Monday, April 13, 2009

Brokeback Mountain: Internalized Homophobia

            While watching Brokeback Mountain, I noticed that the film took great efforts to never explicitly state what is was that was keeping Jack and Ennis apart.  The characters refer to their wives, kids, and jobs most often, but they never actually say, specifically, that is society, particularly Western American culture that is keeping the two men from being with each other.  It’s interesting that director Ang Lee and the screenwriters chose to omit this obvious detail, but perhaps they did so because it was so expected.  (One thing that this movie avoided, it was cliché.)  The makers of the film knew that Brokeback Mountain would evoke a response from its viewers, viewers who exist in the very culture that makes happy lives for Jack and Ennis’ impossible.

            One scene in particular shows that not only are Jack and Ennis oppressed by the culture in which they live, they are also a product of that culture.  “I ain’t no queer,” Ennis says, and Jack responds, “Me, neither.”  Although there is unintended truth in Ennis’ use of double negative, this exchange of self-denial is apparent to the viewer.  Hall mentions in his book, “Homosexuals certainly can act in a heterosexist manner because of their social training and perceptions of audience expectations” (Hall 241).  One can see the resistance to the expression of desire for a member of the same sex in Heath Ledger’s powerful depiction of Ennis.  In the first scene portraying Jack and Ennis’ sexual encounter, Ennis (Ledger’s character) first shoves Jack away, then the viewer sees the resistance evolve into a strange sort of combination of desire and a struggle to accept that desire.  While the scene was difficult for me to watch, as I’m certain it was for many of the Midwesterners who saw the film, it is integral to understanding the protagonists’ psyches. The two lead male characters don’t see themselves as the social pariahs, or “deviants” that their culture makes them out to be, so, in a very sincere way, they are not “queer.” They are simply what they are, and, to them, it could not be any more natural.  At the same time, however, their internalization of homophobia that causes them to marry, have kids, get jobs, and do exactly what is expected of them, socially.  Ang Lee’s film takes place in 1963, but the message is for a contemporary audience.  It is not a message that blames its audience for its characters’ suffering, but the film does ask its audience to confront its own values on the topic of homosexuality.     


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