Am I evil? Well, obviously I’m evil, but specifically, am I evil for not being all that moved by Brokeback Mountain? Am I a traitor to my race? Should I be hung? Must I turn in my homo card?
My friend had seen it earlier in the week, and when I asked him what he thought of it, he said: “Overhyped.” I ended up agreeing with his assessment, because I had been hearing for months about how very devastating this thing was, how it is everything I have heard and yet still more, but the reality in the theater ended up being far less than that. And I ended up thinking that most people were so blown away by it because they haven’t seen Women In Love or Mountains of the Moon.
You know the story, don’t you? Heath Ledger is Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal is Jack, and they start fucking [without grease!] one cold night up on Bareback Mountain. Then their affection continues to grow, and over the course of the next few years they both get married and have kids, but see each other every now and then. Jack wants them to leave their wives and run a ranch together, but Ennis is haunted by the memory of a gay rancher he knew of as a youth who was dragged behind a truck by his genitals, and he’s sure that this fate awaits any who follows the same path. And the tragedy of the story is that he can’t commit to following his happiness because of this ingrained fear.
Most of the accolades I have for this movie comes with “I Guesses” in front of them. I guess it’s good that it focuses on the love between the men and is not sensationally focused on the sex, though it doesn’t omit it. I guess it’s good that it avoids the typical scenes we’ve come to expect in all gay dramas [the wife pitching a fit, the obligatory gay bashing, someone whining “I can’t help who I AM!”]. I guess it’s good for focusing “the problem” on Ennis’ internalized fear and not on the “wrongness” of the act itself. Lots more “I guess” statements, but ultimately I just sat there through the whole thing and didn’t have much reaction. I asked my boyfriend the next day if he’d had any additional thoughts about it, and he said “No, I haven’t really thought about it at all.” And another friend of mine wasn’t that thrilled about it either [but confessed to thinking about it later]. Really, the only people I know who were really impressed by this were straight, which again, I guess is good. If it strikes them with the unprecedented revelation that gay people actually feel love and aren’t just butt-fucking and planning drag outfits, I’m all for it.
So let me use this space to tell you about two other ‘tragic gay love’ movies that I personally found much more rich and moving, and if you liked Brokeback you might want to check them out… and then you could write me and tell me what you thought, thought I know you won’t.
Women In Love is from the D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name, is directed by Ken Russell, and has a screenplay by Larry Kramer. It is also about two married men, Rupert and the hunky Gerald. Rupert loves his wife, but yearns for a separate love that can only be shared with a man. It is a bit like Brokeback in that the main reason this can’t happen, though viewers will all be wishing it could, is that Gerald is just too entrenched in his particular version of what it means to be a man, and, like Ennis, is unable to allow himself to pursue his own happiness because of the makeup of his character. There’s also a lot of other stuff with the wives, including a wonderful, Oscar-winning performance by Glenda Jackson, and wildly florid, three-miles-over-the-top direction and writing.
Mountains of the Moon is about the explorers Burton and Speke, who discovered the source of the Nile. This is one of those movies where if you’re straight you could completely miss the homo undercurrent, but basically it seems that Speke is totally in love with Burton, who is straight. Their relationship ends badly because of an ill-advised betrayal and the shame that causes once one party realizes that they were wrong.
Both of these movies, in my opinion, got there first [though they didn’t necessarily do it better], it’s just that they aren’t ostensibly “gay” movies like Brokeback Mountain. And when I was finished watching them, I didn’t have to convince myself that they were more than they are.
Yes. It’s a good movie. I just don’t think it’s all that GREAT a movie.