The Gay Cowboy Love Story I Didn’t Need to See

In some ways I think it is great that a “gay cowboy movie” is up for major Academy Awards. Ten or fifteen years ago, Brokeback Mountain wouldn’t be playing anywhere except for film festivals and art movie theaters. The two male stars wouldn’t have their pick of next roles in films with big name directors or big budgets. So this is progress, of a sort.

The characters in this movie are not cartoons, are not played for laughs, and are not too noble to be real people. It is a love story with enough depth to reveal how poverty, lack of education, and fear narrow options and cause people to feel trapped. Ennis sums up the whole story in one line when he says, “if you can’ t fix it, you have to stand it.”

Which is probably why I didn’t like Brokeback Mountain. I’m waiting for the “gay movie” that isn’t Philadelphia, that isn’t soaking in misery.

Lisa, on the other hand, quite liked it. Finding beauty in darkness is something that speaks to her. That idea speaks to me, too, but not in this movie. There is so little change, such a tiny and fragile hope that things could ever be different — when Ennis says he’ll quit job so he can go to his daughter’s wedding, and you see how he has Jack’s shirt hanging up at the end of the movie — it just isn’t enough. The scene with Ennis and Jack alone in the hotel, in a rare moment of togetherness and comfort in each other’s arms, is I suppose what is shocking to some people and so beautiful for others. For me it was normal, and the great sadness of the movie is that Ennis and Jack couldn’t see it that way.

The idea that other people could — and perhap need to see it as just life, as normal — means Brokeback Mountain is a potentially a powerful movie. It just isn’t one that I needed to see. I’m ready for stories where the emphasis isn’t on the standing it, but on the fixing it.

One thought on “The Gay Cowboy Love Story I Didn’t Need to See

  1. For me, that scene in the hotel, and the flashback near the end where Ennis gives Jack a quick squeeze before setting out for the day, telling him that he’s asleep on his feet like a horse, as his momma used to tell him–that’s this movie at its most heartbreakingly powerful. Because this kind of tenderness, of genuine love and affection, is my normal, everyday life, too–and God, we are so lucky to have that.

    I didn’t feel that this was a “gay” story, in the sense that it could only be told about gay characters…in the end, what keeps Ennis from building the life Jack wishes they could have is his own fear, his inability to imagine that it won’t only lead to greater pain in the end. Obviously, I have a tremendous personal stake in naming the injustice and hatred that creates and feeds Ennis’s specific fears, but it’s a very human frailty, to be so afraid of risking what we have, however little, because we believe it will somehow hurt less if we lose it. Any two people in love can so struggle, for any of a thousand reasons, and this is what it seemed to me the movie was actually about.

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