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January 12, 2006

dead horse, beaten

Last night the other gays in the village finally took me to see Brokeback Mountain, and I'll have to concede that it was better than The Dukes of Hazzard.

Seriously though, before I am burned at the stake by the gays with a pyre of damp Kleenex smouldering at my feet, I must get it out that while it was a well-told and sad tale of regret, it is unworthy of the overwhelming hype I've read on other blogs and in the press, both mainstream and gay. Calm down, people. It was good, but I'm not overwhelmed at the moment, and I don't think this film is going to send ripples of change in het society's perception of gay relationships. It's just a well-made film about regret, moreso than it is a 'gay film'. That's what Ang Lee does best. Even The Hulk was about regret. Whether it be from the green-skinned, ninjakind, Sigourney Weaver, or gays...regret is Ang Lee's thing and he's good at it.

Perhaps I'm underwhelmed because I left people like Ennis behind me when I made the choice to move to the city to open myself up to the possibilities of relationships with men. I feel bad for the characters, but I know many real guys like them who are satisfied with their life the way it is and are unwilling to change for a same-sex relationship. One guy I knew when I was first coming out is still married, but living separately and alone, still in the smallish city with occasional trips to bear weekends at the coasts to fulfill his gay sex needs. I am sure he will die single, which is no crime in itself but he never let himself a chance. The other I knew from Peace Corps, whom after service moved back next door to his parents, never to mess around with men again after his brief experimentation during training. Gay is just too much for some people to grapple with. The movie paints a very real picture of many who do not immerse themselves in a healthy relationship or into a gay community.

So perhaps the massive blow to many people's emotions from the film comes from never having encountered people like this before as I have. Urban queens made the hyperjump to the city and often completely avoided the shit that Jack and Ennis put themselves through, so find such troubles, well...troubling.

Or maybe I just like sci-fi films better. And I don't have a problem with straight actors playing gay characters. Duh, they're actors - acting like something else is what they do. I mean, we can't find enough robots to play Cylons, nor aliens to play aliens. So sometimes we're going to have to settle for straight actors playing gay people.

Posted by jimbo at January 12, 2006 2:34 AM


I'm with you Jimbo. I felt bad for the characters, but wasn't overwhelmed by emotion for them.

What tore me up was Jack's mother at the end of the film. You know she knew. You know she loved Jack unconditionally anyway. And you know she would have done anything to make the hurting, longing, regret, etc. stop. I am convinced that if she'd had the resources and information, she probably would have ridden Jack and Ennis until they moved to San Francisco or New York and opened a small coffee bar or head shop. At least, that's what I got from her expression.

Posted by: Boo Augustus at January 11, 2006 11:10 PM

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "It's just a well-made film about regret, moreso than it is a 'gay film'." Ang Lee does that very well. That's probably why "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" reminds me of "Remains of the Day" more than it does a kung-fu flick.

I liked the movie a lot, but honestly? The story was better. The story (the book, the whatever) is always better.

Posted by: Jeffrey at January 12, 2006 8:56 AM

As you said, the film was well-made. The loneliness and sadness did come through. But I think because we have made choices to live openly early on in our lives, we don't necessarily relate to the supression of our desire to have a loving, romantic relationship with other men. My partner was living an "out" life at the age of 16. He liked the film but was not emotionally overwhelmed. Not like the guy at the showing I w ent to that was having dry heaves from all the emotion he was apparently feeling.

Posted by: tim at January 12, 2006 9:08 AM

I think it also helps to remember that the beginning of the movie was set in 1963 (I think that's right). I would imagine even today, in 2006, that it would be very difficult to say the least for a young man living in a small country town to come to terms with his sexuality let alone going back in time 40+ years and trying to do the same thing.

I also think that for those who haven't seen the movie it's easy to label it the "gay cowboy" movie, but once you've seen it you realize it is truly just a movie about regret which, as you said, is something Ang Lee excels at.

