Monday, April 13, 2009

Brokeback Mountain: A "Gay" Film?

Brokeback Mountain, the story of the gay cowboys, may not really be a gay film after all. Jack and Ennis, who work together in the mountain, have a friendly relationships at first, but it is not consummated until they are drunk. 

Here we see a somewhat violent sex scene, followed by some more passionate ones, until they are caught by their employer. This is the first time in the movie where I contest the "gayness" of the film. The sequence leads you to believe that the employer is homophobic and fires Jack and Ennis for being gay. However, despite Ennis' protests that the recently changed weather isn't so bad, I have to assert that several inches of snow falling in one night is certainly a cause for concern. This brings me to another scene in the movie, when the employer refuses to give Jack any work on the mountain. The scene is constructed to look homophobic: "I don't have any work for you." However, this is not the case. In the first sex scene between Jack and Ennis, both end up sleeping in the tent, with no one to watch the sheep. As a result, one of them dies. This is the point Joe brings up when Jack asks for work. "Twist, you guys wasn't gettin' paid to leave the dogs babysittin' the sheep while you stem the rose." Bottom line is, whether they spent their recreation time having sex or fishing or drinking, they did not the job they were supposed to do, and are not reliable. 

Secondly, there is a disparity between Jack and Ennis, each man seen in a different area of two different spectrums: maturity and homosexuality. Jack is much less mature than Ennis, wanting to stay in rodeo instead of move on to business like Lureen asks. Ennis, however, is willing to do it takes to care for his family, including his reluctance to carry on in a relationship with Jack. Also, both men find themselves in varying degrees of homosexuality. Jack is the passive homosexual in the first love scene (and presumably in the subesquent scenes), and is also timid in nature. Ennis is more aggressive, sexually and otherwise, and is less reluctant about living a straight life (he already has a fiancee before the movie begins, while Jack continues to flirt around with homosexuality until he meets Lureen). And even these traits are flipped on their heads at times. Ennis shows reluctance in a love scene with Alma, and even flips her over to simulate sex with Jack. Also, Jack, when he meets Lureen, adopts more heterosexual traits, even telling Lureen, "Fast or slow, I like the direction you're going." Thus, there is no dichotomy in the movie between heterosexuality and homosexuality, for they are not jointly exhaustive; thus, the theme of the movie tends toward a bisexual approach. 

Another protest I raise is the over-glorification of homosexuality in the film. True, the setting is in the 1960's, and homophobia in the West was rampant. But this is the only factor that defines Jack and Ennis' relationship as a struggle. After all, when the men first meet, it is Jack who checks out Ennis, not the other way around. Jack makes all the advances, including the holding of hands in the tent. He mentions no history of lovers. But Ennis arrives already engaged to be married, a commitment he takes seriously. Thus, the two men meet up once more, to resume where they left off. This is seen as a struggle with society, a struggle of identity, a struggle for love. Well (and I say this with a dose of reader-response analysis), I find that reading to be bogus. These men are cheating on their wives and lying to their families. They may have been forced to act heterosexual because of society (although my gut tells me that that claim doesn't apply to Ennis), but they have families, nevertheless. I find it a serious crime to abandon your family. Let me pose this: if these men were lying to their families to sleep with former flames that were female, would they be right or wrong? My guess is that most would say it's wrong. "Well, they must keep silent because of society." Again, bogus. Adultery is adultery, and the fact that this is gay adultery is only relevant because of context. If this film was set in the Middle Ages, where adultery was an offense punishable by law (both social and ecclesiastical), then it would matter little whether they slept with men or women.  I argue that they might have ended up with women, had circumstances been different. Ennis refers to the urge they feel in a manner that implies bisexuality, not homosexuality. Jack is immature, and is ready to give up his family for Ennis, despite his responsibility as a father. The way these men speak and interact seem to be tied up in rebellion: they are going against the status quo. As Jack shows, they have excitement and danger, a natural spice for any relationship. What we have here is a film not of gay struggle but of a conflict between romantic passion and responsible marriage. 

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