Some movies are just not meant for you. Brokeback Mountain was certainly not meant for me, and I had a hard time separating the movie’s impact on me from the movie itself.
My friend J. and I went together to this remote theater, one of only two showings in the whole city of San Francisco. Stonestown Galleria is a suburban shopping mall, and the tiny theater on its edges seemed to be an unlikely place for what was hailed as a groundbreaking movie.
Hailed as “gay cowboys in love”, the movie is actually about two guys that find mutual attraction in the remote isolation of Wyoming. After the first summer of love is over, they part ways and start a “normal” life with wives and kids, only to find each other again after four years of yearning. After that, they will go on “fishing” trips on a regular basis, where they revive their love for each other.
What I found annoying was that where I live, in San Francisco, this is all ancient history. Gay couples walk around free and happy, and the whole scenario of hatred and disgust at their sight is so remote and implausible, it made me startled and angry.
Then I realized that I live on the edge of the continent, and that even just leaving the City will show a different world, one where hatred towards innocent people is disguised as religious belief. I realize that it’s been only a few years that Matthew Shephard was killed in that very same Wyoming that is the beautiful backdrop of the movie.
Ok, so the movie seemed unrealistic to me and only me. I thought more about it, and I realized that it was indeed groundbreaking, in that it depicted a gay relationship very naturally. Heath Ledger, in particular, was astonishing, much more powerful in his (mumbled) representation of a conflicted man than his counterpart, a somewhat less plausible Jake Gyllenhaal.
There is this one scene after the summer of love ends, where Ledger’s character keeps his emotions to himself until he is out of sight and then cries himself into a fury in a side alley. It made sense in the script, for with anyone else it would have required explanation. But Ledger’s acting made the strength of the emotion visible without any need for explicit portrayal.
Ennis del Mar, Ledger’s character, is the best portrayed I have seen this year. If Heath Ledger does not get an Oscar for this role, I will be very surprised, probably disappointed.
Of course, nobody could create a movie with gay cowboys without causing a stir in the conservative community. User reviews of the movie on, say, Yahoo! Movies end up being either extremely positive, or extremely negative. While the positive reviews tend to emphasize cinematographic aspects, the negative reviews focus entirely on moral issues. Here a few exerpts from recent comments:
This is just another attempt by Hollywood to ram the Gay lifestyle down our throats!
[The movie] says it is all right to commit adultery and leave your wife and family just to fulfill you sexual needs.
well, we know where they are going when they die, STRAIGHT TO HELL
Oddly enough, these readers emphasize exactly the point of the movie: that it is quite impossible in middle America to live your life the way you want to live it.
I wouldn’t be all too offended by this, if it weren’t for the fact that these reviewers typically come from a religious background that to my shock belongs to my own form of belief. At least we seem to share the same sacred texts.
How on Earth anyone could say in earnest that someone else is going STRAIGHT TO HELL and claim to be Christian, that’s beyond me. When the Christ was asked to summarize his religion, he said you should LOVE God above all else, and LOVE your neighbor like yourself. He didn’t say you should FEAR God, and didn’t mention specific forms of love you should entertain.
All in all, while I am not surprised about the controversy, it reveals an ugly side of a religion that is made of love, compassion, and tolerance. It’s sad that it turned quickly into a religion of fear, hypocrisy, and intolerance. That doesn’t make this movie one itty bit less excellent. I wished it were less realistic.