Posted by: andrew in SF at January 12, 2006 11:01 AM

I would agree with you that the movie has less to say about relationships in the gay "mainstream," and more to say to those of us who have chosen to remain partly or totally in the closet.
Maybe it will help some men to emerge, though, and that can only be a good thing.

Posted by: Bigg at January 12, 2006 11:03 AM

yeah, it was ok. and i think by oscar time most of the hype will have subsided and it'll be lucky to win more than adapted screenplay.
i had a totally different read of the film, tho. i thought that it was (like 'ice storm') an indictment of american individualism. thank god the symbolism wasn't ham-fisted like it was in 'crouching' and 'storm', tho.
he's come a long way from 'the wedding banquet' but its nice to be able to plot his trajectory.

Posted by: jeremy at January 12, 2006 11:49 AM

I didn't want to like (or be affected) by this film. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention 'regret' - but I feel that is only one aspect in my opinion.

The thing that really got me sobbing was Jack's death. It wasn't even the movie that made me sad, it was Matthew Shepard. That was real and it was in all to recent memory. For me, that combined with seeing how life is out there was very sad. It just illustrated how, despite our advances, that hatred and anti-gay sentiments persist - with sometimes fatal consequences. I dunno I guess I'm still not over the Shepard murder - that really saddened me and probably kept me in the closet longer.

I don't think you should be burned at the stake. But I'd be a lil gentler with us cityfolks. I knew (and sadly still know) plenty of Ennis types and I'm from suburban Boston. New England is very provincial and stubborn and there are urban areas (Southie for example) that display the same attitudes STILL - that are shown in the movie.

Posted by: TOS at January 12, 2006 11:52 AM

wait, they were gay?

Posted by: Paul at January 12, 2006 1:49 PM

Was it dry heaves or was he making out with someone? Would two guys making out in Brokeback Mountain be the equivalent of Seinfeld making out with his date during Schindler's list (a more offensive spectacle I cannot recall)? Am I allowed to make Seinfeld references on this blog?

Posted by: Boo Augustus at January 12, 2006 2:04 PM

As someone mentioned in an earlier comment you have to remember the "unity of time and place" with the story. I think that is the biggest obstacle that binds either Jack or Ennis from breaking free.

You write that "Urban queens made the hyperjump to the city and often completely avoided the shit that Jack and Ennis put themselves through, so find such troubles, well...troubling."

I would suggest that the reason that this movie has had such an affect on many gay men is that there are those who are fearful of intimacy, are afraid of taking that leap into love and in the end that's what is most troubling to them. As that one line from Rent goes, "forget regret or life is your's to miss."

Posted by: Shawn at January 12, 2006 2:10 PM

I personally think it's one of the most beautiful films I've seen, but then again I can watch American Beauty a dozen times in a row and STILL cry at the end everytime. (Yeah, I'm one of THOSE queens) I was amazed, though, how Brokeback Mtn stuck with me for days afterwards.

I think much of the hype (and disappointment for some) is due to the fact that it was billed as a groundbreaking GAY film. I think many people were expecting a very different film.

It's really not a film about being gay. The movie (and the short story, for that matter) never were intended to make judgements or further a cause. Here, gay is not good or bad... it just exists.

I wish in some ways the gay thing wasn't an issue. The themes of regret, loss and being uncomfortable in ones skin are more central to the film's appeal, for me at least.

Posted by: JD at January 12, 2006 3:10 PM

An accurate depiction of the main theme, but despite your familiarity with such types, I'm surprised that you weren't more moved it by it. It is not heart-wrenching because it doesn't ask the viewer to grieve a love that's lost. Instead, the feeling is the sadness of mourning, because the focus is a love that was never allowed to see daylight. For me the emotional impact comes from the way the film makes me look on my own love/relationship, an urgent call to never take it for granted, a fear of the loneliness that would come from losing it. Nothing that some strong brew and strong arms couldn't fix with time. Another virtue of the film is the conversations like this it is provoking.

