Controversial, but not just propoganda

Hollywood and political propaganda are peas and carrots ("The Life of David Gale," or "Runaway Jury"), but "Brokeback Mountain" is no vegetable. Although the film has ample opportunity to morph from a tragedy to an agenda with a story attached, there is actually no distinctive evidence of this degradation. Those who denounce it should do two things. First, make sure to see it, and second, bring more to the table than "this movie is just another shameless attempt to depict homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle."

In Charlie Kaufman’s "Adaptation" (directed by Spike Jonze), Charlie, the lead character, said, "I don’t want to cram in sex or guns or car chases or characters learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end. The book isn’t like that, and life isn’t like that, it just isn’t." Many movies seem to suggest that life is fairly simple, comprised of learning tidy lessons and conquering obstacles that, at one point, seemed insurmountable. But perhaps the reality is that, between a hodge-podge of overlapping episodes, there is always love and the relationships it builds and tears apart. "Brokeback Mountain" illustrates this point with great care and eloquence.

While director Ang Lee paints a painfully vivid picture of broken lives, the moral lines are blurred by the controversy surrounding homosexuality. Tell us about an extramarital affair, you will get attention ("The English Patient"). Tell us they were in love before they went their separate ways ("The Notebook"), you may even get sympathy. But tell us they are gay, and you will incur intense, emotional puzzlement.

What this movie "suggests" about homosexuality is entirely debatable, and a secondary theme. The current of the story is carried, primarily, by two people who jeopardize their families (both with children) because they refuse to end an affair. (Both marriages are stable until the affairs begin).

Ennis and Jack are scorned and persecuted because of their rumored sexuality, and some would say that Lee is covertly seeking sympathy from the audience. But this is not accurate. Homosexuals are, especially in particular areas of the country, scorned and persecuted. Lee does not go out of his way to exaggerate this persecution of homosexuals, excuse, or sympathize with the two lovers and their reckless relationship. He simply illustrates that homosexuality and those who persecute it both exist.

It is dangerous to become so consumed by society’s persecution of gays that the reality of the families that Ennis and Jack ruined is overshadowed. Regardless of the unusually dark shadows they had to creep in to avoid detection — the recesses of Brokeback Mountain — they were not only fleeing the prejudice of a traditional and volatile public, but the suspicion of devoted wives. Jack is the more willing of the two to leave his wife and run off, but his wife is also less affectionate and supportive than Ennis’ wife. In response to Jack’s pleading, Ennis repeatedly states, "I got a family." The film spends a substantially greater period of time alluding to the surreptitious efforts to elude their families than it does alluding to attempts to avoid leaking the truth of a homosexual relationship.

Another flawed conclusion is to claim that this film is about closet homosexuals. Jack and Ennis are aroused by both women and each other. The film does not overtly suggest that these men are inherently gay and stuck in relationships that simply fall short of sexual excitement. Over and over, the story proves to be about individuals, not a sexual minority, and it maintains no resounding sentiments about the morality of homosexuality, or its corruptness.

Steven D. Graydanus, a writer for "Decent Films Guide," states, "’Brokeback Mountain’ is a work of art, more concerned with telling a story about characters than with making sure that the viewer feels a certain way about a moral issue. It doesn’t commit the artistic fraud of shaping every single element in its story to move the viewer’s sympathies in one and only one direction. That sort of one-sidedness is increasingly the single thing that I find most quickly sabotages a film’s persuasiveness; nothing else so glaringly announces that the filmmaker himself hasn’t really put his own point of view to the test, and doesn’t trust the audience to see things his way unless he stacks the deck in his own favor." Here, here. Good stories are believable enough to let the audience come to their own conclusions, saving some mystery for the author’s imposed philosophy, if there is one at all.

If you are uncomfortable witnessing graphic homosexuality, you will be uncomfortable watching this movie. But it is still worth seeing. Do not expect to leave the theater feeling charmed. The best advice may be to leave your "what is he trying to say?" sensors at home. Simply allow a tragic story to pick you up and suck you dry, leaving you perplexed and saddened when the credits start to roll. Isn’t this what good movies are supposed to do?

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Title: Controversial, but not just propoganda | Author: Nathaniel Shockey | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2006-01-25 | Internal ID: 4801