drives across the boarder into Mexico and has sex with a male prostitute. If he weren't gay, wouldn't he have just found a female prostitute with whom to have sex? That's what a straight man would have done.

Then toward the end of the movie when Ennis is visiting Jack's parents he learns that Jack had told his father than he and another man might buy a neighboring ranch and help his dad out. This was the same offer he had made to Ennis many years before. If Jack were straight, why would he fall in love with another man, have sex with a male prostitute, and dream of setting up housekeeping with another man?

Now wait a minute, you might be thinking. Both characters got married to women and had children. That's what straight men do. That's also what some gay men do before they accept themselves and start living authentically. I know plenty of gay men who got married in the hopes of 'curing' themselves, or to please their parents, or to fit into society better. Let's face it, if you CAN be straight, you've got a much easier life ahead of you. But many finally learn to accept that they are gay and stop living a false life with their wife and children. But that is more common for men in the last 15-20 years, much later than the characters in Brokeback Mountain.

I don't find fault with the movie at all. To me it is clear that these are two gay men who did what they could in order to see each other, while living in a largely straight society. The movie is what it is: a story about two gay cowboys. So, why do these two actors (Ledger and Gyllenhaal) think their characters weren't gay, when everyone else knows they were? Could it be because they think Americans are so sophisticated that they can actually understand the difference between gay men and two straight men who fall in love? Is it because they don't want to be stigmatized by having played "gay"? Do they think that two straight men who fall in love with each other is just more palatable a concept?

We'll probably never know the answers to those questions. But here's what I do know: Jack and Ennis were gay. And I should know.

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