Posted by: paul at January 12, 2006 4:19 PM

Some friends of mine saw the movie, they have mentioned that its a glorified chick flick. I still have no desire to see it. My focus is on Underworld:Evolution :-) Vampires are more appealing to me than a couple of cowboys fracking.

Posted by: Dax at January 12, 2006 8:42 PM

It's true that any movie (or any form of art, for that matter) can show you as much about the audience as it does the artist. There's something about BM, tho, that makes it an especially good rorschach test for those who watch it. I saw it with five friends, all of whom come across as the gruff/sarcastic types. The two guys I've always suspected of being closeted lifetime tv movie lovers were bawling like little babies at the end. Me, I held it together during the movie only to lose it a little when I got home. Based on your reaction Jimbo... well... :)

Posted by: Dan at January 13, 2006 4:56 PM

I saw it with my bf last weekend, and it was nowhere near as gay as I expected it to be. It was more a western than anything else. Poor Ennis was damaged goods. The movie was very good, and the comment about it being a glorified chick flick wasn't too far off the mark. After watching it, we had to go for a walk and "decompress". It didn't make me cry, but it definitely was a downer. When we got home I wanted to see a gay comedy to put me in a better mood. I wish I could have seen it on a big screen to better appreciate the scenery and vistas, that screen at the theater in Dupont Circle was barely bigger than my friends plasma tv set.

Posted by: Brendan at January 13, 2006 7:01 PM

With all respect, however, if you see it as a movie and what it attempts to achieve and already achieved around us, but less of what it compared to or meant for your own post come-out, successful urbanite life, then you would be less burdened by pride and appreciate what it is and what it could do for others.

Posted by: chester at January 16, 2006 4:27 AM

Dang Boy,

You missed the point entirely. The film was precisely about how pathetic it is to have missed out on real connection, not glorifying it. Thats why the imagery of the homes in the small towns are so grim and stark. The lives of gay men in these places are equally grim and stark...the color and beauty comes in when they are opening themselves up to the possibilities of Brokeback mountain.

Ang Lee a subversive genius in showing this. He makes the audience, I guess other then you, FEEL the pointlessness of NOT opening up to being gay, and the country is agreeing with him; If you are gay, be gay and don't hide it and make the connections so you can live a full life, otherwise your life is a pitiful waste.

Good stuff.

Posted by: Al Benson at January 17, 2006 11:53 AM

This movie obviously spoke to people differently, which is more or less what you'd expect, I'd think. I'm in the camp of folks that really liked this movie, and found it to be both profound and poignant. Why? Because the heartache of not being able to (really) be with the one that you love - while a universal truth - is also a very personal one for me, and (I imagine) quite a few other folks out there. Sure, times have changed. Things are (perhaps) a bit easier in today's society to even KNOW other gay people, much less hook up and/or fall in love with them.

I think it's no surprise that individually, folks will respond differently to this movie based on the different emotions it evoked.

It's a simple story, to be sure. And yeah, there was a lot of hype (and continues to be). For me, I enjoyed the movie a great deal, and am one of those who drag my friends who HAVEN'T seen it to the theater.

It's sad. It's wistful. It's a well-told tale of unexpected love (unexpected for both the viewers, and for the participants), angst and loss. There are a lot of other movies out there (gay and non-gay) that have the same components. When movies like that speak to you, sometimes you aren't even sure why. Othertimes, they spoke to you, and you didn't hear it. Sometimes, you didn't want to hear it.

Posted by: InTheGenes at January 17, 2006 12:44 PM

If you think BM is supposed to be the quintessential movie that defines the gay existence, summarizes all gay experience, or revolutionizes gay rights, you're going to be disappointed. What BM is, is the first major movie to be a really good movie that also has the two leads be gay lovers. That's what's amazing about it.

Posted by: Hipster at January 18, 2006 1:53 AM